AS I WRITE this column we are just days away from the scheduled beatification of our founder, the Venerable Servant of God Michael McGivney. We are also only weeks away from the 30th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s great encyclical on the missionary activity of the Church, Redemptoris Missio.
We know that a cause for canonization is not undertaken for the good of the candidate, but for the good of the Church — and, in the case of Father McGivney, for the good of the Knights of Columbus as well.
When the Order was founded in the 19th century, the United States was considered mission territory. Today, the anniversary of Redemptoris Missio provides a providential opportunity to better understand the ministry of Father McGivney, who very much had a missionary spirit.
We tend to think of missionary activity as directed “over there,” at the peripheries and outside the community of believers. But John Paul II observed that there is also missionary activity “inside” the Church, especially in those nations that once embraced the good news of the Gospel but now no longer do. “In our heavily secularized world, a ‘gradual secularization of salvation’ has taken place” (11). And there is even the scandal of the “counterwitness of believers” (36), which is all too common today.
To this, John Paul II proposed a bold response. He said all believers have a duty to undertake missionary activity. All of us are called to be missionaries by the witness of a Christian life which reflects the “radical newness” brought by Christ to each believer.
“The first form of witness,” he explained, “is the very life of the missionary, of the Christian family, and of the ecclesial community, which reveal a new way of living” (42).
Then, John Paul II wrote something close to the heart of every Knight of Columbus: “The missionary is a person of charity. In order to proclaim to all his brothers and sisters that they are loved by God and are capable of loving, he must show love toward all, giving his life for his neighbor. The missionary is the ‘universal brother’” (89).
Finally, he added, “The Church’s missionary spirituality is a journey towards holiness” (90).
All of this brings us back to the beatification of Father McGivney. St. John Paul II’s writing on the missionary mandate of the Church helps us to better understand the spiritual genius of Father McGivney and why he is not only a model parish priest but also a model missionary.
Father McGivney’s vision of a practical brotherhood of Catholic men who witness to the faith by living our principles of charity and unity offers men the opportunity to be missionaries in their families, parishes and communities.
As I said during our Supreme Convention in August, I believe it is our fraternal strength that is the truly distinctive hallmark of the Knights of Columbus and our charitable work.
I am also writing this column only days after Pope Francis issued his encyclical on fraternity, Fratelli Tutti (“Brothers All”). There is much to reflect upon in the pope’s new message on brotherhood. I was especially struck by what he says about the Good Samaritan: “Each day we have to decide whether to be Good Samaritans or indifferent bystanders” (69). I believe that every man who has joined the Knights of Columbus has made his choice to be a Good Samaritan.
In his message to the Knights of Columbus Board of Directors last February, Pope Francis said this: “In our world, marked by divisions and inequalities, the generous commitment of your Order to serve all in need offers … an important inspiration to overcome a globalization of indifference and build together a more just and inclusive society.”
Let us continue to be, in so many different ways, the witness of that “universal brother” called for by our popes. And as we do so, let us all strive to follow in the footsteps of our blessed founder in the journey toward holiness.
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