Pope Francis urges us to radiate “fraternal communion and missionary fruitfulness”
by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
Carl A. Anderson
In my column last month, I began a reflection on Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). I focused on the pope’s challenge to Catholics to embrace a new “missionary spirit” that brings the Gospel to the peripheries of society. At this moment in history, the Knights of Columbus has an extraordinary opportunity and, I would add, an extraordinary responsibility to join Pope Francis on the front line in this witness and to meet Blessed John Paul II’s challenge to engage in a charity that evangelizes.
This month, I would like to continue reflecting on Evangelii Gaudium and show how it should serve as a guide for our work as Knights of Columbus.
Our Holy Father sees the Church opening a new chapter of evangelization, one characterized by “The Joy of the Gospel” and carried forward by those who “wish to share their joy.” In this mission echoing the words of Pope Benedict XVI to the bishops of Latin America at Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007 Pope Francis writes, “It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’” (15).
Evangelii Gaudium is the pope’s response to the 2012 Synod of Bishops, which met on the topic “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” In his document, the Holy Father takes up a central theme of the synod: “In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples.” And he emphasizes, “The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized” (120).
In order to be faithful “missionary disciples,” however, Pope Francis says that it is necessary to go beyond our “comfort zones” (20) and “abandon the complacent attitude that says we have always done it this way” (33). He also says that places of “fraternal communion and missionary fruitfulness” are essential in the Church today (89).
Pope Francis then reminds us of the key to this communion and fruitfulness by again quoting Pope Benedict: “the service of charity” is “a constitutive element of the Church’s mission and an indispensable expression of her very being” (179).
Our Holy Father urges us to rediscover our need as Catholics “to live in fraternity” and to grow in “a fraternal love capable of seeing the sacred grandeur of our neighbor, of finding God in every human being” (92).
In this light, Pope Francis writes: “I especially ask Christians in communities throughout the world to offer a radiant and attractive witness of fraternal communion. Let everyone admire how you care for one another, and how you encourage and accompany one another” (99).
Undoubtedly, some Catholics will read these passages and ask, “What does such a witness of fraternal communion look like, and how are we to enter into it?”
Yet it is impossible for any brother Knight to read the words of our Holy Father and not recognize a profound and personal challenge. We have the great privilege of being heirs to the spiritual vision of Venerable Michael McGivney, who set out a path of fraternal communion based on charity and unity more than 130 years ago.
Because of our founder’s inspiration, we don’t have to invent new associations or experiment with new structures in order to find a fruitful form of fraternal communion. Every Knight already belongs to an Order that personifies one of the most fruitful expressions of fraternal communion ever to exist in the countries where we are active.
The challenge, then, facing every brother Knight today is to ensure that the Order and every one of our councils are places whose “doors are open” and whose members invite their fellow Catholics to a life of fraternal communion and charity.
It is also the responsibility of every Knight to deepen his fraternal communion with true charity and unity, so that whoever encounters the Knights of Columbus will encounter a community of brothers motivated by The Joy of the Gospel.