KEY NOTE ADDRESS DELIVERED AT THE 4TH REGIONAL CONFERENCE OF THE NOBLE ORDER OF KNIGHTS AND LADIES OF MARSHALL, ASHNATI SOUTH-DENKYIRA REGION BY W/BRO. MSGR. JOHN OPOKU-AGYEMANG, ON SATURDAY AUGUST 5, 2017 AT THE CHRISTIAN VILLAGE, SANTASI, KUMASI.
KEY NOTE ADDRESS DELIVERED AT THE 4TH REGIONAL CONFERENCE OF THE NOBLE ORDER OF KNIGHTS AND LADIES OF MARSHALL, ASHNATI SOUTH-DENKYIRA REGION BY W/BRO. MSGR. JOHN OPOKU-AGYEMANG, ON SATURDAY AUGUST 5, 2017 AT THE CHRISTIAN VILLAGE, SANTASI, KUMASI.
My heartfelt thanks to the Ashanti South-Denkyira Regional Conference Planning Committee, and the Regional Council and Court officers for so highly favouring me by inviting me to deliver the keynote address at this 4th Regional Conference. The task is formidable. It is awesome. It is with a deep sense of humility and inefficiency that I endeavor to undertake it. I hope and trust that I will be able to treat the topic adequately.
The topic and the theme given me is, A call to Unity, Charity, Fraternity and Service: The Role of the Marshallan. Experience has shown that where two, three or more gather to deal with the same topic, each of them understands the topic differently. I deem it, therefore useful and reasonable to communicate to you, at the very beginning, what I make of the theme, my understanding of and reflection on it. This I hope will minimize, if not completely eliminate any misunderstanding of my handling the subject.
The theme is nothing but the motto of the Noble Order: UNITY, CHARITY, FRATERNITY AND SERVICE. It is therefore a challenge to serious a reflection on who we say we are—MARSHALLANS and how we are called to live our Marshallan identity. We must therefore start to understand the catchy words; UNITY, CHARITY, FRATERNITY and SERVICE
Unity means togetherness or oneness. By our common baptism in Christ Jesus we are united as brothers and sisters in the Lord. We are all members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is this same bond that keeps united as members in the Noble Order. Sports teams, groups and cooperate bodies sometimes wear uniforms and insignia to show their unity. Fans of sports teams wear team colours for the same reason. In our culture twins wear the same cloth or attire colours to signify their unity and oneness. When a bunch of people act as one and are on the same page they display unity. That must certainly have been the battle cry of the founding fathers and mothers of the Noble Order when they chose UNITY as one of the hallmarks of the Marshallan fraternity.
They must have understood that in unity is strength because there is power in team work. The old proverb ‘In unity is strength’ teaches that when people come together and work towards a common goal there is bound to be success. In unity we get the strength which is the quality of being able to purge through tough, heinous or heartbreaking times, situations, feelings and emotions where others would think it normal or expect us to give up. In tells us that if we stand as one then we cannot fall. That means nothing can be attained without unity.
In unity we become more powerful than if we work by our individual selves. Together we can get through anything. This was what was visualized to us symbolically by the bunch of broom at our initiation. An Ethiopian proverb says ‘when spiders unite they can tie down a lion.
But unity does not come so easily. It can be hard to find and maintain. Human nature being what it is, we tend to weaken our unity by clinking to subjective thinking and behavior, often times seen in our attitude of wanting to please the self. Some of us may have been initiated alright but we are not deeply rooted in the faith of the Church and our commitment to the Noble Order. This negative attitude can easily mislead others and weaken our unity.
How does unity come about? I would like to list five steps or aspects that are important and in which all must be involved.
First of all, there must be the process of listening. Everyone must become a listening person, listening to God’s word, listening to his presence in events and people. Listening presupposes a willingness to receive others. A listening group is such only if all are convinced that the value and the contribution of the other are necessary for the growth of the whole. Out of that kind of respect comes unity.
The second step is the desire for unselfish love, willingness to sacrifice, care for others but not personal ambition. These are important in forging unity.
Third, Unity involves prayer. There is a certain purification of motives and a clarity of vision that come only through prayer. That is what Jesus did in his High Priestly Prayer, the night before he died. He prayed, “Father, may they all be one. May they be one in us as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, that they may be one as we are one, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realize that it was you who sent me’ (Jn. 17: 21-23). For whatever group that seeks unity, the prayer dimension must be integral and not just superficial. That is why the prayer sessions of our meetings, novenas and other periods of praying together must be taken seriously.
Fourth, Unity involves a personal conviction that results in witnessing in one’s lifestyle to the values shared. What I am trying to say is that unity demands a personal engagement. It is not like sitting on a board of directors of another organization where the decisions cost only time and others have to carry the decision out. Unity involves each of us and our lives and all the values they are built on.
Last, Unity involves acting. Decisions arrived at, after prayerful listening and discerning involve practical implementation. We must be seen to be acting at a united group. Unity can only come when there is better coordination and matured understanding amongst us, when there is no friction of thought and no clashes of ideologies. None should have his or her own private agenda but the common agenda of the Noble Order. We should therefore follow the ideals established by the founders of the Noble Order and engage ourselves in those noble deeds.
Charity means Love. The founding Mothers and Fathers of the Noble Order also chose Charity as one of our hallmarks. They must have thought about the words of the savior, ‘Love one another as I have loved you’. The story is told of John, the Beloved Disciple, very advanced in years, near the end of his life in exile on the Island of Patmos. There he lived in solitude in a cave surrounded by a few chosen disciples. Because he was the last of the Twelve, every Sunday hundreds of Christians would come to Patmos for the Eucharist and see St. John. Sunday after Sunday the disciples will carry the frail apostle down to the crowed. When the time came for him to preach, the crowed would come closer, since his voice was barely above a whisper. Sunday after Sunday he would say the same thing: “Children, love one another! Children, love one another!”
Finally, after one such Sunday, one of his disciples, carrying him back to his cave, said, “Teacher, why do you keep repeating the same thing, over and over, ‘Children, love one another’?
“Because,” replied the Beloved Apostle, “the Master kept repeating it over and over.”
Love or Charity is the unifying principle that brings together and gives purpose to everything we do. The Christian life is full of demands and expectations; we have the requirements of daily prayer, work, family responsibilities, endless meetings to attend, and so on. The danger is that our lives can become disjointed, pulled in different directories like an engine off track. Thus, we look for a value to provide harmony, a principle to give the unity we have spoken about, a force to give coherence, one motive to supply the direction under which everything we say and do can come. Therefore, following Jesus, our predecessors proposed LOVE.
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus tells us in her autobiography that she had somewhat the same difficulty. The Little Flower recounts how she searched for an answer to her interior confusion till she settled on love as her vocation, and she writes:
“Then, nearly ecstatic with joy, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling! My call is love. I have found my role in the Church…in the heart of the Church I will be love!
We are called to accept God love, to return and radiate it. As part of our rituals we have the Marshall Degree Sign for the brothers and the Sign of Embrace for the sisters as indicating the strong bond of love that should exist between us.
That, my brothers and sisters, is the love we are called to accept, return and radiate. That is our lofty calling. That is the unifying principle of everything we do as Marshallans. How to accept, return, and radiate that love is precisely our life long program.
Now how do we grow in our love for Christ and our brothers and sisters? At the risk of oversimplification, I propose we “fall in love” with Christ, the Church and the Noble Order just as in many of the same ways, we grow in relationships of love and friendship on the natural level. I ask you, then, to remember past relationships of love and genuine friendships. Or, if you have never been in love with someone before, think of people close to you who have been, or simply ask yourself what steps you will take to grow in love with someone, or to strengthen and deepen in friendship. To grow in our love with Jesus, his Church and the Noble Order, we would be expected to do certain things?
- To grow in our love with someone, we first of all spend time with the other person. We converse with the other person, we listen to the other, we enjoy being with the other.
The same is true in our love of Christ, the Church and the Noble Order. We are called to be with the Lord – listening to him and then conversing with him – prayer. Thus, daily prayer is essential to our life; a sine qua non. Every day we find ourselves spending a chuck of time with our best friend Jesus, talking to him, listening to him in Prayer. We cannot grow in love with Jesus without talking to and spending time with each other from time to time. Among other things, our meeting times could also be spending time together. Spending time with our brothers and sisters.
- When we are in love with someone, we get to know that person’s family and friends. , Well, we want to love Jesus and our brothers and sisters? Let us get to know their families and friends! For Jesus we may get to know His Mother, So that his Mother becomes our Mother. Nor should we neglect St. Joseph, St .John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, St Anthony and all the Saints who are Jesus’ family and friends. They should be are our families and friends too. But how much do you know about the Blessed Mother or St. Anthony? On occasions when we have to celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the feast of St. Anthony we must think of getting to know Jesus’ family and friends. In much the same way, we need to get to know the families of our brothers and sisters who should be our families too. Per our Constitution and Code of Ethics, no member of the Noble Order shall debauch, seduce (entice) or have carnal knowledge of the wife or husband, daughter or son, even the servant or maid of another member. I would like to think that this underscores the fact that we are a family and any such act constitutes incest.
- When we love someone we desire to cleanse our lives of anything that could hurt our beloved. Thus a basic characteristic of our relationship with our Lord will be a daily dying to sin and rising in virtue. Because we would like to prove our love of God, we try not to hurt God. Thus, the way to love Christ is to grow constantly purifying our lives of sin. But sin is often what we do against others. We must be ready to purify our thoughts, acts and speech about our brother knights and sister ladies. It is what we think about, do and say to each other that build our love or cause or hurt. Openness is the key. The frank counsel of brothers and sisters who are confident enough of their relationship with us that they can tell us areas of our lives where we need to improve. One of life’s greatest blessings is a friend who is not afraid to tell us the truth even when it is painful. And one of the greatest services we can provide a genuine friend is honestly letting him/her know of a concern we have about him/her.
- The love we should have for God, his Church and each of us is not always a carefree, pleasing, constantly satisfying and fulfilling intimacy. No – it will entail sacrifice, sweat, blood, tears, suffering; it will entail the cross. True love is most proved in times of trial. In times of loneliness, rejections, suffering, tension, sadness – that’s when love is pure. The proof of God’s love for us is when he sent his only Son to carry a cross and die for us (John 3:16). When any of us goes through trying times, when we are bereaved, sick or incapacitated, that’s when we are to love him/her all the more! That is when love proves itself! They are times when our brothers and sisters need us most. We should be ready for it!
The most anti-social question ever asked is attributed to Cain when he answered God, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ He had been asked by the Lord God, Where is your brother?(Gen. 4:9). Fraternity therefore is the negation of that most anti-social question. Fraternity or Sorority in the case of our sisters, is the quality or state of being brothers or sisters. It is a state of forging brotherliness or sisterhood among ourselves.
Hence the Noble Order is corporate not private. It is fundamentally relational. The corporate character of the order requires candor in discussions; we must be able to address issues that face us as brothers and sisters. This in effect puts us in a chain of relationships. Sensitivity and empathy are wonderful gifts for relational brotherly and sisterly life. Putting one’s self in another’s shoes brings bonding and cements our togetherness.
Complementarity helps to make us real brothers and sisters. We can’t all be experts in everything, but we can try to be sure that specialized skills of various kinds are available to us, and are appreciated. The heart of the Noble Order is fraternity. If it is destroyed, so goes our life as Marshallans. We elect and promote some of us to leadership positions. Apart from their playing leadership roles, they are also brothers and sisters and are one like us. This is not in any way meant to down-grade the respect and obedience we need to render to our superiors or senior brothers and sisters.
I am reminded of the famous words of St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo; “For you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian. The first is an office I have accepted, the second is a grace I have received; one is a danger to my salvation, the other a safety. If then, I seem happier by far to be redeemed with you and walk with you than I am to be placed over you as bishop, it is only because I hope to be more completely your brother and servant.”
Understood this way we need to see and understand our fraternity in Jesus’ image of the vine and its branches. Cut-off from the vine, the branches produce no fruits and pruned of all its branches the vine loses its shape and beauty. Fraternal relationship with each other is vital, essential and a sine quo non for the good of the Noble Order.
Yet sometimes leadership and ordinary members alike agonize because they feel betrayed by each other, because of the way each of them may have acted in certain ways, leading to resentment and anger, which are deadly capital sins. The dark clouds they generate, dim the lights of the Noble Order.
We need to realize more than ever that if the relationship between the leadership and all others is allowed to deteriorate because of anger and grudges, our fraternity deteriorates also. We may be critical when things are out of order but criticism must never sink to the level of creating damaging divisions.
As dangerous as the unhealthy relationship between our various leadership and the ordinary members can be, such ruptures are not uncommon among the ranks of brother and sister Marshallans. Some of us may be at loggerheads with, and even afraid of other knights or ladies. Trust levels are not wanting only vertically, but horizontally as well. Suspecting each other of sinister motives cuts fraternity off at the roots. As long as we add to this fractured relationship within our ranks, the fraternity we hope for becomes meaningless.
St. Benedict has a chapter in his rule for monks entitled; That the Brethren be Obedient to One Another. In it he says, “Not only shall the virtue of obedience be practiced by all towards the abbot, but let the brethren also obey one another, knowing that by this road of obedience they will come to God. Let them bear with one another with the greatest patience. Let none follow what seems good for himself, but rather what is good for another” (Chs. 71 & 72). This call will fall on deaf ears if we see ourselves and others as a collection of individuals, rather than a group of people with a shared interest in each other’s welfare.
Closely connected with this, in building our relationship is another one. Our reputation with the people outside the Noble Order. Let us do all we can to assure our public good name. This is quite different from simply affirming our membership. I have in mind here making sure that people can’t use we ourselves either individually or collectively, as weapons against us in our parishes and elsewhere. Let us not allow people to knock our heads against each other. We must be aware that sometimes people who have a dispute with a brother or sister want us to also have a dispute with that brother or sister. There is a subtler kind of message which people sometimes pick up on: a piece of gossip or careless judgment. The cumulative effect of such messages can seriously undermine one’s reputation, at least in the short run. Let us pledge to each other that we shall make a constant effort to purify our words and actions of anything which could cast a shadow on our good names.
Let us ask and expect that we help each other to do our jobs more effectively by watching over our good names. Even though we shall never achieve perfection in this area, it deserves our most serious attention. If I try to see to it that you have a good name among the people and you try to see to it that I do as well, then our fraternity would have been well protected. Where we may have some question about each other regarding anything, I hope we will use the avenue of speaking to ourselves more directly for our own good to keep each other from looking foolish, in the eyes of others. We owe this honesty, spoken in charity to one another for our own sake and the upholding of our fraternity. Open your eyes, recognize and know that the one sitting next to you is not a stranger, not someone different from you but simply your brother, your sister.
Unity, Charity and Fraternity and service are the demands of an active Christian faith because, if not, as St. James the Apostle says, “What does it profit, my brethren, if a person says he has faith but has no works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is in need of clothes and does not have enough to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well, keep yourself warm and eat plenty’ without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? So faith by itself if it has no works is dead” (James 2:14-17).
Therefore, following the examples of Jesus, the Lord and Master, who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as ransom for many, who washed the feet of his disciples as a sign of love and humility, our founding fathers and mothers added Service to our motto. Christians are called to express fraternal love in their services to others as the most effective witness of evangelization. This service will ultimately determine a person’s eternal destiny when Jesus says, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it unto me… Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me” (Mt. 25:40, 45).
The call to service is fundamentally an act of self-sacrifice, not words or mere sentiments. It helps the person to rise above thoughts of self, to forget about comfort, to overcome selfishness and to serve Christ in the brethren who are in need.
My dear brother and sister Marshallans, the poor are still among us and desperately seek someone to keep them open to hope. The marginal, the outcast still need someone to speak on their behalf both to the community of faith as well as to secular authorities. People are in need because of personal and societal addictions, ethnic and familial conflicts. A sense of selfish individualism should not, therefore, prevail amongst us. There is so much to be done if the church is to be faithful to the legacy she received from the Lord Jesus.
Our society is inflicted with significant dehumanizing structures, systems and uncaring personnel. Our witness as Marshallans is paramount in the transformation of our country and, of our church. Rooted simply in the example of Jesus, the Perfect Knight, you and I have but one symbol of authority. Jesus gives us only a “basin, a pitcher of water and a towel”.
“Do you realize what I have done for you?” he asks “you called me ‘teacher’ and ‘master’, and rightly so, for indeed I am …. I have given you a model to follow so that as I have done, you should also do …. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it” (Jn. 13:12-17).
Everyday, society, personified by Pontius Pilate, stands before us with the bloody body of Jesus in our brothers and sisters and says, “Behold the man” (Jn. 19:6). May we never respond, “Away with him, crucify him”(Jn. 19:19:6).
There is a wonderful story about a rabbi who was a teacher at an influential rabbinical school. One day he posed this question to his students; ‘When do you know that the night has ended and the dawn of the new day has begun’? One of the students answered ‘when the new day begins from 100 meters away and I can distinguish between the goats and the sheep in the meadow. The rabbi said no. Another student answered, when I can distinguish between the goats and the sheep from 50 meters away. The rabbi shook his head and said no.
After a long silence, another student answered, I can know that the night has ended and the dawn of the new day has begun when I can see the eyes of the one next to me and know that he or she is truly another human being and my brother or sister. The rabbi clapped for him and said; ‘Yes, that is the answer’. Everything we are about should strengthen us to develop, nurture and intensify our service, our willingness to make sacrifices in service of others. Remember always, our service in the name of the Lord must never depend on human gratitude, Scripture says, “Your father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt. 6:4, 6:18).
Now as I gradually come to my final remarks, I wish first of all to thank you for your witness and for the good that you do every day amid many challenges. I want to encourage you! Do not be afraid of the burdens of your daily service and difficult circumstances some of you must endure as knights and ladies. As part of our initiation, we venerate the Holy Cross, the instrument and sign of our salvation. When we flee the Cross, we flee the resurrection!
Although there could be many reasons to be discouraged, amid so many negative and despairing voices, may we be a positive force, salt and light for the church and society. Like the engine of a train, may we be a driving force leading all towards their destination. May you be sowers of hope, builders of bridges and agents of dialogue and harmony.
This will be possible if we do not give in to the temptations we daily encounter along our way. I would like to highlight some of the greatest of the temptations as suggested by the Holy Father, Francis 1.
- The temptation to complain constantly
It is easy to complain always about others, about the shortcomings of superiors, about the state of the Church and society, about the lack of possibilities. But the true Marshallan is the person who, through the Holy Spirit’s anointing, and in imitation of Sir James Marshall, turns every obstacle into an opportunity, but not every difficulty into an excuse! The person who is always complaining is really someone who doesn’t want to work. It was for this reason that the Lord said to our predecessors: “Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees” (Heb. 12:12; cf. Is. 35:3).
- The temptation to gossip and Envy
And this is terrible! It is a great danger when Marshallans, instead of helping each other to grow and rejoice in the successes of their brothers and sister, allow themselves to be denominated by envy and to hurt others through gossip. When, instead of striving to grow, they start to destroy those who are growing; instead of following their good example, they judge them and belittle their value. Envy is a cancer that destroys the body in no time: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mk. 3:24-25). In fact – and do not forget this – “Through the devil’s envy death entered the world” (Wis. 2:24). Gossip is its means and weapon.
- The temptation to compare ourselves to others.
Enrichment is found in the diversity and uniqueness of each one of us. Comparing ourselves with those better off often leads to grudges; comparing ourselves with those worse off often leads to pride and laziness. Those who are always comparing themselves with others end up paralyzed. May we learn from Sts. Peter and Paul to experience the diversity of qualities, charisms and opinions through willingness to listen and docility to the Holy Spirit and the values of the Noble Order.
- The temptation to become like Pharaoh
Our leaders could be the worst offenders. This is to harden our hearts and close them off to the Lord and our brothers and sisters. Here the temptation is to think that we are better than others, and to lord it over them out of pride; to presume to be served rather than serve. It is a temptation that, from the very beginning, was present among the disciples, who – as the Gospel tells us – on the way argued with one another about who amongst them was the greatest (cf. Mk. 9:34). The antidote to this poison is: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mt. 9:35).
- Temptation to individualism
As a well-known Egyptian saying goes: “Me, and after me, the flood!” This is the temptation of selfish people: Along the way, they lose sight of the goal and, rather than think of others, they are unashamed to think of themselves, or even worse, to justify themselves. The Nobel Order is the community of Christ’s faithful, the Body of Christ, where the salvation of one member must be linked to the holiness of all (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Lumen Gentium, 7). An individualist is a cause of scandal and conflict.
- The temptation to keep walking without direction or destination
As Marshallans, we can lose our identity and begin to be “neither fish nor fowl”. We can live with a heart between God and worldliness. We can forget our first love (cf. Rev. 2:4). Indeed, when we lose clear and solid identity, we end up walking aimlessly; instead of leading others, we scatter them.
Dear brother and sister Marshallans, resisting these temptations is not easy, but it is possible if we are grafted on to Jesus who says: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruits by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (Jn. 15:4). The more we are rooted in Christ, the more we are alive and fruitful! Only in this way can we preserve the wonder and the passion of our first encounter with the Noble Order, and experience renewed excitement and gratitude in our life with God and in our motto-. UNITY, CHARITY, FRATERNITY AND SERVICE.
Now, brother Chairman, may I exhort you all to be true Marshallans, true sons and daughters of the Holy Mother, the Catholic Church. I charge you solemnly to put into practice our battle cry: UNITY, CHARITY, FRATERNITY AND SERVICE.
Do so as individuals.
Do so as members of your families.
Do so as Christians.
Do so in private and public life.
Do so as knights and Ladies.
Do so as citizens of your nation.
Yes, in all phases of your life, both civil and religious, individual and social, remember our Battle Cry: UNITY, CHARITY, FRATERNITY AND SERVICE. Thank you and may God bless you for your attention.