Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Three paths of discipleship

August 16, 2009

Catholicism is first of all not a set of ideas or a collection of causes. It is a way of life, a way of following Jesus Christ. It teaches what Christ expects of us and gives us the sacraments to give us strength for the journey; and it also offers a whole range of ways to follow Christ with others, first of all in our families and parishes but then also in various movements and callings that offer distinctive paths of discipleship. During the first week of August I was with three different groups, each with its own path to holiness, its own way of following Christ.

On Aug. 1, the six Congregations of Religious women who look to Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton as founder joined the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul at the basilica in Emmitsburg, Md., where Mother Seton is buried and now venerated as a saint of the church. She began her religious congregation 200 years ago, a moment in a life of constant conversion. She converted to the Catholic faith after the death of her husband, took care of her own and other children, began the Catholic school system in the United States and founded the Sisters of Charity in our country.

Mother Seton took as a model for her way of life St. Louise de Marillac, who was responsible with St. Vincent de Paul for the beginnings of the Daughters of Charity in 17th century France. Elizabeth Seton found in the Vincentian way of life the confirmation of her own love for the poor, her hospitality towards all, her gift for friendship and her total dedication to doing the will of God just because it is the will of God. These values remained constant in her life, even as she changed often to meet the altered circumstances of her own life and of those whom God gave her to love and protect. She was introduced to Christ truly present in the Blessed Sacrament and to his mother Mary by Catholic friends in Italy; and these friendships with Jesus and Mary were the anchors of all she was and did, of her way of life and her ministry in the church.

The Daughters of Charity and the various Congregations of the Sisters of Charity keep alive Mother Seton’s way of following the Lord. Theirs is a path of discipleship well adapted to following with integrity the Catholic way of life as consecrated women in the United States.

From Emmitsburg, I went to New Orleans, La., to join in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Knights of St. Peter Claver. Our own Bishop Joseph Perry is the national chaplain for the Knights and the Ladies Auxiliary of St. Peter Claver. He joined the national officers of the Knights in creating a major event that filled the New Orleans Convention Center with 5,000 Knights and their families. It was good to see so many I recognized from our parishes in Chicago. With them for their centennial celebration were representatives from most of the other Orders of Catholic knighthood.

The Knights of St. Peter Claver are one of two African-American associations that have existed continuously for over a hundred years, the other being the NAACP. The Knights embody a distinctively Catholic way of life, a way of following the Lord in his church. Founded with the help of the Josephite Fathers a century ago in Mobile, Ala., they offered services to their members and their families that were part of membership in most fraternal organizations at the time: life insurance, death benefits, help for widows and children; but they did all this and continue to do it in the context of the Catholic faith. They have had a particular interest in educating African-American children, whom they sponsor and for whom they raise scholarship money. They are husbands and fathers particularly concerned, with the help of their wives, in being faithful to the teachings of the church and in assisting one another to live as Catholic men. I became a member when I began my service as Archbishop of Chicago, and I welcome their assistance at ceremonies as well as in the life of our parishes.

After the convention of the Knights of St. Peter Claver, I went to Phoenix, Ariz., for the annual meeting of the Supreme Assembly of the Knights of Columbus. Founded in New Haven, Conn., more than 100 years ago, the Knights have developed from a fraternal organization founded when Catholic men were not welcome in other such organizations into a strong example of Catholic action in the world.

To the services given members, especially through their insurance program, the Knights have added support for priests and seminarians, work to advance a culture of life, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and concern for the poor. They do the works of mercy, they care for the sick, they are involved in humanitarian efforts around the globe, they support Catholic education and work to preserve religious liberty. They call their members to conversion of life through service to others.

The annual assembly is more and more international, with Knights from every State of the Union, from Mexico and Central America (including Cuba), from Canada, the Philippines and Poland. Bishops can count on their help in many difficulties today, and they stand always ready to help the Holy Father and the church. They model a way of holiness in the world and contribute strongly and uniquely to our Catholic way of life. I was grateful to be invited to give an address at the States Dinner in Phoenix this year, because it gave me the opportunity to express the bishops’ thanks to the Knights and their leaders.

Three gatherings, three ways of discipleship in one universal church: moving from meeting to meeting was like making a pilgrimage among people whose faith tells them they are not captured by nature or history or genetic determinations, as the world often tries to convince us we are. Rather, they know that they are free in Christ Jesus, whose disciples they are. May God bless them and all of us in and through this same Jesus Christ.