"the Knights of Malta conferred on then
President Ronald Reagan their highest honor"
From........... National Catholic Reporter
January 27, 1989
By- Michael Farrell - NCR 'Forum" Editor
CHURCH'S LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO KNIGHT
WHEN A visiting Martian says, "Show me your religion," the average earthling might mumble any number of banalities Ñ like, you know, it's about God or the pope or the rabbi, or it's about sometimes, especially really bad or good times, when, you know, we look around, or look up, and realize we're out of control, and there must be something, or someone, bigger and better, who has a handle on things, able to make us all happy, if not now, later,'' and we get carried away, you know, hand ourselves over, tip our hats, say, you're great please give me a hand.
If the Martian buys that, you have a convert. But you will still have many questions to answer. In a grand context like this, how can you explain apostolic delegates? Or diocesan press officers? Or the Vatican budget deficit? That's tipping your hat to earth, not to heaven, the Martian will say.
You might mumble then about how your spiritual forebears, many centuries ago, decided to play ball with the world, and these incongruities are barnacles that have gathered on your barque ever since.
This may prompt the Martian to ask about knights.
Minor barnacles from the Middle Ages, you may say. At which juncture the little green guy may pull from his little green sleeve a press release announcing that the Knights of Malta conferred on then President Ronald Reagan their highest honor - the Grand Cross of Merit Special Class - at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel Jan.13.
"The Waldorf-Astoria is a big hotel in New York," you try misdirection, which never works with Martians."
"The Knights were founded in 1089," you try. "During the First Crusade. They were feisty fellows fighting for Christendom. They concocted just wars and slaughtered the infidel. They are of ancient lineage and worthy of Ronald Reagan. Their full title is the Sovereign Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta."
"I can read," the Martian snaps.
"They're Catholic. [Pause] Dear to the pope. [Pause] Rich. They have put aside their swords and spears and are dedicated to helping the sick and poor around the world - it says so here - but between ourselves they also fight communism, and they help each other by introducing each other to the right people, and thus they all get richer and better connected. A club, you might say."
"But what about religion?"
"They're Catholic - didn't I tell you ? Their members include J. Peter Grace, Alexander Haig, William E Simon, Vatican envoy Frank Shakespeare, baseball's Bowie Kuhn. You can't get more Catholic than that."
"But Reagan isn't a Catholic."
"You don't understand. Barnacles on the barque acquire a life of their own. Especially rich barnacles whose beliefs are uncomplicated because these believers haven't much time to ruminate, being busy running the world. In this way, they cause the pope no problems, and the pope loves that, and they give him lots of money, so they just go ahead and do their own thing. Their top man, one Fra Andrew Bertie, who sports the admittedly worldly titles of 'Prince' and 'Grand Master,' has a rank equivalent to a cardinal."
"What about Reagan?"
"Oh, Reagan! - he is getting this honor because of his 'commitment to the dignity of the individual and the importance of family values' - it says so here."
"Are we talking about the same Reagan?"
"Well, OK, so he is divorced. And, yes, a lot of families are on the streets, but these didn't vote for Reagan in the first place. What can you expect?"
"There's yet more, the Martian pulls a June 1988 news release from his other green sleeve. It says John M. Snyder, "the nation's senior firearms lobbyist," was inducted into the Order of St. Michael the Archangel. This Snyder is described as chief lobbyist and director of publications and public affairs of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, editor of 'Point Blank,' Capitol Hill editor of 'Gun Week' and former associate editor of the National Rifle Association's 'American Rifleman.'
"This Christian sure is a walking arsenal," the Martian says.
"Michael the Archangel is generally considered God's first police officer," you squirm. "It says so here. [Pause] Besides, they're not really Catholic; they're interdenominational."
"Oh, never mind. You'd never believe it. [Pause] But our pope, John Paul II, recently bestowed on the order his apostolic blessing for its efforts to promote justice and peace - it says so here."
"Is this pope a freak?"
"Don't tempt me with questions like that."
"How can you become a knight if you're not rich and if you're not a gun freak?"
"That will be a cold knight in hell. Although you could try the Knights of Columbus - more proletarian, less blue-blooded, regular guys, but not regular gals, who are not admitted."
"Religion isn't easy to get handle on," the Martian says, his antennae atwitter.
"Of course, there's more to it than knights," you say. There's the rosary, and indulgences, and the kiss of peace, and altar boys, and unofficial altar girls, and long Vatican corridors, and old art treasures, and Catholic Worker houses, and base communities. It's the baggage you collect when you've been at it nearly 2,000 years. The founder wouldn't recognize it, but he wouldn't fit into the 20th century church anyway Ñ he might make it in a base community, but he certainly wouldn't be made a knight, not having the money or the guns.