Homily of Most Rev. Leonard P. Blair
Archbishop of Hartford
Tuesday, August 3, 2021
Once again this year I would like to extend a very warm welcome to those who are present and to all who are participating by means of this broadcast of the opening Mass for the 139th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus.
Though it is still not possible for all of us to gather in person, we are brought spiritually close in this parish church of St. Mary’s in New Haven, Connecticut. It is the birthplace of our Order and the site of the tomb of our founder, a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Father Michael McGivney, whose liturgical memorial I am celebrating for the first time now that the Church has conferred on him the title of Blessed.
Today’s celebration recalls all the many elements that led to Father McGivney’s Beatification: the thorough examination of his life and ministry; the exhumation of his remains; and above all the attestation of a miracle at his intercession, a miracle which is a cause of wonder and joy, a confirmation from heaven that Father McGivney is worthy of veneration, and that miracles do happen, as our Lord promised that they would until the end of time.
During his earthly life Blessed Michael McGivney was always charitably interceding for others, and he continues to do so from his place in eternity. He is close to us, and we to him, in the communion of saints that we profess every time we say the Creed. And nowhere are we closer to him than at Mass, when we are united to the worship of all the heavenly host of angels and saints.
From a worldly, secular perspective, a memorial is mainly a remembrance of something or someone dead and gone, however fondly they may be remembered and however inspiring our memory of them may be. But for the Bible and our Catholic Faith, a memorial is not about something or someone dead and gone, but about their real presence. So today we invoke not so much the memory of Blessed Michael McGivney, but his living presence, and his intercession with us and for us before the Throne of God.
What kind of man, what kind of priest, is Blessed Michael McGivney? There are many things that could be said, but I am always struck by what his biographers concluded, and I quote them: “Two aspects of McGivney’s inner life never wavered...from his earliest days to his last. The first was his faith in Catholicism. For better or worse, he did not question, he did not surmise. He believed—with impervious conviction. McGivney’s second lifelong characteristic was an abiding empathy, with a spirit of kindness extraordinary in his time or any other.”
My brothers and sisters, there is always a temptation—never more so than today—to separate the two defining aspects of Blessed Michael’s life: on the one hand, his firm conviction about the truth of the Catholic faith, and on the other, the kindness and empathy that led him to charity in action.
Today a growing number of people say “yes” to charity but “no” to religion, “yes” to social justice but “no” to absolute truths about God, the human person or the world. Reflecting on this situation our former pope Benedict once wrote this: “Without truth charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way, and falls prey to subjective emotions and opinions, the word ‘love’ is abused and distorted to the point where it comes to mean the opposite.” (Caritas in veritate, no. 3). “Truth,” Benedict affirmed, “is the light that gives meaning and value to charity.” (ibid.).
This affirmation really characterizes Blessed Michael’s life and the mission of the Knights he founded: charity motivated by truth; truth lived in charity. As a man of faith and as a priest our Blessed founder confronted in his day the problems, anxieties and prejudices that we human beings experience and that we inflict on one another, all of which threaten humanity with what Pope Francis describes as “spiritual, moral and material destitution.” It’s only when all three forms of destitution are addressed in truth and love, as Father McGivney understood so well, that human beings can live in justice and peace.
This remains a fundamental lesson for us today, one that the Knights of Columbus strive to put into practice: namely, that if a society fails to address its spiritual and moral destitution, then it cannot provide a just material way of life either, one characterized by what in this country is the foundational dream of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The social problems that arose in Father McGivney’s time are remarkably like our own. His biographers describe them as “the loneliness that ran through displaced populations; the reassessment of the role of the family in the face of technological advances; the pressure to judge self-worth purely on a monetary basis; the availability of low-cost inebriants [think of today’s drug culture]; and the undermining of an adult sense of responsibility due to the simple and acceptable option of moving far away from inconvenient obligations.”
These were the challenges facing society when the Knights of Columbus was founded, and in many respects these same challenges still confront us today.
Whereas Blessed Michael once offered inspiration, action and guidance on earth, now he does so from his place in eternity. He is close to his brother Knights and their families still; close to the brother priests who have followed him as chaplains; close to all the Faithful who invoke his name and intercession in their need.
And like every Blessed and Saint who has gone before us, Father McGivney shows us what it means to live the beautiful readings appointed for this Mass; what it means to live, as St. Paul says, in a manner worthy of our calling, in a fraternal bond of unity, love and peace, in order to build up the Body of Christ in the unity of faith, in knowledge, to the full stature of Christ himself. In proclaiming Father Michael McGivney “Blessed” the Church affirms that to a heroic degree he is a model for us of a life inspired by the Beatitudes proclaimed in the Gospel: a life poor in spirit; sometimes sorrowing; lowly; in search of holiness; merciful; pure of heart; peacemaking; and willing to pay a price for living the Faith.
So this evening, on the joyful occasion of this Supreme Convention, it’s no exaggeration to say that at this Mass Heaven is wedded to Earth as expressed so beautifully in the Opening Prayer of this Mass:
God of eternal mercy,
who set your priest Blessed Michael in the Church
to comfort the suffering and the weary, the lonely and the oppressed
with works of charity and a gentle heart,
grant that, through his intercession,
we too may become vessels of mercy in our day
and so enter into our heavenly inheritance.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.
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