Solemnity of All Saints
Mass of Thanksgiving for the Beatification of Bl. Michael McGivney
St. Mary Church; New Haven, CT
November 1, 2020
Today the Church throughout the world celebrates the Communion of Saints. In this Solemnity of All Saints, we give thanks to God for men and women, outstanding in holiness, from every time and place, and from every race and culture … those who have “fought the good fight, who have run the race”, and who now rejoice to gaze upon the God of glory and majesty. In this liturgy, we celebrate the holy ones who have been beatified and canonized, including those whose names we know and with whose histories we are familiar. But we also celebrate the sanctity of many others who may never be officially recognized as saints, but who, nonetheless, are numbered in the vast and glorious multitude of the redeemed depicted for us in today’s reading from the Book of Revelation. Among them, we pray, are our relatives, friends, and associates who have preceded us in death, marked by the sign of faith. We pray especially for our fellow Knights of Columbus, and for their families and loved ones – that they too might be among the saints who, day and night, worship the living God.
The blessed ones whom we commemorate today are a diverse lot. The times and places and circumstances of their lives differ greatly. They represent every conceivable vocation and state of life. But all these holy men and women have this one thing in common: they lived the Beatitudes – the Beatitudes that Jesus first proclaimed in his Sermon on the Mount and which were proclaimed again today in our solemn liturgy of All Saints. As Pope Benedict reminded us, the Beatitudes are like the Savior’s self-portrait, and thus, anyone aspiring to holiness will exhibit those luminous qualities Jesus perfectly exemplified.
But today, may I be permitted to focus on just one of that vast multitude of holy ones, the newly beatified Father Michael Joseph McGivney, the quintessential parish priest and the beloved founder of the Knights of Columbus? This morning, I wish to present Father McGivney’s life thru the lens of the Beatitudes, and thus, to present him to you as the priest of the Beatitudes. This is the priest we long for! This is the priest whom the Church needs today!
Blessed Michael McGivney: Priest of the Beatitudes
So it is, that when we hear Jesus say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven,” we immediately recall how Father McGivney gave up everything to serve the Church – his time, his energy, his health, his resources, taking very little in return, and giving of himself until his last moment. In 1886, when Father McGivney preached his parting sermon here at St. Mary’s, parishioners openly wept because Father McGivney had given himself so completely to the Lord, and to the Church, and to them, the people of this parish. Even while living in this world and engaging a busy priestly ministry, Father McGivney already shared in the Kingdom of Heaven, namely, Christ himself.
When Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” do we not recall how Father McGivney mourned over the plight of families that had lost husbands, fathers, and breadwinners? Do we not find him often by the bedside of dying parishioners, many of them young, sharing, like a good shepherd, in the grief and sorrow of the people he served? So too, we find the young Father McGivney walking to the gallows with the condemned “Chip” Smith and being deeply shaken by his execution. Now, the Good Shepherd himself comforts Blessed Michael McGivney in eternity!
When we hear Jesus say, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land,” we call to mind how those who knew Father McGivney personally described him. A fellow priest spoke of Father McGivney as “a man of unassuming character” who sought not fame or clerical advancement but only the opportunity to serve. Precisely when it became apparent that the Knights of Columbus would be successful, Father McGivney stepped away from the limelight, continuing to support the Order, not as supreme knight, but rather as a holy priest who sought only the spiritual and material well-being of his beloved Knights and their families. Today, Father McGivney’s legacy, his “inheritance”, numbers millions of men whom he put on the road to holiness!
When Jesus says to us, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied,” we can almost hear Father McGivney’s distinctive voice in this Church of St. Mary, exhorting his beloved parishioners “to lead a life worthy of their calling”. We can almost see him lovingly but firmly steering the young from moral danger, and, by his example, encouraging all those he met to open their hearts to God. In leading others to righteousness, Father McGivney himself attained to that holiness which opened his heart to the only love that satisfies our deepest longings.
When we hear Jesus say, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,” we find ourselves present in that jail cell, where, with loving perseverance, Father McGivney brought about “Chip” Smith’s conversion, and thus ushered a condemned man to the throne of God’s mercy. As a parish priest, Father McGivney heard thousands of confessions and in those moments of intense grace, helped his parishioners to experience the freedom and joy that come when we accept God’s mercy. When Father McGivney appeared at the gates of heaven, no doubt, many were waiting for him there, the many he had led to open their hearts to the fullness of God’s mercy.
When Jesus says, “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God,” we recall that Father McGivney led a life of temperance and chastity, building on the sense of modesty that he learned at home, and flowering into a life of chaste celibacy for the sake of God’s Kingdom. As he was departing from St. Mary’s Parish, the parishioners offered this resolution: “That Rev. M. J. McGivney has, by his courtesy and kindness; by his purity of life … secured the love and confidence of the people of St. Mary’s ….” For this same reason, the Church is utterly confident that Blessed Michael McGivney now enjoys the vision of God.
Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”, and thus we are reminded that, in the early years of the Knights of Columbus, Father McGivney found himself, at times, dealing with difficult personalities, as well as with the pride and jealousy that seem to be a part of every noble undertaking. By all accounts, Father McGivney responded to those challenges with a disarming humility, a persevering charity, tranquility of spirit, and a wisdom that lent him the authority he needed to settle disputes, to restore peace, and to keep his fledgling Order, the Knights of Columbus, on track. For this, we acclaim Blessed Michael McGivney as a beloved son of the Eternal Father.
When Jesus says, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” – do we not instantly recall how Father McGivney was unjustly criticized, even by fellow priests, as he labored long and hard to launch the Knights of Columbus? In some quarters, Father McGivney was regarded as something of a laughingstock, and in others, it was thought that his project posed dangers for the Church’s future. Father McGivney’s response was neither anger nor recrimination but steady determination and focus, confident that if it were God’s will, the Knights of Columbus would succeed, perhaps beyond his dreams. From his place in the Kingdom of God, Blessed Michael McGivney rejoices!
Pattern of Renewal
Blessed Michael Joseph McGivney – a priest of the Beatitudes. If ever a proposition were easy to demonstrate, it has to be that one. Having lived the Beatitudes so thoroughly and consistently, Father McGivney led his parishioners to holiness and continues to provide for parish priests a pattern, a model for the renewal of priestly life, a renewal so urgently necessary and so deeply desired by God’s holy people. Having lived the Beatitudes so thoroughly and consistently, Father McGivney provides the Knights of Columbus with a roadmap into the future, as the Order seeks to help men become better husbands and fathers and convincing witnesses to the Gospel in these challenging times.
For now, however, let us rejoice and be glad, for among the holy ones who shine like stars for all eternity is a beloved parish priest and the visionary founder of our Order, on whose shoulders we continue to stand. Blessed Michael McGivney, pray for us! Vivat Jesus!