Mass of Thanksgiving for the Beatification of Bl. Michael McGivney
St. Mary Seminary, Baltimore
November 24, 2020
I’m delighted to celebrate this Mass of Thanksgiving for the beatification of an alumnus of St. Mary’s Seminary – a quintessential parish priest and the visionary founder of the Knights of Columbus, Blessed Michael Joseph McGivney. How grateful we are to the God of all holiness for the gifts of nature and grace which he poured out upon Father McGivney. How thankful we are to our Holy Father Pope Francis for authorizing the beatification of this holy priest who completed his priestly formation at St. Mary’s Seminary, then on Paca Street, and in 1877 was ordained by then-Archbishop James Gibbons in the Baltimore Cathedral of the Assumption.
Father McGivney was less a theorist of holiness and more its practitioner as he allowed the seeds of holiness, planted in his soul at Baptism, and nurtured in his seminary formation here at St. Mary’s Seminary, to germinate in the midst of his many duties as a parish priest in New Haven. Indeed, the cornerstone of his life as a parish priest and the cornerstone of the Knights of Columbus was charity. Father McGivney was a priest of immense pastoral charity and in founding the Knights of Columbus, he ensured that his fledgling Order would dedicate itself to charity – the charity of Christ that is expressed so beautifully in the Beatitudes, that form the heart of the Sermon on the Mount. 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. Today, therefore, I wish to present Father McGivney 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 at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, 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 his 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.
St. Mary’s Seminary, where Father McGivney was formed for the priesthood, continues its mission of raising up new generations of priests – good and holy priests capable of becoming missionary disciples, good and holy priests who will bear witness to the saving love of Jesus and form sound communities of faith, worship, and service. Through the intercession of Blessed Michael McGivney, may we be and become priests of the Beatitudes, those priests in whom the image of Christ shines through! Blessed Michael McGivney, pray for us!