Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

On the front line of the faith

Sunday, August 14, 2011

During the first week of August every year, the Knights of Columbus hold their Supreme Convention. This year it took place in Denver and, as I try to do every year, I was there for the opening Mass and for the “States Dinner” at the end of the first day of the meeting. Many bishops come from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, the Philippines and Poland to show their appreciation for the life and work of the knights. While they are present in the most Catholic countries of Asia and Europe, the knights are primarily living and working in the hemisphere that greeted Christopher Columbus when he arrived from Europe over 500 years ago, the continent now called America.

The Knights of Columbus began in this country in the 19th century, when the social network to protect widows and orphans depended entirely on private charity. Faced with parishioners impoverished by the death of a breadwinner, usually a husband and father, the founder of the knights, Father Michael McGivney, created a mutual aid society that sold insurance to Catholic families in the event of death and other losses. This small beginning has grown into an immense insurance society that reaches out to the poor when tragedy strikes, as it recently struck in Haiti and Japan. The knights begin with charity and then, degree by degree, inculcate unity, fraternity and patriotism in the lives and hearts of their members.

The theme of this year’s Knights of Columbus convention was, “So that the world may know new hope.” Hope is born when people realize they are not alone, that others are concerned about them and will see to their care. Unfortunately, it is not too hard to make the case for losing hope in the world today. In a letter to the knights on the occasion of their convention, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy See’s secretary of state, wrote about “increasingly evident signs of a growing forgetfulness of God, a rejection of most basic principles of morality and a breakdown in the very foundations of social life.” Think what the cardinal might have written had he sent his message after the return of the economic recession, and after the senseless killings on the streets of Chicago and the massacre that has taken place in Norway! Each day, it seems, brings its own sorry story. Cardinal Bertone, however, did not stop at news that could lead to despair. He pointed to the life and work of the knights and their families and called them “living icons of hope.” He pointed to the right place.

In their families and in public life and in their parishes, the knights at their best work hard, are faithful to Christ and his church, and serve generously and self-effacingly. Along with so many other bishops, I am grateful to the knights for their bringing the truths of faith into the front lines of daily living. They are examples of what the Second Vatican Council asked lay Catholics to be and do: “building up the church, sanctifying the world and imbuing it with the Spirit of Christ” (Apostolicam actuositatem, 16).

There are many laymen and laywomen who, like the knights, know and live their Catholic faith, both privately and publicly. For them, the church is truly Mother. A mother’s voice is internal, telling us what is best for us, even when we do not yet understand her. If the church is not our mother, then her voice is extrinsic, like the voice of the law, pushing us to do something we don’t want to do and giving rise to resentment. For some on the far right, the bishops are resented because they believe the bishops have betrayed the faith; for some on the far left, the bishops are resented because the bishops won’t betray the faith. Both sides are defined by their own self-righteousness. The church cannot call to conversion those who have decided no one can judge them or call them beyond what they have decided is right. Self-righteousness is the sin against the Holy Spirit, an unforgivable sin because the selfrighteous have no need for forgiveness and often will not extend it to others. In this polarized situation, the bishops appreciate ever more the solidarity of the knights with their bishops and their priests and with the Catholic faith itself.

When things get really hard, we discover why we hope. First of all, Christ is our hope; and then we find so many men and women of faith who give hope to others because of their love for Christ. The Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus brought me once again into contact with thousands of them. God bless their lives and work.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago