19 June 2014

Homily by Msgr Dr Antony Conlon at the Solemn Profession of Fra' John Eidinow – 16th JUNE 2014 at Merton College.

 By Peter Allingham on Thursday, June 19, 2014 at 8:45am

“They live together without separate property in one house under one rule, careful to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. Never is an idle word or useless deed or immoderate laughter, or a murmur, if it be but whispered, allowed to go unpunished. Draughts and dice they detest. Hunting they hold in abomination, and take no pleasure in the frivolous pastime of hawking. Soothsayers, jesters and story-tellers, ribald songs and stage plays they eschew as insane follies. They cut close their hair, knowing as the apostle says that “it is a shame for a man to have long hair”. They never dress gaily and wash but seldom. Shaggy by reason of their uncombed hair, they are also begrimed with dust, and swarthy from the weight of their armour and the heat of the sun.”
Rather like the passage in Acts which gives a somewhat idealised account of the earliest Christians living like a cooperative, we may accept St Bernard’s commentary on the Hospitallers of the 12th century as somewhat hyperbolic. Nevertheless it is suggestive of that same hard core religious fervour that the often harsh environment of the Middle East has nurtured throughout the centuries. It was their absolutely uncompromising code of honour and militancy that decided Saladin to order the mass execution of surviving Knights of the Temple and the Hospital after the battle of Hattin in 1187. He could not afford to let them live. The religious zeal they exemplified was not uncommon in those days. Few religious orders of the Church have since retained in every case the original observances of their foundation. Social, medical and political concerns have all influenced change. But all that have survived and are flourishing have sought perennially to rekindle the flame of the esprit de corps of their foundation and raison d’etre. While adapting in practical and administrative terms to centuries of social development and scientific advance, they have also preserved the core of evangelical principles and aims that inspired their founders. Not to do so would be to retreat in confusion rather than advance with confidence. But, as Blessed John Henry Newman observed in the nineteenth century when dealing with change and development, the primacy of the absolute over the relative has been increasingly jeopardised if not jettisoned altogether. Much more recently Pope Benedict XVI has also drawn attention to the dangerous temptation to apply solutions of convenience to problematic human conditions. The planned early elimination of patients suffering from distressfully terminal illnesses is but one contemporary example of abandonment of all sense of the sanctity of innocent human life. Regrettably, it is not the only one. It is particularly appropriate in the context of our Order’s historic contribution to medical care and relief of poverty to concern ourselves with such moral issues. We must always consider how we can best defend the religion that motivates us and champion care of the sick, aged, vulnerable and unborn from natural conception to natural death. No member of the Order, worthy of the name, can be indifferent to these concerns. The physical austerities of Outremer may no longer apply but the robust conviction that once inspired them most certainly does.

At every level, to take up the sword and the cross in symbolic gesture is to commit oneself to a crusade of justice, charity, personal sanctity and public witness. You, John, Sir Knight, this evening, publicly declare your vocation to Justice and all that it implies in the long evolution of hospitaller and devotional exercises that your vows imply. We all know from observation of your progress through noviciate and from the manner in which you have allowed yourself to be guided that your preparation has been both thorough and lengthy. No aspect of our religion has been neglected or ignored. Therefore we, your confreres, confidently anticipate both the soundness of your sense of vocation and the diligence with which you will try to live it and fulfil its duties and responsibilities. To do this you will need the structures and signposts of spiritual direction. None of us who is pledged to a vocation of any kind can survive well and indefinitely without governance, guidance and support. That is why The Order has yet preserved the rule and regulation of our affairs beyond the stage when community life still directed our efforts. Linked to charity above all, obedience, fraternal correction and commitment to daily prayer are intrinsic elements of religious life. You will need both courage and at times endurance to fulfil these responsibilities with diligence. Know that you do not face these exigencies in isolation. The prayers of all of us, and where appropriate the counsel of those in whom you confide will aid you. The saints and blessed of the long centuries of the Order’s history also stand ready to intercede for you in the celestial Kingdom. Indefectibly, the sacramental life of a Catholic must be the foundation upon which you build the fortress of your faith, witness and contribution to the work of the Order. Fidelity in this regard will always keep you anchored to orthodox belief and render virtuous your natural qualities. Finally, may you keep before you and seek to imitate the pattern of our Holy Patron, the martyred Precursor of the Lord, who said of himself in regard to his Master, “He must increase and I must decrease.”

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