Address of the Supreme Chaplain
Knights of Columbus State Deputies Meeting
June 11, 2021
I am happy to join with you and with our new Supreme Knight as he conducts his first State Deputies Meeting. I have known and worked with our new Supreme Knight for many years and I am grateful for the fidelity, vision, and energy he brings to his new and demanding responsibilities. We look forward to your leadership, Worthy Supreme Knight— and we ask God to bless abundantly your tenure as the leader of our Order. I also want to express my personal gratitude to our Past Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson, for leading the Order in such a wise and energetic fashion. Thank you, Carl, for your friendship, your wisdom, and kindness through the years and I look forward to all that we will do together in the years ahead. And let me say how much I appreciate the opportunity to continue my service as Supreme Chaplain of this beloved Order, so important for the life of the Church.
This morning, I would like to reflect on two topics which I hope will be helpful as together we seek to lead, guide, and serve the Knights of Columbus. The first is the steadiness, the steadfastness, of our innovative founder, Bl. Michael McGivney. My second point is a reflection on the Eucharist as the source Fr. McGivney’s innovative steadfastness.
Blessed Michael McGivney: the Steadfast Innovator
As we know, some photographs of Fr. McGivney exist and various artists over time have depicted his image. One thing these various images of our founder have in common is this: he seems to combine gentleness with a steadfast spirit. Something about his face suggests resolve and determination, at least to my eye. And I think the story of Fr. McGivney’s life bears this out.
His path to the priesthood was far from easy, given his family’s inability to contribute to the costs of his seminary studies and his father’s untimely death while he was in formation. His first assignment as a priest was challenging, given the failing health of his pastor and the financial needs of St. Mary’s Parish. Although we celebrate his pastoral labors as if they were one long love fest, in fact, they required sustained, daily commitment, all his energy and attention, and a pastoral love that was not flashy but rather persevering. The founding of the Knights of Columbus took the patience of a saint – which is one reason why our founder is on the road towards canonization! Moreover, Fr. McGivney sustained his strenuous ministry with less than robust health, and remained steadfast in his service to the Church up to the very end.
If I were to leave it there, I would misrepresent Father McGivney. He was, of course, steady and determined but he was also an innovator. All of us can think of ways in which Fr. McGivney broke new ground but let’s stick with the one way we know the best, the Knights of Columbus. The creation of the Knights of Columbus came from a truly creative mind – Where others saw binary choices or roadblocks, Fr. McGivney saw a path forward. He created a fraternal society that would win the acceptance of the Church and that would provide faith formation and financial security for Catholic families. As an innovator, however, Fr. McGivney remained steadfast. Convinced he was onto something, he pursued it thoroughly and doggedly. He did his homework. He shopped it out. He kept trying in the face of obstacles. There is much for us to learn from this steadfast innovator!
As we trek through the shifting sands of culture, a culture in which many are forsaking religious faith, a culture in which family life seems to be slipping through our fingers, we must resist the temptation to become discouraged and to give up the struggle to recruit new members, even from among men and their families still in the pews, or to reach out to parishioners who formerly practiced the faith but no longer do so. Among some members and among some of our councils, we may run up against that old ennui, baked-in lethargy, a business-as-usual attitude; we cannot and we must not let that get us down! These days the temptation lurks to blame every setback on COVID and perhaps to claim that during the pandemic ground was lost never to be recovered. As Knights, we speak not of setbacks but of recovery and thank you for all you are doing to help the Church fully re-open! At times, we may find ourselves hesitant to implement new ideas and approaches, perhaps because they seem too demanding or involve going out on a limb.
Moments like these are the perfect them to ask, “What would Blessed Michael McGivney do?” Two answers come to mind: First, he would not quit, he would not give in to discouragement, defeat, or weariness, even in the face of criticism from his peers that he was a dreamer or that his fledgling organization somehow posed a danger to the Church’s welfare. So too, we must not quit trying to advance the mission of the Knights, especially during our leadership tenures, but even after they have run their course. Like Fr. McGivney, we must remain steadfast, determined, jaw out & stomach in! Like our Blessed Founder, we prayerfully discern our priorities and plans, but then we also discern what it will take for us to accomplish them. Following his example, we will do our homework, drilling down to the extent we can, securing as much buy-in as possible, surrounding ourselves with leaders, and then, working at it – cheerfully, day after day, come rain or come shine. Second, Fr. McGivney would (and did) make use of every available resource and initiative to meet the need. Like Fr. McGivney, will not hesitate to implement new initiatives but we will make sure we know what it will take to make them work and in the face of obstacles will not dart from one thing to another. In a phrase, we must be steadfast innovators.
Source of Mission: The Eucharist
We might ask, what was the source of Fr. McGivney’s creative steadiness? And do we have access to that same source? Happily, the answer is “yes”. For Fr. McGivney’s source was nothing other than the Eucharist which he celebrated day after day and upon which he staked his life as a priest. The Eucharist was the “source and summit” (LG, 11) of his ministry and mission, and it is the “source and summit” of our mission as leaders of the Knights of Columbus. For in the Eucharist, Jesus speaks to us in the Word of Scripture and gives himself to us in sacrificial love as we receive his holy Body and Blood. As we listen to Jesus speak to us in Scripture, we absorb something of his obedience to the Father who sent him into the world to unite himself to us, to suffer, to die, and to rise, so as to redeem us of our sins and to restore our wounded human dignity. Thus, do we prepare ourselves to be sent on mission – to our brother knights and their families, to our dioceses and parishes, to the unchurched, and to those who are vulnerable and poor. As we receive our Lord in Holy Communion, “we digest the secret of the Resurrection”, the love of Jesus Christ unconquerable by sin or death or any other merely human obstacle. Fortified by the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation, we find the source of perseverance, steadiness, and courage in the face of obstacles.
As we approach the Eucharistic Lord in moments of quiet, private prayer, then it is that we “hear the cry of the poor”, those in need of our charity as Knights: the cry of the unborn, the cry of the frail elderly, the disabled veteran, and more. Thus, do we absorb from the Lord’s Eucharistic heart, “a charity that evangelizes”, a charity that reaches out with the divine love at the heart of the Gospel, a charity that reveals the loving heart of Jesus Christ. As we linger in prayer to our Eucharistic Lord, we hear him say, “Remain in me” – for as long as we remain with Jesus, we have the strength we need for mission. Yet, the wonderful dialogue of prayer is never a one-way street. Rather, we will find ourselves saying, “Stay with me, Lord! Remain in me!” This is true and lasting source of Fr. McGivney’s steadiness, his willingness to take measured risks, and his perseverance, his love to the very end. This is the true and lasting source of our steadfast perseverance in our efforts to serve the mission of the Order, to grow and expand it, and in Christ Jesus, our Eucharistic Lord, to overcome every obstacle.
For decades, even among church-going Catholics, belief in the real presence of the Eucharistic Lord has been on the decline, and for decades, the rate of participation in Sunday Mass has been on the decline. The Bishops of the United States will be launching what is called “The Eucharistic Revival Project” – a multiyear national effort at the parish, diocesan, and national level to help all those whom we serve to recover, to reclaim, and to recoup their faith in the Eucharistic Lord and their resolve to participate in Holy Mass without fail every Sunday. Bishops in other countries have undertaken similar efforts. It is incumbent upon us as Knights of Columbus, upon you as lay leaders in the Church, not only to support this effort but also to be in the forefront of advancing it, especially by bearing witness to the centrality of the Eucharist in your own life and in the life of your family, and in the life of the Church. Surely we could do nothing that would please Bl. Michael McGivney more than this!
In the coming days, the Bishops of the United States will meet in a virtual format. Sadly, controversy surrounds the proposed joint statement on the Eucharist. Appealing to the principle of unity, one of our foundational principles as Knights, I would ask that you pray for unity among the bishops, that we might indeed unite in developing and issuing a letter on the Eucharist, a letter that may well serve as a foundation to the Eucharistic revival project and a letter that truthfully and lovingly “reads the signs of the times” as it sets forth the Church’s Eucharistic teaching in its fullness. In the meantime, let us as leaders of the Knights of Columbus unite heart and soul around the Eucharistic Lord, around the sacrament of our charity, unity, and fraternity, just as we have taught to do by our Blessed Founder for whose canonization we pray more earnestly than ever! God bless you, brother Knights! Vivat Jesus!