This previous Saturday the Commandery of Saint Peter Nolasco of the Military Order of Saint Agatha (MOC) gathered with friends to pray Vespers and to incorporate new members and profess another. The Order was founded in the Middle Ages ruling Aragon before the unification of Spain, after which the Order went defunct; it was refounded in the 19th century in Sicily but does not rule but supports charitable causes. The MOC is now governed by HRH Don Francesco of Paterno. The commander and chaplain, Father Guy Selvester, presided over Vespers at the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament (Raritan, NJ) where he's the rector. The Vesperal sacred music was sung by The Chamber Choir and Women's Chant Schola of St Mary Church (S. Amboy, NJ) under the direction of the newly invested MOC member Don Christopher M.C. Deibert; Martha Nowik was the organist. A splendid dinner with family and friends followed.
The Order of Saint Agatha is an international, Christian philanthropic organization oriented toward helping those in need under the banner of Gospel and Cross. Charity donations and work is accomplished through the MOC Foundation. While the group is broadly spoken of as Christian (with Anglicans, Lutherans, Orthodox), but many more members are Catholic. More often than not, the Liturgy offered to God's greater glory is Catholic. In fact, the Order of Saint Agatha has been the condition for many to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.
The Scriptural reading was taken from Colossians where we read: "You heard of this hope through the message of truth, the gospel, which has come to you, has borne fruit, and has continued to grow in your midst, as it has everywhere in the world." Saint Paul reminds us of the fact that it's the Gospel of Christ that shows us the path to full communion with God and that it bears fruit through good works because they incarnate God's life on earth. Our Christian charitable activity which couples professional competence with a personal experience of Christ which moves us to a concrete love of neighbor. So with conviction I can say that what draws us together either knowingly or not, it is Christ who awakens in us a concern for those who live on the margins. In the USA, the work of the Commandery of Saint Peter Nolasco is spiritual in nature by attending to those living with diseases of the breast (because St Agatha is the patron saint of breast cancer patients).
The Grand Chancellor of the Order, HH Don Stephen Screech invested three new members, received the profession of another and granted of a title on another on behalf of the Grand Master. Anytime vows taken is an apt occasion for all of us who are members of the MOC to recall the first fervor of offering ourselves under a vow "to defend the Holy Church of God and our Holy Catholic Faith at all times, even imperiling your life for their protection," and "to protect and care for all widows, wards, orphans and all persons afflicted and in tribulation." Ultimately, our orientation is to go "forth in defense of Justice, Righteousness and Truth" under a "Robe of Divine Protection will ever encompass him that is faithful and true."
It would be particularly shallow of us to gain entrance to this or any other organization for our self-aggrandizement. Objectively, we don't really need orders of chivalry in our contemporary society because for the baptized person being a member of the Body of Christ, that is, the Church, there are a sufficient number of charitable groups and religious orders that do fine work. Plus, fancy dress and hanging gongs mean nothing if not supported by a love for God and for neighbor, that is, a life of agape, (cf. Benedict XVI's Deus caritas est). But having said all this, having membership in a group like the Order of Saint Agatha forms deeper bonds of friendship which help to unite us more closely to serve others in a focused way, keeping in mind our Baptism in Christ. As member of the Order, I can say that we transcend national identities to serve those in need and it has broadened my horizons. What the Order of Saint Agatha does is to keep us centered on Christ and neighbor. What the world needs today are fewer self-centered people and more people who live according to the Eight Beatitudes and/or according to Saint Paul's hymn to charity (I Cor 13) as the "magna carta" of all Christian service. Saint Paul protects encourages us to refrain from falling prey to the risk of being reduced to mere activism.
Father Guy pointed out that being a member of an order of chivalry today is about living and working in a spirit of self-giving, a spirit of self-sacrifice as known in Christ who gave His life for others. Caring for the least of brothers and sisters is an essential reality for Christians today. The knights and dames of Saint Agatha accept the fact that all things are given by Divine Providence for our education; they are people who pray and who realize that prayer is not waste time; they are of the possibility of reducing service to ideology but resist this tendency; they seek the face of God in the light and strength of His love which prevails over the presence of darkness and selfishness in the world.
As was prayed over Cmdr. Ed Moritz who received a nobiliary title, which is the same sentiment for all of us, "May the Lord protect you in all your ways and prosper all the work of your hands."