Mass in Memory of the Deceased Knights of Columbus on the Feast of St. John Vianney
139th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus
St. Mary Church, New Haven
Aug. 4, 2021
St. John Vianney and Blessed Michael McGivney
Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God promised that he would give us shepherds after his own heart (cf. Jer. 3:15). Today, we celebrate the feast of one such shepherd, a holy parish priest of the 19th century, St. John Vianney.
With priestly virtue and zeal, he revived the faith of his parishioners in a small country parish in the town of Ars in France. When Father Vianney arrived there, Mass attendance was at an all-time low, parishioners were cynical in their unbelief, and the parish itself was thought to be dying.
At his death in 1859, not only was his parish thriving, but it had also become a center for the renewal of the faith, in France and throughout Europe. In the process, St. John Vianney became a model for parish priests everywhere.
The lifespan of St. John Vianney and Blessed Michael McGivney overlapped by seven years; Blessed Michael McGivney was born in 1852 and St. John Vianney died in 1859.
As it happens, Blessed Michael McGivney’s feast day is August 13, which is also the anniversary of St. John Vianney’s priestly ordination at the hands of Bishop Claude Simon of Grenoble, France.
What’s more, St. John Vianney’s boyhood parish was Dardilly, which is where the 1st Knights of Columbus Council in France was established in 2016, the St. John Vianney Council № 16500!
Aside from such interesting connections, St. John Vianney and Blessed Michael McGivney shared something much more profound: both were splendid parish priests, both were exemplary pastors of souls.
How deeply and lovingly we, the family of the Knights of Columbus, cherish the memory of the pastoral labors of our founder, Blessed Michael McGivney, here in the Church of St. Mary in New Haven and at St. Thomas in Thomasson, CT. We recall how Blessed Michael breathed new life into this parish and how he touched the lives of countless individuals and families with the healing and ennobling touch of the Savior.
Thus, he made St. Mary’s radiant in faith and love for the wider community to see. To this day, we Knights of Columbus claim Blessed Michael McGivney as our pastor. And today we give thanks, because in St. John Vianney and Blessed Michael McGivney, God has indeed given the Church pastors after the mind & heart of his incarnate Son.
Moved with Pity
In the Gospel of Matthew just proclaimed, we met Jesus, the Good Shepherd. In spite of the opposition of the Pharisees, Jesus went about towns and villages teaching the crowds, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and healing the afflicted. As he encountered the misery of the crowds, their physical and spiritual disorders, Matthew tells us that he was “moved with pity.” He felt their suffering viscerally.
Feeling their suffering in his depth of his heart, Jesus loved them as only God can, and desired only to enlighten them with faith, brighten them with hope, and allow them to taste at least something of his Father’s boundless love.
The Good Shepherd’s love filled the heart of St. John Vianney and Blessed Michael McGivney. Good priests that they were, they were living extensions of Christ’s ministry. Like Jesus, they experienced the sufferings of their people in the depth of their hearts, and acting in the Person of Christ, offered to them his healing touch.
As they proclaimed the Word of God, they turned minds and hearts from sin and error. As they extended their hands in sacramental absolution, they healed souls of sin. As they offered Holy Mass, they nourished starving souls with the Body of Christ. They dedicated every waking moment to prayer, to saving souls, to gathering together the flock of God, and to building up the Church.
In the Lord’s Name and in his Person, these great pastors prepared countless people to make the journey from death to life – from sin to grace and from grace to glory. In the Lord’s Name and in his Person, they gathered the harvest – not a harvest of wheat or barley but rather a harvest of charity, a harvest of good and loving deeds accomplished in the grace of the Holy Spirit.
If we want to know more about this harvest, let us listen other holy pastors.
Preaching in the 5th century, St. Caesarius of Arles reminded his people that if they desired to receive mercy in heaven, they must practice mercy on earth. In a 4th century homily on charity, St. Basil the Great said (and I quote), “As the sower profits from the wheat that falls onto the ground, so will you profit greatly in the world to come from bread you place before a hungry man.”
Precisely what our beloved founder taught us, when he made charity the first and foundational principle of our Order! This is what generations of Knights of Columbus chaplains have taught us in the jurisdictions and councils from which we hail. They taught us that authentic charity and mercy are to be the hallmark of our lives. A harvest of charity: this is what the Lord wishes to reap from each one of us.
Commending Our Beloved Dead with Confidence
For that reason, among others, we commend our beloved dead to the Lord of life and love with the greatest of confidence, buttressed as we are by Blessed Michael McGivney’s loving intercession. As members and friends of the Knights of Columbus, they were formed in charity, and in a fraternal spirit of unity, they served others in charity – thereby continuing Blessed McGivney’s holy service to the poor, to the widow and orphan, to the outcast. All of which benefitted our beloved dead in that moment when, at the end of their lives, they stood before the Lord as Savior and Judge.
In a moment, the Deputy Supreme Knight will read the names of our beloved dead. As we reverently listen to their names, let us hold them aloft by our prayers, asking that they who sought to live the principle of charity on earth may be accounted as part of the eternal harvest of heaven.
Laborers for the Harvest
Let me briefly add two more things.
In the Gospel Jesus said, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” Founded by a holy priest, the Knights ardently promote priestly vocations and help our priests to be faithful and generous in living their vocation. On this feast of St. John Vianney, let us pray for an increase in priestly vocations: priests of goodness, virtue, and pastoral love, after the mind and heart of our Savior.
This is also a good moment for us as Knights to recognize that the Lord is calling us to help gather his harvest of charity and love by practicing what St. John Paul II called, “a charity that evangelizes” – a charity that flows from prayer, a charity that is so rooted in the Person of Christ that it leads many into the heart of the Gospel – wins them over – whether they are practicing Catholics, Catholics who have left, or simply those searching for truth and meaning in their lives.
Just as the Knights, as a lay organization, has always worked closely with the clergy, so let us be good partners with our bishops and priests in the new evangelization, confident that we are supported by the prayers of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Joseph, St. John Vianney and Blessed Michael McGivney – and may God bless us and keep us always in his love. Vivat Jesus!