Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”


It is a privilege to be able to offer here, for the spiritual advancement of our readers, the Homily delivered to members of the Order of Malta by Cardinal Pell in Saint Mary's Cathedral Sydney, upon the feast of Corpus Christi.

Homily by George Cardinal Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
Bailiff Grand Cross of Honor and Devotion
and Conventual Chaplain ad honorem
Sovereign Military Order of Malta

ON THIS FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI it is appropriate that we welcome here the Knights and Dames of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem gathered from across Australia for their biennial meeting. Both the feast and the Order come from the Middle Ages. We know them as the Knights of Malta, but at an earlier stage for two hundred years they were known as the Knights of Rhodes, until their honourable defeat there by Sultan Suleiman II in 1522.

We know that Christ celebrated the first Eucharist on Holy Thursday the night before he died and that many of his followers had left him earlier when he promised to give them his flesh to eat. We have clear evidence from the Scriptures and the Church writings of the Fathers of the first Christians' belief that Christ was truly present in the Eucharist.

But this feast on the earliest free Thursday after Easter to celebrate the institution of the Eucharist only developed around 1230 in Liége under the influence of Blessed Juliana a devout nun. In other words this feast is a medieval development used to oppose those, like the eleventh century Berengar of Tours, who denied Jesus was really present in the Eucharist.

The Order of Malta will celebrate the 900th anniversary of its approval as a religious order by Pope Paschal II in 1113. It was then a low point in papal history with a number of anti-popes, a weak papacy in confrontation with the Holy Roman Emperor and one of the few bright spots had been the recapture of Jerusalem by the First Crusade in 1099 after Muslim rule since 638.

The Crusades are regularly denounced in anti-Catholic circles and in the movies; but they must be seen more broadly as an imperfect and belated military response to centuries of Islamic military expansion and the closure of the Holy Places to Christian pilgrims.

The knights were probably founded by Master Gerard from Scala, near Amalfi in Southern Italy, who set up a hospital, mainly for wounded soldiers to add to their work of caring for pilgrims in Jerusalem. For centuries the knights were also formidable soldiers, sometimes with their own navy and their most famous military victory was the successful defence of Malta against the Turks in 1565.

The days of military struggle by members of a religious order are long gone and the knights now have a magnificent network of charitable works in many countries of the world including Australia. The Australian association of the order is actively involved in disaster relief, here and overseas and serves overseas in six countries especially East Timor. But they also have another equally important challenge.

For the sake of our regular parishioners and visitors I should explain that at the Order's dinner last night we heard a remarkable speech by the Vice-Chancellor of Australian Catholic University calling the order again to the public defence of the Catholic Church and Christian values in Australian life against the regular attacks in every form of the media.

He pointed out that this task cannot be left to the Bishops or clergy alone. He claimed that aircraft carriers need to be defended by a flotilla of destroyers and I would point out that the need is greater when we are talking of old, slow battleships. In other words I heartily endorse the Vice-Chancellor's metaphorical call to arms, to public witness to Christian values. While it is the task of all believers, the members of the Order of Malta have a unique capacity for wide influence. And young Catholics will respond to your leadership. They will not feel so isolated, or old fashioned, or simply "daggy" and step up to join you in these cultural battles.

It would be a betrayal of the proudest traditions of the Order if you abandoned your positions of forward defence for the Catholic Church and for Catholic truths. These are under attack from within our society and from violent elements outside it. The cultural struggle is real. We see its effects in every age group, in our families and especially the middle aged and the young. We cannot pretend that such a struggle is not occurring nor should we pretend that we are not suffering extensive losses. I endorse the call to action.

A proper love for the Mass, a deep conviction that Christ is really present in the consecrated species of bread and wine and the practice of regular prayer will sustain us in our daily struggles to believe and to be good, will protect us from self indulgence and mistakes in our work and conflict and enable us to develop wisdom and perseverance.

Recently I stumbled upon Albert of Brescia, who died around 1251 and he was originally a soldier, who remained a layman, became a writer and public figure and somehow managed to deliver four sermons to local confraternities like the Knights. In those days lay people were not supposed to preach, but could give moral exhortations!

Naturally because we belong to the same Church much of his teaching is predictable. Those who want to shine their light on others, should have light within themselves. God should be seen as a consuming fire, for he consumes all our sins. (Hebrews 12:29). Albert was quite ascetic urging his listeners to afflict their bodies with "vigils and fasts and other good works".

Some of his teaching struck new notes for me. One phrase was particularly evocative as we remember the call to participate in public discussion and debate. "He who fears God, all things fear him; but he who does not fear God, fears everything". We find more than a grain of truth here and I believe the thought explains a deal of the hostility we face in the struggle for life and family and even something of the alarmist hysteria on climate change.

Albert begins his approach to the bread of life differently from us, because the bread of life and understanding is the bread of tears and compunction about sin. Today we can be heavily influenced by those around us, who have fallen silent on the concept of sin, or rejected it as an explanation for evil, preferring to cite ignorance or heredity. Through our sorrow for sin we arrive at the true Bread of Life, who is Christ, according to Albert.

Similarly through the wine of compunction for our sins, we come to the true wine, the heavenly mystery of Christ's blood which fills the chalice in the hand of the Lord and which is present at every celebration of Mass.

Corpus Christi is a beautiful feast. I remember the processions from my youth in country Victoria and it is good that this public procession through the streets of Sydney has been revived. In a different but important way our walking through the streets of Sydney this afternoon is a public witness to faith, like the many beautiful works of service performed by the Order and their members' contribution to public discussion and debate.

Let me conclude with the last verse translation of St. Thomas Aquinas' hymn Lauda Sion.

"O thou, the wisest, mightiest, best,
Our present food, our future rest,
Come, make us each thy chosen guest,
Co-heirs of thine and comrades blest
With saints whose dwelling is with thee".

We make this prayer through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen