32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 7, 2021
Knights of Columbus State Deputies Mid-Year Meeting
A Scriptural Portrait of Fr. McGivney
Throughout the history of the Order, the figure of Fr. McGivney always loomed large, not merely as a matter of history but indeed as our source of inspiration and as the one who still directs us as move into the future. Since his beatification, however, Fr. McGivney has come even more clearly into focus, as we celebrate his heroic virtues, the soundness of his faith, the depth of his charity, and indeed, the power of his intercessory prayer.
Over this past year, portraits of Fr. McGivney appeared with increasing frequency, not merely the excellent portrait of Chaz Fagan on our holy cards, but indeed Scriptural portraits of our holy Founder whom we so revere. Today’s Scripture readings are a case in point. They paint for us an exquisite portrait of the quintessential parish priest who, in God’s Providence, founded the Knights of Columbus.
Let’s begin with Father McGivney, the priest. Today’s second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, continues the Church’s meditation on the Priesthood of Christ over last several Sundays. Christ, God’s eternal Son, became one of us, entered history, and in our humanity died once for all to take away the sins of the world. Unlike the priests who came before him, Jesus offered not the blood of bulls and goats to cover over transgressions of the Law. Rather, he shed his own blood upon the gibbet of the Cross, to take away our sins. Jesus did this in complete fidelity to his Father’s saving will and out of the deepest love for humanity – and not for humanity in general – but for you and me, and for every person – past, present, and future. Risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, Jesus’ glorified body continues to bear the marks of his passion and death as he pleads our cause before the Throne of God’s mercy, remaining forever our Great High Priest – holy, innocent, undefiled, higher than the heavens. How grateful we should be to God for the Father for giving us so great a Redeemer!
Every ordained priest shares, participates, in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. The ordained priest speaks and acts, not on his own, but in the Person of Christ. He is authorized and empowered to preach the same Gospel that Jesus preached, to offer the same sacrifice that Jesus offered on the Cross, and to intercede for us in union with the Risen Lord who intercedes for us in heaven. No priest fully embodies Jesus’ priestly virtues but when you meet a priest who is “on the way”, you sense it and your heart rejoices. This is what happened when a newly ordained priest, Fr. Michael McGivney, first introduced himself to the parishioners of St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven. Almost immediately, they sensed that this young priest was no ordinary priest, and that he would serve them with a self-sacrificing love modelled on the Savior’s.
Fr. McGivney did not disappoint. The record shows that Fr. McGivney offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass reverently, filled St. Mary’s Church with the living Word of God preached from his heart, heard confessions generously and was by all accounts an excellent confessor, listened to his people and came to know them and their needs, interceded for his people in union with the Savior who intercedes for us in heaven. As the days of his priesthood unfolded, Fr. McGivney seemed to be everywhere: attending to the sick, organizing parish picnics and plays, inspiring and guiding young people, caring for families, especially the bereft, meeting the spiritual and material needs of the men of his parish by founding the Knights of Columbus, visiting the imprisoned, accompanying a condemned man to the gallows, and bringing the priestly presence of Jesus Christ into the wider religious and civic community of Greater New Haven. In a word, Fr. McGivney expended himself with integrity and love, allowing himself day by day to be formed into a priest after the mind and heart of Christ. If I may say so, today’s second reading fits Blessed Michael McGivney to a tee.
I Kings 17:10-16
The fruit of a priestly ministry such as Fr. McGivney’s is charity, the charity of Christ which alone has the power to transform our lives, that charity which is the cornerstone of our Order. Christ’s charity, as reflected in Fr. McGivney’s priesthood, is foreshadowed in today’s reading from the First Book of Kings. In that reading, Elijah the Prophet called on an impoverished widow at Zarephath. Famine had struck the land, and being a widow, she was without support. In asking her for a bit of food and drink, Elijah sympathized with her need and promised her that she and her son would have enough to eat in the year ahead.
As I reflected on this reading, I thought of Fr. McGivney’s visits to widows, which impressed upon him the poverty into which they were plunged upon the death of their husbands, who were the breadwinners. I think, for example, of his concern for Catherine Downs who, with her husband, had built up a prospering business. But upon his death, Mrs. Downs faced financial ruin and the loss of her children. Fr. McGivney did not promise her a miraculous solution, as did Elijah, but with ingenuity and courage, he found a way— the Knights of Columbus way—to help families such as hers attain financial security in the event of the premature death of husbands and fathers.
This Scriptural portrait of Fr. McGivney is rounded out in Mark’s gospel where Jesus condemned the pride and arrogance of the scribes who sought marks of distinction, honor, and deference in public, men who appeared to be holy but in fact preyed upon the vulnerable, stooping so low as to devour the savings of widows for their own benefit. In the same breath, Jesus praised a poor widow who contributed to the Temple a few coins, all she had to live on, as an act of sincere homage to God.
It is not hard for us to imagine Fr. McGivney’s meditating on this Gospel passage, and learning from the Savior himself how to be a holy, humble, self-effacing priest. This does not mean that Fr. McGivney was milquetoast— he was courageous and determined – but he was never in it for himself. In his humility, closely aligned with that of the Savior, Fr. McGivney could see more readily than others, not only the plight of those in need but also their dignity and their goodness.
Conclusion: Pray for Fr. McGivney’s Canonization
Having seen the image of Fr. McGivney in today’s Scripture readings, perhaps there is nothing else for us to do except to pray for his canonization, and to do so in a prayer with which all of us are so happily familiar:
“God our father, protector of the poor and defender of the widow and orphan, you called your priest, Blessed Michael McGivney, to be an apostle of Christian family life and to lead the young to the generous service of their neighbor. Through the example of his life and virtue, may we follow your Son Jesus Christ more closely, fulfilling his commandment of charity and building up his Body which is the Church. Let the inspiration of your servant prompt us to greater confident in your love so that we may continue his work of caring for the needy and the outcast. We humbly ask that you glorify Blessed Michael McGivney on earth, according to your will . . . . Through his intercession, grant the favor I now present. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.” Vivat Jesus!