138th Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention
Supreme Chaplain’s Comments
New Haven, Connecticut
Aug. 5, 2020
Like all of you, I would prefer to be in the same room today. That said, I am most grateful to all who worked so hard
to put together this “virtual” convention, and I know for a fact that the staff at the home office labored long and hard to make our gathering such a grand success. With you, I am most grateful to them for their hard and effective work.
As you know, however, this year’s Convention focuses on “fraternity.” Ironically, this turns out to be the year we were unable to be together in fraternity. One of the great advantages of an in-person convention is the opportunity to renew the ties of fraternal friendship.
Much of that happens informally – meeting in the hallways, at the States Dinner, a quick visit before a session begins or going out to a ball game.
We weren’t able to do any of those things this year but our fraternity is nonetheless intact and God willing even stronger. For, as Father McGivney taught us, human friendship is not the sole basis for our fraternity. Rather, it has deep spiritual roots anchored in our Catholic faith. So, whether we are together or separated by circumstances,
the foundations of the fraternity that we share perdure. And with the happy prospect of the beatification of Father McGivney, we have an opportunity to strengthen that spirit of fraternity which he taught us.
I truly do hope and pray that we will bring with us from this Convention a deepened sense of the spiritual bonds of fraternity that we share as Catholics and as members of the Knights of Columbus.
The Spiritual Roots of Fraternity
As we know, some fraternal organizations have fallen on hard times. There are various reasons for this. Many people say they are too preoccupied with work, family and other pastimes to be part of a fraternal organization.
In addition, contemporary culture is individualistic and does not encourage people to join together in lasting bonds of friendship, mutual interests and shared convictions. Let me add that the results of this lacuna in people’s lives have not been positive. Today, more than ever, people are experiencing not only loneliness, but also isolation
and those feelings of isolation have only worsened with the pandemic.
But I’d also suggest that the decline in membership among fraternal organizations may also be due to the lack of a sound spirituality of fraternity. Over the long haul, a merely human fraternity is harder to sustain than one which is rooted in God’s love for the human family.
As Knights of Columbus, we are blessed with a fraternity that is literally made in heaven and manifested on earth.
This is a wonderful part of Father McGivney’s legacy of sanctity.
Fraternity in Scripture
Scripture teaches us that God created us as unique individuals but he also created us for friendship with himself and with one another. As the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis make clear, we are indeed created to be “our brother’s keeper.”
Further, our fraternity is rooted in “the divine fraternity” of the Trinity, the One-in-Threeness of the persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As I stated on a previous occasion, it is a bridge too far to describe the Trinity as “a fraternal organization,” but it is not far-fetched to find in the fellowship of the Trinity the root and basis for the fellowship that we share as Knights of Columbus.
It is in and through Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and humanity, that we have access to the fellowship of the Holy Trinity. Indeed, our principle of “fraternity” signals that, as Catholic men, we participate in “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 13:14), a fellowship that encompasses the angels and the saints.
To repeat, this fellowship is ours in Christ Jesus. Through his Incarnation, Death and Resurrection, Jesus broke down the sinful barriers which humanity had erected, barriers that undermine our fellowship with God and one another.
Through Baptism, we are immersed in the Lord’s saving Death and Resurrection. Because of this, we are adopted children of God and in Jesus are privileged to claim God as our Father also. Thus, we have become brothers of Christ and brothers of one another. Through the principle of fraternity, taught to us by Father McGivney, we live out this central and vital truth of our faith, not just in theory but in ways that are eminently practical.
Fraternity Tried and True
In these difficult times, marked by a pandemic, racial unrest and economic insecurity, it seems that almost everything is being called into question, including the value of democracy, the role of religion and the rule of law.
It is also a time of intense polarization – culturally and politically – an era when reasoned dialogue and appropriate compromise are in short supply.
Even though we hail from different countries on different continents, nonetheless, bitterness and division are in air that we breath, a toxin that is as deadly to the soul as carbon monoxide is to our bodies. So, it is not surprising that the upset, uncertainty and polarization of culture is reflected in the life of the Church, not only privately but publicly.
In such an atmosphere, the fraternity of the Church can be shaken. For example, there is no lack of angry denunciations directed at fellow Catholics, and many of these reputation-ruining denunciations are, in fact, false. They are not merely public detraction but indeed public calumny.
Let us make no mistake, dear brothers. Such cultural turbulence also affects our beloved Order. Made up of more than two-million members, is it any wonder that we represent a wide variety of views on a wide variety of subjects.
Yet, caught up in a culture of public denunciation, we may find our own fraternity shaken and its strength tested.
It is like being in an airplane that encounters severe turbulence. In that moment, the strength of the plane’s construction, its mettle, is tested. So too the mettle of our fraternity is often tested.
But the Church is not merely a forum where topics du jour churn. Rather, the Church is more like a crucible into which cultural currents flow, so that, through the grace of Christ, they can be filtered and purified.
Firmly rooted in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, attentive to the Word of God as it comes to us through the Church, the members of the Body of Christ should grow in their concern for one another, even more so in times of controversy and trouble than in tranquil times.
In this way, the Church should model fraternity for the rest of society. It should be a place where, through thick and thin, Catholics care about Catholics and demonstrate the ability to work through problems and controversies, with faith and reason, all the while maintaining a spirit of fraternal concern.
What applies to the Church in general applies to us as Knights in a particular way. We have pledged to uphold and to live our faith, not half-heartedly, but fully. We have willingly joined a band of brothers united in faith and charity
who exhibit fraternal concern for one another and for our families, a fraternal concern that extends to the whole Church and to the society around us, especially the poorest and most vulnerable among us.
We are part of a fellowship that spans the globe but is also local.Fraternity, like charity, begins at home, in our home councils and jurisdictions, and our fraternity radiates outwards, to the wider Church and society.
Fraternity means resolving disagreements with Christian charity and reason. It means not jumping to conclusions about one another’s motives. It means a willingness to help a brother knight who is faltering. It means abstaining from the culture of denunciation, electronic or otherwise.
As Knights we should have a deep sense of responsibility for the Church. In a fractious time, we should model what true Christian fraternity is all about, but more than that, we should be catalysts of a fraternal spirit of holiness and virtue in our parishes, in our dioceses, and in the prevailing culture.
If we were the source of our own fraternity, we could never hope to fulfill such an important mission. But if indeed our fraternity has a divine source, then we can move forward with Gospel boldness to be and become models of fraternity for Church and society, precisely when this is most needed.
What Fraternity Is For
But what is the specific focus of the fraternity that is ours as Knights of Columbus?
True to Father McGivney’s original vision, the Knights of Columbus is a way in which men are united in common concern for the well-being of their families, including their financial security. We express fraternal concern for one another in time of death and illness, or when our families celebrate graduations and weddings, indeed, by thousands of small acts of kindness that never make the record books.
Our fraternity is indeed ‘made in heaven and manifested on earth.’ As a matter of history, we can say that Father McGivney “founded” our fraternity but now that he is to be beatified, we can, with supreme confidence say that,
from his place in heaven, he continues to guide and cultivate our fraternity, just as he guided and cultivated the fraternity of that small band of brothers that he formed here in the Church of St. Mary, in New Haven.
Indeed, Father McGivney founded the Knights because he wished to create a “fraternal support system” to help men be better Catholics: to know and love the faith, to practice the faith with fidelity, to break down the barriers of racism, to grow in their life of prayer and to grow in virtue, to become better husbands and fathers, to be united in a brotherhood of charity for one’s fellow Knights and their families, but also a brotherhood of charity that extends to the whole of Church and society.
In the late 19th century, many regarded Catholics as second-class citizens. In the genius of holiness, Father McGivney created the fraternity of the Knights, so that, bound together as brothers, they would have confidence
in living and bearing witness to the faith. This in fact is what Pope Francis means when he speaks of “missionary discipleship.”
Father McGivney, who was a Pope Francis priest before there was a Pope Francis, is now urging us to strengthen our fraternal bonds of charity and unity not only for the sake of our own faith and that of our families but also for the sake of the Church’s mission to bring the Gospel to the world.
The first decades of the 21st century have presented a new set of challenges different from those of the 19th and 20th centuries, but the essential mission of the Knights has not changed, and, indeed, is more relevant and necessary than ever.
A Fraternity of Priest-Chaplains
Let me offer an additional thought about fraternity, namely, priestly fraternity. I rejoice for many reasons over the beatification of Father McGivney but I find special joy in the fact that he was a diocesan priest and a Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.
As priest and chaplain he attained, through God’s grace, a high degree of holiness and a high degree of apostolic fruitfulness.
Father McGivney loved the priesthood and he loved his brother priests. In days when priests died young (Father McGivney was only 38 when he died) and when transportation was more difficult than it is today, priests greatly valued their fraternity and, more often than not, supported one another in the work of building up the Body of Christ, the Church.
While Father McGivney was brimming with talent, energy and holiness, he was never a “lone ranger”; he never tried to “go it alone.” Even when he met up with criticism from his fellow priests, he maintained the bonds of priestly fraternity with kindness and charity.
How important that we, who are Father McGivney’s successors as chaplains, support one another in the quest for priestly virtue and holiness and seek to maintain a spirit of fraternal love among ourselves, most especially in these challenging times.
So too, Father McGivney fostered fraternity between priests and laity. How often it is said that Father McGivney ensured that the Knights would be lay led, and in doing so offered the Church a new model of how clergy and laity could work together in harmony. That is exactly the relationship that should prevail between us who are your chaplains and our fellow Knights.
Salute to the Worthy Supreme Knight
In closing, I would like to salute and thank our Worthy Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson. In his long and excellent tenure as our Supreme Knight, in the energy and brilliance with which he continues to lead the Order, and in his many far-seeing initiatives, no one has better exemplified the fraternal spirit of Father McGivney than he and no one has worked harder to promote the cause of Fr. McGivney’s beatification.
It is my privilege to know and to account as a friend our Supreme Knight, and this from the earliest days of my service as a priest. If we were together in one room, there would be thunderous applause at this point, but I’m willing to wager that all of you who are listening to my words are applauding, not only with your hands, but in the depths of your hearts for this brother Knight who leads us so well and wisely.
Through the intercession of the soon-to-be Blessed Michael J. McGivney, may God bless you, Worthy Supreme Knight, and your wife Dorian, and your family, and may God keep you in his love.