New Haven, Connecticut –10 June 2012, Solemnity of Corpus Christi
Fr. Gregory Gresko, Chaplain, Blessed John Paul II Shrine, Washington, D.C.
On this great feast of Corpus Christi, it is important for us to reflect together for some moments on the significance of the Body of Christ, in our own personal lives and families, as Knights of Columbus, within the Church … and our calling to make present the person of Jesus in today’s broken world. God calls us each Sunday as the family of His People, gathered at a sacred time and space before His altar to celebrate and to worship together as a communion of love, in the holy Opus Dei (“Work of God”) that Saint Benedict calls the liturgy of the Church. Indeed, Sunday is the summit of our human existence each week, even if we faithfully and laudably participate in daily Mass, for Sunday is the Lord’s Day, always destined to be holy as Sabbath in the Christian life.
During last Sunday’s Closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families in Milan, Pope Benedict elaborated that Sunday “is the day of the Church, the assembly convened by the Lord around the table of the Word and of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, just as we are doing today, in order to feed on Him, to enter into His love and to live by His love. It is the day of man and his values: conviviality, friendship, solidarity, culture, closeness to nature, play, sport. It is the day of the family, on which to experience together a sense of celebration, encounter, sharing, not least through taking part in Mass. Dear families, despite the relentless rhythms of the modern world, do not lose a sense of the Lord’s Day! It is like an oasis in which to pause, so as to taste the joy of encounter and to quench our thirst for God.”
We will succeed as leaders in the Faith when we ground our own lives steadfastly in a regular, daily prayer that springs forth from our faithful keeping of the Lord’s day as holy in our lives and in our families, and then encouraging the People of God always to do the same. We must ensure that our own personal lives and family homes are in proper spiritual order, building them as communions of God’s love, and then build the Civilization of Love through our work as Knights, brother by brother, family by family, to strengthen the Body of Christ that is the Church. After all, each Sunday is destined to be a weekly Easter for us Christians, and how our world needs Christ’s presence to be manifest today! What could we feed a hungry world if we were not to keep Sunday as holy before the altar of God? Extending from the Sabbath, Councils would do well to make retreats together over the upcoming year, as brother Knights, as couples, and as families, to pray as a community of the Body of Christ … Knights and their families could come together to meditate on the powerful mysteries of the Holy Rosary. Councils could ask their Chaplains to preside over Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, so as to prepare for fuller participation at Holy Mass and to deepen love of the Holy Eucharist. How would the Order look one year from now if we grew as a Body of Christ in such ways?
Such spiritual disciplines can be joined to a Council’s regular business, indeed providing the foundation for it, feeding the flock when a local council, or even a state council, were to meet! Holy Mass should enjoy primacy of place so that the Body of Christ may be celebrated together as a Communion of God’s Love, including whenever possible an opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that this communion might be healed wherever it is broken. Councils could make pilgrimage to a Shrine over this next year … And I might even have in mind a great new Shrine in the works that I could suggest to you!
As Blessed Pope John Paul II proclaimed in 2003 in his landmark encyclical on the Holy Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (EE), “The Eucharist… appears as both the source and the summit of all evangelization, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ and in him with the Father and the Holy Spirit” (EE 22). The Eucharist is our heavenly food for the New Evangelization! We must feed faithfully upon our Lord to sustain the energy needed to carry out the great work now before us. The Holy Eucharist indeed must be the food for every effort of the Knights so that the apostolic work of the Order may be blessed by Heaven.
Pope Benedict XVI has provided further development, in his homily this year on Corpus Christi, of the full consequence of our celebrating Christ’s Body and Blood, especially in the vital importance of the Eucharistic presence of Jesus to extend from the moment of the liturgy to every experience within the Christian believer’s daily life: “Concentrating the whole relationship with the Eucharistic Jesus only at the moment of Holy Mass risks removing His presence from the rest of time and the existential space. And thus, perceived less is the sense of the constant presence of Jesus in our midst and with us, a concrete, close presence among our homes, as ‘beating Heart’ of the city, of the country, of the territory with its various expressions and activities. The Sacrament of the Charity of Christ must permeate the whole of daily life … The encounter with Jesus in the Holy Mass is truly and fully acted when the community is able to recognize that, in the Sacrament, He dwells in His house, waits for us, invites us to His table, then, after the assembly is dismissed, stays with us, with His discreet and silent presence, and accompanies us with His intercession, continuing to gather our spiritual sacrifices and offering them to the Father.”
I would like to turn for a moment to an aspect of male leadership that is crucial for our age, if we truly want the Knights to be a family. The State Deputy, as a leader, ought first to reflect a humble, spiritual fatherhood toward those in his jurisdiction. I do not suggest here that the spiritual fatherhood of a State Deputy is the same as that served sacramentally by the ordained clergy. Nonetheless, there is a significant degree of “Knight fatherhood”, if you will, that a State Deputy must embrace toward the Knights within his jurisdiction. When we consider the vital need for catechesis in today’s Church, our young Catholic men are yearning greatly for a deeper experience of the Faith but often have a fundamental lack of direction in how to fulfill that need. Young men, even in our parishes today, so often lack a readily accessible role model or mentor. The State Deputy’s example is vital to providing such a mentoring role, especially in being the first among brothers to strengthen fellow Knights in carrying out this important responsibility in individual Councils and parishes. This building of the Knights as a family will impact membership dramatically for the good if we desire to reach the younger generation in their 20s and 30s, so many of whom lack an integrated fatherly role model. If we as male leaders of this great Order want to increase our membership among the young people of this world, then we need to love them, actively, personally, tangibly. We must reach out to them, showing them that we care for their well being, wanting to be an active part of their lives. We must earn their trust by our upright example, and keep their trust through our own personal striving for holiness. If we demonstrate to them by our own lives that we thirst to be saints, they will run to join by our side in solidarity. The film For Greater Glory shows exactly what happens along this vein when men stand heroically in the Faith; their zeal is contagious, especially among the younger generations.
Corpus Christi reminds us of how superabundantly God loves the human person, deigning even to manifest Himself as Son of God corporally as Son of Man within our world. Through the perfect, selfless gift of Himself, Jesus as Son of Man has made fully present His embodiment of God’s Love in His person as Son of God. The real success of a State Deputy, and indeed the genuine success of any Christian leader, rests in man’s dedication to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ in genuine love. The more a leader follows Jesus, the more the leader will love God and others as Jesus loves. He will love others more deeply into the Body of Christ. A leader always leads, but to where depends on the focus of that leader and where he is directed. If we want to be Christian leaders, we must encounter the living Christ personally every day, leading those who witness our example – in word and action -- to a deeper experience with our living God.
Corpus Christi – The wounds of Jesus demonstrate God’s yes to man, that God is willing to give completely of Himself so that man may be saved through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus His Son. The Body and Blood of Christ that we celebrate in today’s solemn feast are God’s yes that He indeed loves man enough to save him regardless of the cost, remaining ever faithful to His promise of divine Love by providing man the greatest opportunity to be saved. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins on the Cross, pours forth endlessly the love of God as a stream of Divine invitation, to you and to me, indeed to every human person, to say yes in response to God’s Love for us, thus diving into the waters of everlasting life that find their Source in the Heart of God. Evangelization is inviting others to find the Source together.
To be a leader in Christ is first to be a follower of Christ. To be followers of Christ and to succeed in manifesting the presence of Jesus wherever we are, we must love deeply. Do we as leaders have a love whose heart genuinely mourns over young men in our parishes who are poorly catechized, who have real spiritual poverty, but (maybe even more than they know) are longing to be nourished in God’s Love, if only they had a father, even a brother, to bring them to the Source? Yes, this is the responsibility first and foremost of our Church hierarchy – Bishops, priests, the deacons (some of whom even may be counted in your number) ... But, the Knights are the “strong right arm of the Church”, and we clergy need your help. We need you so many times to be the first arm outstretched in love to your brothers and sons in faith! We need you to step forward not only as leaders of men, but as men who lead others to Christ! Your encounter with another could be the first real encounter that a man has with someone who strives to be a Christian husband and father, especially in this day and age. No man here present can fulfill such a great need for mentorship by himself, but a key part of fatherly leadership is to exhort the brothers in our midst to share in God’s profound heart of love for these young men. If we do so, our Councils will be fruitful vineyards of the Lord’s Love, ever growing and never ceasing in growth! They will become veritable oases of the Faith!
I would like to provide you with three very brief snapshots from my own life on the importance of mentorship. One young man’s father died recently from complications related to chronic substance abuse, but he has persevered in his faith and is so excited that he has been accepted into graduate school and wants to honor God through his work … Another young man already finds himself in graduate school, but his father abandoned his mother and siblings not long ago to engage in an adulterous affair and will not return home despite the family’s pleas and willingness to forgive. A third young man’s father has a history of severely abusive, angry treatment towards his family and has separated from them to pursue his own selfish ways. In each case, these young men thankfully are persevering in faith despite the odds stacked against them, out of devoted love for their real Father, who from Heaven shows each young man what genuine fatherhood is. Would you believe that every one of these young men goes to Mass faithfully every Sunday at his local Catholic parish? Their wounds are deep, but they are heroic in their determination to do God’s will, and it has been thoroughly rewarding to accompany them as a mentor to encourage them through their difficult times. I feel I have learned more from them than they from me. And two of the three that I have just mentioned are now in very serious discernment of vocation to the Catholic priesthood. The third laudably seriously is considering lay ministry within the Church in his field. These young men I have mentioned are only three … but how many more are in our own pews each Sunday? And what about the young men who don’t come to Church because their impression from experience is that the answers for which they’re hungering can’t be found there? My friends, the fields are very ripe for harvest in the New Evangelization, but the Lord desires your hands and mine to do the reaping! If we sincerely love, then we must act in love, and without delay! The New Evangelization is before us right now.
How many opportunities are missed to love souls into the Body of Christ because we Christian men – clergy and laymen alike -- don’t have hearts that are willing to reach out selflessly in love at any cost? Yet this is the great calling of today’s feast of Corpus Christi, for it provides God’s concrete demonstration of to what extent He will go, through the person of Jesus Christ, to reach out to men and love them, wherever they may be found, to save them from being lost. We see in Corpus Christi how perfectly Jesus embodies the man begotten in love from God’s own Heart, how He has sacrificed Himself for us, how He humbles Himself to dwell Eucharistically among us to lead us forward. We also witness in this great feast what it means to be an authentic husband, as Jesus lives as Bridegroom of His Church, calling each one of us to perfect communion with Himself through His selfless sacrifice of His Body and Blood so that His Bride, the Church, may find eternal life in communion with Him. We encounter in this feast what it means to be an apostle of faith in God, that the gift of the Holy Eucharist, and the other sacraments pouring forth from the Source of the Body of Christ, are not meant to be kept to ourselves but rather fulfill their destiny when they extend to bring all people to be one body, one spirit in Christ. God desires to use your voice and mine as Christian leaders to proclaim this Good News, this great news! Do we stand at the ready?
Are we determined to be authentic Christian men, in word and action, who live for every opportunity to help another man, young or old, to enter into deeper loving fraternity with Jesus Christ? This place, our encounter in personal friendship with Jesus Christ, is the first and only place where we as Knights of Columbus will find true success as men of Christian Faith, of Christian Hope and promise, of Christian charity, and as leaders of men who strive for the same. This place of encounter, in personal loving community with fellow disciples of the Lord within each jurisdiction, is where every man must be nourished with the Food that makes men saints. Only in this place, where a man encounters the living Body of Christ ever deeply as his personal, most intimate and best friend, together with his brothers in a community of Christian Faith … In this encounter as brothers, together in ever loving and living friendship with the person of Christ, we will discover that our numbers as Knights of Columbus will mount to new heights among the young and the old. It is in the manifested presence of Jesus Christ where we discover the Source of the New Evangelization, so let us lead men to encounter Jesus Christ if we wish for success!
Men of Faith seeks to grow intimately closer with our Lord, seeking to learn God’s Way at every turn. Men of Hope persevere through every challenge and obstacle, holding steadfastly to the promise that God already is victorious in whatever battle lies ahead. Apostles of Charity lead men into deeper Unity and Fraternity as they bring the presence of the Body of Christ wherever they go, and Venerable Father McGivney embraced such a saintly spirit, providing us a great and holy example to follow for leading others to Christ. By the power of God’s grace, and with the heavenly aid of All Saints of the Body of Christ, we may become saints, each in our own unique way. With such heavenly aid, springing forth from the loving Heart of Christ where Jesus reigns supreme as the King of Love, we will not fail in our charge. We will be victorious in every battle we face, to the degree that we are joined together as an army of prayer, as an army equipped with God’s Love.
Over the course of this next year, when the Knights of Columbus and their families, parishes, and communities hear the words we proclaim and witness the actions we carry out, may they always be spurred forward in encouragement and strength to want to become saints as we desire, so that they will join us in proclaiming with the entire Communion of Saints: ¡Viva Cristo Rey!