I. In the Days of Their Ancestors
Worthy Supreme Knight, Brother Bishops and Priests, Worthy State Deputies, and dear friends in Christ, at the risk of repeating myself, allow me to share with you this morning a story of evangelization and faith which I shared with the Board at one of its meetings earlier this year.
In the spring of 1865, missionary priests from France arrived in Nagasaki, Japan,where the Faith had been planted years before, but had all but died out.Making their way to the northeastern tip of the country to announce the Gospel to those who had never heard it, the missionaries were astonished to come upon a village in which they found several dozen people who would gather every Sunday to pray the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, the Acts of Faith, Hope, Charity and Contrition, and recite the Ten Commandments and the eight Beatitudes.
More than a little surprised, the missionaries asked the people why they did this. The Japanese villagers responded that, long ago, in the days of their ancestors, men who were called “Fathers” had taught their forebears about Jesus. The “Fathers” also said that if anything should happen to them, the villagers should nonetheless continue to gather every Sunday, pray these prayers, and teach them to their children and their friends, so that they might know Jesus too, and come to eternal life in him.
In addition, these “Fathers” told the ancestors of these villagers that one day God would send other “Fathers” to them to teach them more about Jesus and bring them the sacraments. The missionaries who could hardly contain themselves, said, “We are those “Fathers!” But the villagers replied only with a suspicious silence – and why? … because it had been passed down through the generations that if ever anyone should come to them claiming to be those “Fathers,” they should be asked four specific questions, to be sure they were from the true Church. The missionary priests readily agreed to answer those questions.
So the first question was asked: “When you walk into one of your churches, what do you do?” One of the priests demonstrated a genuflection. The crowd looked at them with total concentration. “Second, does your Lord have a Mother?”
“Yes,” the priests said, “And her name is Mary.” And the faces of the villagers began to light up.
Third, “Where does the earthly leader of your Church live?”
“In Rome,” they said, whereupon a palpable excitement broke out among the people.
“Finally, do you “Fathers” have wives?”
The priests smiled, “No,” they said, and the crowd erupted with unrestrained joy, hoisted the priests on their shoulders, and led them into their little church, which had not seen a priest in over 250 years.
When word of this reached the Holy Father, Pius IX, tears of joy rolled down his face, so moved was he at evidence of such fidelity, tenacity, and faith.
II. The Year of Faith
At the beginning of this Year of Faith, then, we gather for our mid-year meeting. As you know, the focus of this Year of Faith is what Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have called the “New Evangelization.” This New Evangelization is intended to ignite, or to re-ignite, the flame of faith in the minds and hearts of the people of our day, so that they may encounter, or re-encounter, as if for the first time, the living person of Jesus Christ. From this encounter, they will be able to know and love Christ, so that he may interiorly transform them – and us – into persons who are capable of loving him and receiving his love, both now and for eternity.
An essential aspect of the New Evangelization consists in a re-discovery of the truth, beauty, and goodness of the content of the Church’s faith, so that we might understand more deeply what we believe, and believe more deeply because of that understanding. Indeed, stories like the one of the villagers in Japan recall to us the fidelity and heroism of those who have gone before us. Now, this great mission of evangelization is ours, and it applies in a particular way to us as Knights of Columbus.
III. In the Concrete
Our Venerable Founder, Father McGivney, began our Order so that Catholic men, and through them, their families, could take ownership of their faith through their membership in the Knights of Columbus. Father McGivney saw then, and we see now, that it is not enough for Catholic men to be passive spectators or even disengaged bystanders. By Baptism, all of us are called to be evangelizers.
In the concrete, how does this play out? There is nothing more basic than membership. This is one of the primary, overarching goals of our Order in this Year of Faith. But it is vital that our efforts to increase membership in the Knights of Columbus be understood not merely as fulfilling a quota, important as that is, but as a means toward evangelizing Catholic men, so that they, in turn, can pass the light of faith on to others.
Indeed, when we don’t invite men to join the Knights of Columbus, we may well be depriving the neediest among us of charity they would have received, were a particular council larger, stronger, and more active. Along the same lines, this Year of Faith should prompt us to think about our parishes and acquaintances at home and ask ourselves: Who is a lukewarm or inactive Catholic who might become a great Catholic by joining the Knights of Columbus? Who might be deprived the chance to encounter Christ, to rediscover his faith, and so be able to live better the vocation of marriage and family, because we failed to invite him to join the Order?
IV. Sacramentum Caritatis
The Catholic Faith – and our membership in the Knights of Columbus – finds its deepest meaning and fullest expression in the Holy Eucharist. The Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, really & truly present on the altar, and in the tabernacles of our churches – … this is a mystery to be celebrated, received, and lived.
As Pope Benedict has written so clearly, the Eucharist is the Sacrament of Charity. And charity, of course, is the first principle of our Order. “The love that we celebrate in the sacrament [of the Eucharist] is not something we can keep to ourselves,” the Holy Father writes. “By its very nature it demands to be shared with all. What the world needs is God’s love; it needs to encounter Christ and to believe in him … ” He continues, “We cannot approach the eucharistic table without being drawn into the mission which, beginning in the very heart of God, is meant to reach all people” (SC, no. 84).
This is the impetus behind our charity. This is why we must be so passionate about expanding as far as possible the family of the Knights of Columbus. The charity which has its source in the Eucharist is limitless, because the love of God which comes to us in Jesus Christ is infinite. And when that charity takes root & begins to radiate out of us to the world around us, it truly becomes a “charity which evangelizes,” transforming us, so that we might be able to transform our culture, winning freedom over to the cause of good.
May this Year of Faith be for each of us a time to be re-evangelized ourselves, and a time to re-discover and deepen our commitment to Christ, to His Church, and to our Order. And in the process, may the flame of faith, alive in our hearts, in our councils, and in our Order, spread and become ever brighter, so as to be a light to the world. This is how we will enable our brothers and sisters to see before them the path to truth, so that they may walk with confidence through the door of faith, unto eternal live.