This month offers us an opportunity to recall the origins of our Catholic faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as well as the founding of the Knights of Columbus by a priest who lived and died united to that sacrifice. Due to a convergence on the calendar, we commemorate Good Friday on March 29, the day we also observe as the Order’s Founder’s Day each year.
On Good Friday, Christians give witness to God’s perfect love through the death of Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself for the salvation of the world. As a priest, the Order’s founder, Venerable Michael McGivney, was intimately linked to this loving sacrifice and sought to apply its benefits to his parishioners, who were passing through their own Good Friday experience as newcomers to America.
Catholics in 19th-century America suffered for the practice of their faith in a land marred by anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiment. It was a time when job opportunities were posted with the words, “Irish Need Not Apply.” Amid these circumstances, it was not uncommon for a family’s breadwinner to die young in dangerous working conditions. The harsh experiences of Father McGivney’s parishioners drove him to found the Knights of Columbus in 1882, providing them a program of financial benefits, fraternal support and faith formation.
On March 29, we pay tribute to Father McGivney and the handful of laymen who gathered in the basement of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn., to find practical solutions to the problems Catholics faced. As their spiritual father, Father McGivney helped these first Knights realize the meaning of their often difficult lives through union with the suffering Christ. Together, these men founded a lay movement in which they could serve God and neighbor as more faithful husbands, fathers and men of the Church.
This Good Friday, as we offer our hearts in thanksgiving to the Lord for his sacrifice on the cross, we also have an opportunity to reflect on the fact that our Order was born in response to hardship and suffering. As Knights today, we must build on that foundation, seeking out those who are needy in our parishes and communities and offering them the Order’s well-known, charitable hand.
Father McGivney persevered despite overwork and exhaustion, holding firmly to trust-filled hope in Christ, strengthened by our Lord’s example and helped by his grace. He lived a noble, virtuous, priestly life modeled after the true High Priest, ultimately suffering a grave illness that took his life at the age of 38. The fruits of great growth within the Knights of Columbus could not have been realized without this brave priest’s selfless giving to God and the Church. Likewise, in our own faithful embrace of Father McGivney’s loving, devoted service, we as Knights may discover deeper meaning in our own lives of Christian faith, working collaboratively as brothers to build a genuine civilization of God’s love.
Father McGivney knew that achieving true manhood means imitating the manhood of Christ, who lived out perfectly his duties and responsibilities toward God and neighbor. While each priest is to be a model leader who emulates Christ’s manhood in his own life, laymen likewise are called to do the same as husbands and fathers. During this Year of Faith, Knights are called to “put out into the deep,” (Lk 5:4) to embrace the faith more fully and to follow Jesus in our love of God and service to our neighbor.
May God our Father always grant the Knights of Columbus and their families the grace of the Holy Spirit to follow his Son perfectly in selfless love, so that we might fulfill our vocation to love and make steady progress in the Christian call to holiness. In this month when we remember in a special way the founding of our Order, may Venerable Father McGivney also inspire us by his life of virtue to persevere in love, helping us to build our families and our councils into places of charity, unity and Christian fraternity.
FATHER GREGORY GRESKO is chaplain of the Blessed John Paul II Shrine and a member of Potomac Council 433 in Washington, D.C.