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Tuesday, 17 June 2014

New Story ....The Brothers of Malta

Let me tell you all a story: in a nation far away, there lived two brothers. They were both members of the Order of St. John, Hospitallers. One lived according to the rule of the order, keeping his vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. The other one lived a life of wealth, status and popularity. Their names would be remembered a half-millennium later for different reasons.

The first and younger brother was named Frederico, and the second brother,the elder was named Tomas. Tomas had three children and used his position to find them careers of power and influence.

Frederico remained devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who he saw as his lady and love.
Daily, Frederico said his rosary. The two represented the best and the worst of the Knights.

Both worked in the many roles of the Hospitallers. Both took care of hospitals under their care. Both, as of yet, did not fight any battles for their country, which was, at the moment, at peace.  However, the proverbial storm clouds of war were gathering on the horizons of their beloved nation. They lived in relative ease and peace. However, Frederico, worshipping God with his whole heart and soul, could see that there time of peace was coming to an end. Tomas saw nothing in the future. He missed all the signs of the times, such as the failed trips of the ambassadors to the countries threatening invasion.  Tomas kept busy, organizing his huge staff, re-decorating his villa on the sea, and having dinners for his children and their new employers, both in the state and in the Church.

Frederico had to be busy as well, as his hospital also was a garrison for soldiers, the true Knights who were training for invasion. Frederico oversaw this training himself. He began to realize that time for preparation was shorter than previous thought.  His intuitions pushed him to a point of surety, but Tomas doubted every word, every vision, and prayer in general.

The elder brother was a realist, a pragmatist, and sadly, utilitarian. All his friends were “contacts” and all his “connections” brought him success. He owned two galleons himself, and supplied all the weaponry as well as the wages for the sailors, as these were, unusually, all free men.

Tomas owned the biggest villa in the city, rivaling even the palace of the Grand Master. His estates yielded the best wine and his horses the fastest runners. But, those he kept in Sicily, on his other estate, which was the largest farm in that country.

Frederico had taken a vow of poverty and took that vow seriously. Tomas called him “The Monk”, but many of their fellow Knights loved and admired the quiet, prayerful man.

He lived in Mdina, is a small apartment, when he was not in the garrison. His own body guard took private oaths to defend him to the death. Frederico would have been scandalized by their fierce loyalty, which he would have said belonged to God, only. And, he would have been right.

Long ago, as a tall, thin youth, Frederico began “seeing” visions, which he, at first, spoke of only to the old holy Father Muscat.  Father Muscat believed the youth, seeing the purity of heart and simplicity of Frederico’s soul. But, after the priest died, when the youth man was twenty, Frederico had no one with whom to speak of his great love for Mary, Jesus and the Archangel Michael.

One day, after seeing St. Michael hovering over Valletta like a giant in the sky, Frederico made the mistake of telling Tomas of the vision. Not only did his older brother laugh at the thought of a giant floating above the new city, he laughed at his brother’s simplicity, calling him a religious fool. But, worse than that, Tomas, only two years older than his brother, told his parents, and peers of Frederico’s secret visionary life.

The Knights got involved, interrogated poor, young Frederico, but to the surprise of the embarrassed family and the cynical Tomas, decided in a tribunal that Frederico had been favored with visions from heaven.

The family was temporarily, and to the relief of Frederico, silenced. Not even the youths’ mother believed her youngest son. But, one sister, the beautiful and gracious Claire, did.

Claire listened to Frederico’s heart and she learned to hear the words of wisdom coming from this young man. She was convinced of her brother’s special call, which was to defend Malta from all enemies, but not merely by force, but through prayer, fasting, and penance.

Tragically, God decided to take Claire away from the family when she was sixteen, drowning in the great sea, coming back from a visit to Tomas’ new estate in Sicily. Her lovely body was never found, but yearly, Frederico would take the best French Bourbon roses from the Grand Master’s gardens, make a wreath, and with Tomas, sail out near the place of the loss of Claire.

However, the winds of war forbade this custom this year, as fleets were being prepared, both in the lands of the Sultan and the small Catholic island.

Frederico’s thoughts came back from the floating roses on the sea to his meal with Tomas. Frederico suddenly burst out, “But, Tomas, what is you are wrong? What if there is a siege and the people have no food, no water, no wine? You would be to blame for not planning for such an exigency.”

Tomas frowned. “I? To blame? What of these stupid priests who tell us that God will bring peace? No, I do not think I would be blamed.”  But, a small seed of doubt concerning his great reputation had been planted by Frederico’s comment. Tomas would think about this possible blame. He would consider planning farms on the island, but he would not yet tell Frederico he would ponder the younger man’s words.

“And, what about Immanuael?” Frederico drank his large glass of water. A servant immediately filled his goblet up again.
“So, is he your son? What do you know about having a son, getting him placed in a good situation, away from danger? What do you know of a father’s concern, anxiety, sleepless nights?”

Frederico sighed. “I am sorry. Or course, I know nothing of these things, but we need him here. We need his many talents. Can you not see that he could be one of the men of the hour, as they say, right here?

“A man of the hour planting cabbage in Gozo? You astound me, Frederico, but then, you have always been more than a bit stupid about the world.”

Tomas stood up. “I need to go. I have a meeting at two and it is half-past two. I shall send you a message before I go with Immanuel to Milan.”

The two brothers embraced, briefly and Frederico watched Tomas rush away. A meeting. What woman would be waiting for Tomas and where this time? Frederico would go to the old cathedral and pray, while Tomas ignored his immortal soul.

To be con