A. Good afternoon, brother knights! During the last day and a half, we have had serious discussions principally centering on the future of the Order, a future that is driven in large measure by our effectiveness and innovation in attracting and recruiting younger members and their families. You have spent much time in workshops in which you have discussed how to fulfill the responsibilities of your office as State Deputies, leading and serving the Order’s state jurisdictions in these challenging times. Perhaps today you felt, as I often feel, the weight of the responsibilities that are attached to the office you have accepted.
B. So I want to begin with a word of thanks for your willingness to serve. Just observing the jurisdictions in which I have lived and served – the District of Columbia, Connecticut, and now Maryland, I can see that the office of State Deputy requires a huge commitment of time and a lot of sacrifice in terms of travel, meetings, outreach, and sometimes the tasks you do are thankless. So please let me add my word of thanks to that of our Supreme Knight.
C. At the same time, it is great honor to serve as a State Deputy. You have been chosen by your brother knights to lead your jurisdictions. They have seen in you an example of Catholic manhood, a model of Christian family life, integrity in your dealings with others, and a bedrock commitment to the Order, to its principles and its programs. It is no small thing to enjoy the respect and esteem of one’s brothers. One of the qualities they have recognized in you is your experience. No one gets to be a State Deputy without holding various offices at the Council and the State level. This is how you gained much knowledge and experience that helps to equip you to fulfill the office of State Deputy. This is more than coming up the ranks and “paying one’s dues” – it is all about being prepared to fulfill one of the critical functions in the Order.
D. As you anticipated serving as State Deputy and upon your election, you no doubt brought to the office a set of plans and priorities – themes you want to stress; programs you want to promote; fellow knights you want to serve alongside of you. You may also have had in mind certain deficiencies you wanted to address – and this is all perfectly normal, natural, and even laudable. What’s more, you are bringing great energy, creativity, and dedication to the accomplishment of important goals, again something that is praiseworthy.
E. But take it from office holder to another, from me to you, that there is a certain wisdom to be acquired in rightly holding an office either in the Church itself or an office that is very much related to life of the Church. Before I say anything further about your office let me say a word about my own and then try to apply what I am constantly learning about my office to the office that you hold.
F. I’ve been a bishop for twenty-two years (and thankfully, the Church has survived). This means that for over two decades I have held an office in which I serve the Church as a successor of the Apostles and in which I am serve a local church, that is to say, a diocese. I’ve been privileged to serve in three: Washington, Bridgeport, and now Baltimore. Over time, I’ve grown to respect more and more deeply the office I hold. I’ve come to realize more and more deeply that I am not the master of the office the Church entrusted to me – I am rather the servant of the Office of Bishop, its steward. My job is not to remake the dioceses where I have served into my own image and likeness – but rather, with creativity, energy, and joy, to hand on the Catholic faith in all of its truth, beauty, and saving power. The diocese entrusted to me is not the platform for my personal options or for self-promotion . . . it is a local church made up of God’s people whom I’m called to serve with a wisdom, a love, and a power greater than my own. That is why I avoid calling it “my” diocese, “my” administration. My office doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to Jesus and to his Body the Church.
G. I tell you this because I think something comparable can be said of the office that you hold, the office of State Deputy. As you consider all that you are doing for your brother knights and as the office of State Deputy sometimes weights upon your mind and heart, spend a little time in prayer reflecting on what it means to hold an office. Like myself, I know you are striving not to be the master of the office you hold but rather its servant, its steward – giving it all you got – not using your office as a personal platform for your own agenda but instead for the good of the Order and the good of your membership. You accepted your office because you are convinced, as I am, that the Knights of Columbus has something tremendous to offer to its members and to their families, as well as to prospective members. You see the Knights, as Father McGivney did, as a way of helping these men and their families live the faith, live a life of charity, find help and companionship in being the Lord’s followers, and reaching out to those in need, “in service to one and in service to all”.
H. The Gospel reminds us that there is a Christian way to handle authority and there is a pagan way to handle authority. Pagans who are in authority answer to no higher power; they are authorities in their own right and thus they impose themselves on their subjects; ‘they lord their authority over them.’ Jesus tells us that it cannot be like this among his followers. The one who leads must be as one who serves. The phrase “servant-leadership” may sound a bit trite, even shopworn, but the idea it seeks to convey remains valid. Men, especially younger men, will be attracted to the Order in jurisdictions where those who lead are the servants of the offices they hold, not the masters. This means attentiveness to all the members and their needs coupled with a wonderful love and loyalty to the Order itself.
I. In these anti-institutional days, fulfilling an office well is more art than science. Above all, it requires a spirituality that combines humility with strength, continuity with creativity, flexibility with firmness – always with our eyes fixed on the Order’s foundational principles, always aiming to act for the good of the Order. As I reflect on the challenges of the office that you hold, I am even more struck by the generosity of your service to the Order. Please know, not only of my gratitude but also of my prayers that God will render your service to the Knights of Columbus fruitful, especially by attracting many new and younger members to our ranks. May God bless you and keep you always in his love. Vivat Jesus!