Into the Future with Father McGivney

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Dominican Father Gabriel B. O’Donnell addressed the 126th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus on the status of the cause for canonization of Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney. The text of his remarks are featured here.

The Book of Wisdom tells us that “Whatever shall befall the just man, it will not make him sad.” The formal addresses of Pope Benedict XVI and his encounters with young people are marked by optimism. His second encyclical, Spe Salvi, is centered on the virtue of hope. The Holy Father’s consistent message seems clear: There is every reason for us to have confidence in the present moment and in the future if we have our hearts and minds fixed firmly on Jesus Christ who is our yesterday, our today and our tomorrow.

Pope Benedict’s message reaches to the heart of the spirituality of Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney. Since the last Supreme Convention in August 2007, the Church has formally recognized his heroic virtue and made possible a new title for the Servant of God who is our founder and spiritual guide. This is an important moment of encouragement for all Knights of Columbus and their families. The Church is affirming the spirit and work of Father McGivney, as well as the fraternity to which we all belong that is the centerpiece of all that our Venerable founder was and accomplished.

The Foundation of Father McGivney’s Spirituality

Father McGivney was a man decidedly positive and optimistic in outlook. He suffered the ravages of rejection and criticism, and the possibility of failure as we all do.

His physical health was adversely affected by the heavy burden he bore as he sought ways to relieve the sufferings of his parishioners. His conviction that Catholic men needed to band together under the banner of the Gospel to confront all that threatened family life and true Catholic manhood was not readily heard by fellow priests and bishops.

In the first years of its existence, the Knights of Columbus came close to dissolution, to disappearing into a long line of failed projects in the late 19th century. The primary reason the Order did not fail was the hope and confidence of one parish priest whose optimism rested upon the rock of Christ and his Church — and the Catholic men who listened to him and took up his challenge.

Progress in Father McGivney’s cause for canonization is surely a sign from God and a signal from the Church that we can trust his vision and accept the mission he has entrusted to his Knights: a commitment to Catholic manhood and a commitment to Catholic family life. Father McGivney’s vision was of a Christian manhood that flows from one’s adherence to Christ and his commandment of love. What follows is reverence for every human life and a recognition of the dignity of each person.

It is for these basic truths that Father McGivney’s Knights will wage manly war. This is the mission: to embrace Catholic family life in a way that includes not only the fundamentals of reverence for life and the dignity of the human person, but the intention to transform the world by living each life in the light of this vision and these principles.

Ours is the mission to change society by living in it according to principles that the very society we seek to transform does not recognize or accept. Indeed, it has become hostile to the Judeo-Christian tradition that is the foundation of Father McGivney’s spirituality. As his Knights, we faithfully show up to cast our ballots. We continue to help those in need. We lead our families to a greater commitment to what is right, what is just and what is compassionate. This we must continue to do because Venerable Father McGivney’s Knights belong to Christ and to his Church.

Holiness and Mission

At World Youth Day last August, Pope Benedict put forth a large agenda to the thousands gathered there. “My dear friends,” he said, “the Holy Spirit continues today to act with power in the Church, and the fruits of the Spirit are abundant in the measure in which we are ready to open up to this power that makes all things new. … In order to achieve this goal, my dear friends, you must be holy and you must be missionaries since we can never separate holiness from mission (see Redemptoris Missio, 90).

“Do not be afraid to become holy missionaries like St. Francis Xavier … or like St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. … Both of these are ‘Patrons of the Missions.’ Be prepared to put your life on the line in order to enlighten the world with the truth of Christ; to respond with love to hatred and disregard for life; to proclaim the hope of the risen Christ in every corner of the earth.”

Venerable Father McGivney calls us to the same high ideal. Knights of Columbus must be holy and must be missionaries. We need to re-Christianize our world by becoming Catholic men 100 percent committed to Jesus Christ and his Church. We must be leaders of Catholic families that are knit together in Christ’s love and that always stand for the right and for the defense of those who are weak and vulnerable.

Vivat Jesus!