Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart
Knights of Columbus
St. Mary Church, New Haven, CT
June 7, 2019
No Ordinary Time
We’ve gathered once again in this church dedicated to Mary, a church which is truly the spiritual home of the Knights of Columbus, for the installation of new State Deputies and the presentation of their Medals of Office. Those of you who are newly elected are accompanied by brother knights who already serve as State Deputies. They are here to support you, and with you, they look forward to the fraternal year that is about to begin. Your election as State Deputies speaks to your long and dedicated service to the Order as well as to the respect and esteem in which your brother knights regard you. Please accept my warmest congratulations.
Although this ceremony takes place annually, all of us recognize that this is no ordinary time for the Church and for the Order. It is a time when, as never before, both the Church and the Order need your leadership. It is plain for all to see that the Church is in the midst of a global crisis of credibility, a crisis generated by the abuse of minors by clergy and by a lack of accountability on the part of bishops. It is also plain for all to see that, in many parts of the world, the Church is facing a crisis of belief among its own members. Nearly 37% of American Catholics are seriously considering leaving the Church because of the abuse crisis and its mishandling by Church authority. Young people are leaving the Catholic Church in droves, not only because of the abuse crisis, but also because they have not been formed in the faith. Today more people than ever wrongly believe that they can find happiness without God, without Jesus Christ, without a community of faith, without the sacraments. More than a few think that being “religion free” is essential to their freedom.
All this and more profoundly affects the Knights of Columbus which rightly situates itself in the heart of the Church and continues to serve at all levels as “the strong right arm of the Church”. Declining Mass attendance and Church membership challenge the Order. Either we can accept these facts with fatalistic indifference, and in so doing assume that our Order will become a shadow of itself, or else we can decide that in God’s grace we are going to do something about it. I trust you believe with all your heart and soul that we need to do something about it. Present realities challenge you to step up to the plate as never before, and the Holy Spirit is calling forth from you a new level of leadership and service in office as State Deputies, on behalf of your brothers. This homily is about the basis of your service and leadership, the foundation upon which you will exercise the important office entrusted to you.
When a man enters the seminary, the first thing to be looked at is his humanity. Is it whole, integral, formable, capable of attaining human and Christian virtue, capable of relating well to other people, capable of empathy toward those in need, able to exercise leadership, able to communicate well and wisely to others. Relax, dear ladies, I’m not suggesting that your husbands enter the seminary! But I am suggesting, and I’m going to guess you will support me in this, that the basic element of leadership and service – at home, at work, and in the Church – is the quality of one’s humanity. And in this Catholic men’s fraternal organization, the largest in the world, leadership requires of you a sound and virtuous Christian manhood.
Not long ago that proposition would almost have been taken for granted, but not these days in which our culture is deliberately blurring the lines of sex and gender and denigrating the identity and roles of men, husbands, and fathers, much to detriment of family life, of our children, of our Church, and our culture. This has nothing to do with machismo, an aggressive male bravado that speaks more of insecurity than of strength. It has everything to do with being the man, the husband, and the father that the Holy Spirit is calling you to be and intends you to be, especially in this hour when, as never before, you are called to be servant-leaders at home, at work, in your parishes, in your communities, and now, in your jurisdictions.
Progress in the Christian Life
Not a one of us, myself included, should imagine ourselves to be a finished product. On the contrary, we are all a work-in-progress, but the operative word in the Christian life should be progress. Are we making progress in becoming virtuous Christian men who embrace our faith wholeheartedly, who bear witness to it, who attract others to it and help them live it? Or, are we running in place, complacent, perhaps taking a victory lap? Where can we turn to find out which it is?
One place is the Gospel that was proclaimed at this Mass. It is a Gospel scene that is indelibly etched in my heart and mind because in it Peter is confronted by the Risen Lord for his three-fold betrayal. The Savior does not wag his finger at Peter and say, “How dare you deny me when I needed you the most? What kind of a man are you to deny me in front of a casual bystander?” No, Jesus does not do that. Instead he asks Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter answers just as you and I would: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!” But when Jesus persists, asking him three times, ‘do you love me?’, it dawns on Peter, nay, it grips him in the depth of his being, that Jesus is calling him to deep repentance of his sin of betrayal as the condition for leading and guiding the flock of God.
I say that this scene is etched on my soul, because, like Peter, I must continually go before the Risen Lord in abject, heartfelt repentance if I would have any chance at all of leading and serving the Church after the manner of the Good Shepherd. I would recommend the same for you, dear brothers, at the outset of this fraternal year. Hear Jesus asking you, “Do you love me?” and in that question hear him inviting you to understand any and all the ways in which you have broken his commandments, summed up by Jesus in terms of charity – love of God and love of neighbor.
A good place to start in any leadership role is repentance. Before I received Holy Orders and before I began any assignment, I made a long retreat, the centerpiece of which was sacramental confession. Confession is still the centerpiece of my spiritual life for nothing good happens unless I make worthy and frequent use of that sacrament. I’m suggesting, brothers, that the same is true for you. It’s great to celebrate but first open your hearts to the Father of Mercies and to the Savior’s open heart, in a sincere and unburdening confession of your sins, confident that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, you will be forgiven.
In preparing for sacramental confession, ask yourself about your life of prayer. Is it rooted and built upon Sunday Eucharist? Does it include a daily Rosary? Do you take time to pray in private and read the Scriptures regularly? Do you ask for Divine Mercy each and every day? Do you go to Confession often? Are you working on that dominant vice that is the source of so many other vices? What are the virtues you need to acquire? What about your relationships at home, at work, and in the Order? With whom do you need to reconcile and for what reason? By prayerfully asking yourselves such questions, you will respond to the Lord’s question, “Do you love me?” and you will be renewed, as a man and as a Christian.
Abyss of Virtues
If we were to recite the Litany of the Sacred Heart we would address the Savior’s open and loving heart as “the abyss of all virtues”. The word “abyss” doesn’t mean a chasm into which good things disappear, but rather the bottomless source of every virtue, both human and Christian: the theological virtues: faith, hope, and love; the pivotal moral virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. From these virtues stem every other virtue that we need to acquire if we would be good men, strong leaders, and humble servants.
Let us remember, brothers, that Father McGivney founded us to be knights, Knights of Columbus. A knight is a person of virtue and valor, a person who not only looks out for others but is ready to do battle for that which is important and good. But the first place where you and I need to do battle is our own souls. Going on there is the perennial battle between good and evil, truth and lies, and much of the crisis in the Church is due to laxity as regards this battle. It’s due to moral laxity, to ready compromises with evil, with moral retreat. One of the most important things we can do in this hour of crisis and in this hour of need for our beloved Order, is – as St. Paul said – ‘to fight the good fight, to finish the race, and to keep the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Winning the fight in our hearts and souls and bodies takes us a long way toward victory in the battle we must wage against evil, unbelief, and complacency.
And, as Jesus said, in St. John’s Gospel, “I have much more to tell you but you cannot bear it now!” – So for the moment, let us unite in beseeching the Sacred Heart of Jesus and asking him for the graces we need to be those men, those leaders, those knights who make a visible difference this fraternal year in the Church, in the Order, and in society. Vivat Jesus!