Homily by Archbishop Donald Wuerl
Most Rev.Donald W. Wuerl, S.T.D.
Archbishop of Washington
Opening Mass of the 128th Convention
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Well over 30 years ago, the Venerable Servant of God Pope John Paul II called the Church to a New Evangelization. So many of us here can recall the words of the Holy Father at his Mass for the inauguration of his pontificate in Saint Peter’s Square in 1978, “Do not be afraid!”
Pope Benedict XVI used the same words as he assumed his responsibilities five years ago in April 2005 at the beginning of his Petrine ministry, “Do not be afraid!” These words taken from today’s Gospel – words of Jesus – have become the mantra of the New Evangelization.
Over and over again during his worldwide pastoral visits, his ceaseless teaching and preaching and his outreach to people both within and outside the Church, the Pope challenges us to experience the risen Lord and to be heralds of the encounter with Jesus and his Gospel.
Not too long ago I had a conversation with a young adult on a plane as I traveled back to Washington. He was going to a family First Communion. The flight provided us an opportunity to talk about the Eucharist precisely because now he was actually interested in learning what the Church believes – what spiritual reality is transpiring in the Eucharist.
At the end of the flight, he said to me, “Father, thanks for talking to me. This Holy Communion thing is cool.” Then, after a pause, added somewhat apologetically, “I mean, ‘great.’”
All around us are those who need to hear all over again – perhaps for the first time with true appreciation – that Jesus is Lord, that the risen Lord is with us today, and that his Gospel is the path of truth and life everlasting.
Recently our Holy Father, who has consistently called for a New Evangelization, announced the establishment of a new organ of the Holy See, the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, to bring focus and guidance to this effort.
How appropriate that we would begin this meeting of the Supreme Council and Convention of the Knights of Columbus gathering representatives of the Knights from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Poland, and beyond at a Mass commemorating the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe and asking her intercession. As the Patroness and Queen of America, we see in Our Lady the model of our own mission of evangelization.
In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation The Church in America, signed and promulgated at the sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1999, Pope John Paul II asked us, “How can we fail to emphasize the role which belongs to the Virgin Mary in relation to the pilgrim Church in America journeying towards its encounter with the Lord?” (11).
Our task begins with the understanding that we are to be the instruments of the manifestation of Mary’s Son, Jesus. Just as she intervened in human history in what we call the New World to point to her Son as the risen Lord and our Savior, so does her image which endures all these centuries later challenge us, in our words and in our deeds, to share with others our own experience of the risen Christ, our own personal encounter with Jesus, our Lord and our Savior.
The same dynamic is at work in the Church today. This time, however, it is you and I who are to invite people to come to know Christ, to hear and to accept his Gospel. We are the ones who are to be witnesses by word and deed to his Resurrection. We are reminded that we need not fear this mission.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his magnificent encyclical letter, God is Love, tells us how we do this. While the emphasis of the New Evangelization may be new to our moment in time and our circumstances in a world of such secular emphasis, the elements of the proclamation of our encounter with the risen Lord are as old as the Church itself. The Pope tells us that “the Church’s deepest nature is in her threefold responsibility:
1)of proclaiming the word of God,
2)celebrating the sacraments, and
3)exercising the ministry of charity.”
My brothers and sisters, in this age and in this culture and with all of the challenges we face as a Church, what better means could we have at our disposition than those proposed by our Holy Father and lived for twenty centuries by the Church?
The theme for this Supreme Convention of the Knights, “I Am My Brother’s Keeper,” highlights the commitment of service and the works of charity that have been intrinsic to our order since its beginning. Father Michael J. McGivney, Servant of God, understood with a piercing insight guided by the Holy Spirit that God’s love made manifest in Christ is supposed to be reflected and shared in our care for one another. We are our brother’s keeper. The very origins of our order are rooted in the recognition that we are called to exercise a ministry of service and charity.
The history of our order is the story of both. In 2007, when we celebrated the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Knights of Columbus in 1882, much was published that spoke of our history. I recall with a quiet sense of holy pride reading Columbia Magazine as it reflected throughout the year on the good works, the huge charitable commitment and the hours and hours and hours of service provided by our brother Knights.
It would be tempting to name so many of the charitable programs and humanitarian efforts that show how, in over 125 years, the Knights of Columbus and the Church in America have come of age. So many examples abound to demonstrate how greatly engaged the Church and the Knights are in efforts to nurture the soul of the countries where the Knights are present by the way in which the Knights touch human needs through works of charity motivated by faith. We are our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother.
What began as the dream of Father Michael J. McGivney to support Catholic working men and their families in his parish has grown and flourished into a worldwide fraternity. The order has rightfully taken a place on the national and world stage, where it addresses the great and dividing issues of our day, the sanctity of human life, the essential role of family and the true definition of marriage. The Knights have stayed true to its founder’s vision of care for others and service to the community.
As a young, faithful and caring priest, Father McGivney did not hesitate to step out onto the water. His faith never faltered. How do we know this? Look around this basilica and see the fruit of his commitment. I have long held that the real miracle of Father McGivney is the growth of his order, now embracing a growing number of nations.
In over 30 years as a Knight attending these Supreme Conventions, first as a state chaplain and later as a bishop, I continually marveled, as I am sure you have, at the Supreme Knight’s annual report that in broad outline details what our order brings to the communities where it lives and serves. The Knights are witnesses to the call to be our brother’s keeper.
This year we celebrate, among other things, the tenth anniversary of the leadership of our Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson, who has succeeded in continually expanding our order, reminding us of our Catholic identity and calling us over and over again to our mission of service and charity.
We are told that before the apparition of Our Lady to Juan Diego at Tepeyac, the conversion and evangelizing outreach in the New World, particularly in Mexico, was minimal. Once the people recognized the face of Our Lady on the cloak of Juan Diego and once they realized she was one of them – la morenita – a whole new appreciation of the Gospel message unfolded.
Today in the age of the New Evangelization the Knights of Columbus rightfully turn to Our Lady of Guadalupe so that we may be inspired by her action and strengthened by her intercession so that through our works of service, charity, kindness and compassion we might not only carry out the Gospel mandate to manifest Christ’s kingdom, but be seen in all of our works as instruments of God’s love.
Our Lady of Guadalupe to whom we pray today, the call to the New Evangelization so desperately needed in this world, and the commitment of our order to works of charity and acts of service are intimately related. What we lift up at this Supreme Convention – the works of charity and service of the Knights of Columbus throughout the world – is truly a celebration of our Catholic identity and a fruit of Our Lady’s visit to America.
Our mission as Jesus’ witnesses takes place in a world profoundly in need of a New Evangelization. The threads of an encounter with the living Lord and the love that he brings into this world need to be woven once again into the fabric of our culture, of our society, our nation and our world. This, Christ and his Church entrust to us today.
We are to be heralds of the Gospel of Life – from conception to natural death; witnesses to the splendor of Truth –that there is an objective right and wrong; ministers of the sacrament of charity – celebrating the memorial of our Lord’s death and Resurrection; children of the God who is Love and who calls us to manifest our love for Him and our love for others – we are to be our brother’s keeper.
In quiet contradiction to all of the other lifestyles and opinions, we as champions of the New Evangelization are empowered to be, through our words and deeds, through our proclamation and acts of charity, a sign – a living sign – a visible sign – of the risen Christ present in our world.
In this highly secular culture in which we live, with its focus almost entirely limited on material things and overtly individualistic, we are still called, as was Peter, to step out and walk on the water. Peter only began to sink when he began to have second thoughts. Jesus held him up but asked him, “Why did you doubt?”
This convention is a time for us simply to renew our personal conviction that we can make a difference, that we can, by our very works of service rooted in faith and love, change this world.
Just as the roses tumbled out from the tilma to reveal the face of the mother of Jesus inviting us to embrace her Son, so do the works of the Knights of Columbus continue to pour forth as a sign of love and an invitation to faith.
Thus we pray, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of the Americas, give us courage so that we can step out onto the water, so that we can proclaim anew the Gospel that we are our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother.