“The Creativity of Holiness”
Address to 139th Supreme Convention, New Haven, CT
Most Reverend William E. Lori, S.T.D.
Aug., 4, 2021
The Creative Courage of St. Joseph and Blessed Michael McGivney
On June 11, 2021, I had the privilege of celebrating the Mass at which our new Supreme Knight, Patrick Kelly, was installed. After his installation, our Supreme Knight led all of us in the Litany of St. Joseph, signaling that he had entrusted his service to the Order to the patronage of St. Joseph.
In his letter announcing the Year of St. Joseph, Pope Francis spoke of the “creative courage” that St. Joseph exemplified as he fulfilled his unique vocation as the chaste spouse of the Virgin Mary and as the guardian of the Child Jesus, a guardian who loved Jesus “like a father.”
When facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, Joseph responded, not with grudging acquiescence of his lot in life, but rather with courage and creativity, with the creativity of holy courage.
Think of how Joseph provided for Jesus and Mary that first Christmas night or how he protected his family when Herod tried to kill his newborn Son. Joseph was courageous in accepting God’s will, and because he was courageous, he sought and found ways to fulfill it.
In his greetings to our Convention, graciously conveyed through Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, Pope Francis points also to the “creative courage” of Blessed Michael McGivney.
His Holiness spoke of how Father McGivney addressed with courage and creativity the pressing spiritual and material needs of his parishioners at St. Mary’s Parish. Father McGivney valiantly chose not to ignore or to minimize his parishioners’ needs.
On the contrary, he engaged his parishioners and strove to understand their challenges. His pastoral love was not a matter of mere sentimentality but was bold and persistent, and in his clear-eyed resolve to help his parishioners, he was innovative – whether it was accompanying a condemned man to the gallows or setting about to found the Knights of Columbus.
Some people criticized Father McGivney for his boldness and creativity, but that never deterred him or caused him to back away.
Faith, Holiness and Courageous Creativity
A key ingredient in the courageous creativity of St. Joseph and Blessed Michael McGivney was their closeness to God, their holiness, their participation in his Triune life and love, coupled with their disciplined, virtuous way of life.
The secular world regards faith, holiness, virtue and discipline as indicators of mindless conformity and as hindrances to genuine creativity. For some, the Church’s faith is like a guardrail hemming in thought and action. Holiness, some would say, is an excuse to avert our eyes from the real world by resorting to the unreal world of an imaginary god living in heaven with his minions.
Virtue, some would say, is little more than conformity to societal conventions and discipline, still others would say, is vastly overrated.
The example of St. Joseph and Blessed Michael McGivney suggests otherwise.
For St. Joseph, the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not limit his imagination or restrain his courage. Rather, it attuned his mind and heart to God’s plan for the redemption of the world. Thus, it vastly expanded the horizons of his imagination. Knowing that God was with him emboldened him to say “yes” – not just once or twice, but every day of his life.
Far from averting his attention from the real-world matters at hand, the holiness of St. Joseph caused him to see those matters as they truly were. After all, holiness does not put us in touch with an illusory world but with what C.S. Lewis called “the really real world of heaven.”
The light of eternity helps us see the challenges we face in their truest light, in their sharpest relief, and in their ultimate clarity. Responding to the crises that the Holy Family faced called for virtue and discipline on the part of St. Joseph–but his virtue was not a straightjacket! Rather it helped him to know what was the truly right and creative thing to do, and spiritual discipline gave him the inner strength to follow through.
We can say much the same of Blessed Michael McGivney. Father McGivney did not regard the faith of the Church as a limitation on his pastoral love. Rather, he found in the Person of Christ and in the Church’s faith the source of his love. Like St. Joseph, the faith opened up for Father McGivney the vastest of horizons, for it opened his mind and heart to the infinite love of the Triune God, the immeasurable love of Christ Crucified, and that hope, born of the Holy Spirit, which never disappoints.
This was not merely something he learned from a philosophy or theology textbook. Rather, this was the stuff, the substance of his priesthood. This is what he handled every day at the Altar of the Lord and as a priest truly on the way to holiness, he opened his heart to it.
Nor did his communion with the mysteries of God separate him from his people but rather put him in communion with them in a truly personal way, in touch with “their joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties” (GS, 1). For that reason, Fr. McGivney not only understood his people’s needs, but he was also courageous and creative in addressing them. To see this, we have only to think of his creative courage in founding our Order! Dear brother knights and friends, we should never allow a day to pass without thanking God for the genius and boldness of Father McGivney’s holiness.
We Must Be Courageous and Creative
Now, my friends, it is our turn to be bold, courageous, creative . . . and holy! Over the past 15 months, the pandemic has called forth those qualities in us. One pastor, grappling to the many challenges that COVID posed, was heard to say, “If I have to keep on being this creative every day, I might just have a stroke!” Thankfully, the Knights supported our pastors and parishes generously, rising, as they always do, to the challenges that COVID posed.
But COVID is not the only challenge we face as members of the Knights of Columbus. We seek to fulfill our mission of charity, fraternity and unity at a time when the world around us is becoming more and more impervious to the faith, and when the Church herself seems to be beset by many internal difficulties. It would be easy to throw up our hands and say we will fulfill our mission when the Church gets its act together and world around us welcomes us more warmly. If we were to do such a thing, we would be neither courageous nor creative.
Rather, now is the time for us to embrace our faith boldly and courageously, seeing it not as a limitation on our thought and freedom but rather as the opening of our minds to ultimate truth, goodness and beauty and as the path to freedom, freedom from constraints that sin places upon us. This is how we reclaim our God-given freedom to do what we ought, the authentic freedom ‘to do the truth in love.’
Now more than ever, we must respond to our baptismal call to holiness, tapping into the source of all creativity by sharing in the life of the Trinity and belonging wholly to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and his Body, the Church. Now is the time for us to take a second look at everything the Order offers us for our spiritual growth as Catholic men, for the health and holiness of our families, for growth in charity and service to those in need, in a word, to put our faith into action. Now is the time for us to figure out how to implement those programs creatively, in ways that will do the most good and in ways most likely to attract others to join us.
When Father McGivney founded our Order, it was not for nothing that he called us knights. He chose that term not out of some fascination with all things medieval, but rather because he knew that true knights are men of integrity, courage and creativity. Encouraged by the example and prayers of St. Joseph and Blessed Michael McGivney, let us resolve to be knights of creative courage, facing and rising above our challenges, banding together across all our jurisdictions to achieve the best fraternal year ever!