Welcome to the Archdiocese of San Antonio – Cardinals, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò — esteemed representative of the Holy Father in the United States, Archbishop William Lori — Archbishop of Baltimore and Supreme Chaplain, Archbishops, Bishops, Chaplains, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and his wife Dorian, delegates, Knights, families and friends! I also warmly welcome all those joining us remotely through our media outlets. I trust that all of you here have already been enjoying traditional, warm Texas hospitality. Well, perhaps “hot” is a better word. As I have learned, everything in Texas is bigger — even the heat!
Even as we enjoy the cool comfort of this Marriott, let us remember in prayer those who have no shelter from the heat, the forgotten, the alienated, the heartbroken, the lonely, the unwanted, the unloved . . .
In the opening words of his homily at the welcoming ceremony for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis said: “’It is good for us to be here!’.. it is good for all of us to be together around Jesus! It is he who welcomes us and is present in our midst here.” These are also my sentiments this morning – my brother bishops, priests, Knights and family members! It is good for us to be here in the presence of the Lord – gathered from throughout the world.
My pilgrimage to Brazil was very festive, very reassuring, very exhausting! It was filled with lights and shadows. Gathering there with the Holy Father and over three million believers on Copacabana Beach was a very moving, very inspiring event. Rio is a beautiful city, but there are shadows as well – the favelas where the very poor live -- in a country where there have been many recent protests against the government because of the worsening, desperate situation of so many of its citizens, who are our sisters and brothers. There were days of sunshine and days of driving rain; days of lights and shadows – like every day of our lives.
This morning, let us welcome the risen Lord into our midst by listening carefully to his word. There is a tension in this gospel. The transfiguration is both a dazzling experience that confirmed who Jesus is – the Son of God – and a frightening event that reduced his disciples to silence. There is both light and shadow in this story.
As we gather with Jesus and his three disciples on the mountain, we do not hear about a beautiful sunset or a spectacular view. Instead, Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah about his upcoming “passage” – his exodus – his upcoming passion, death, and resurrection. Yes, on the mountain the disciples had a powerful experience of who Jesus truly is. But they did not understand what it meant until after his resurrection. What happened to Jesus in Jerusalem was part of God’s loving plan of salvation. Jesus died for us. That is why he is the Lord of history, the Lord of our lives.
There is much light in our celebration this morning, and for this we thank and praise God. You represent over 1.8 million Knights who, last year, contributed 70 million hours of service to charitable causes – including relief work after the devastating Oklahoma tornado and the tragic explosion in West Texas. For this, all of us are very grateful. Your principles of charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism are vital for the Church and our country and nations throughout the world. Guiding principles are beacons in the darkness, giving us light to see clearly on our pilgrim way as disciples of the risen Lord.
I affirm what Supreme Knight Carl Anderson has said about San Antonio being a special place for you to hold your Supreme Convention because, during our nearly 300 years of history, “evangelization, immigration, and the quest for freedom” have shaped this community. Besides our historic San Fernando Cathedral and the four missions (all established in the early 18th century well before the American Revolution and all still functioning as vibrant parish communities), the Church here is alive, our people are faith-filled, and we are growing. These are stories of the light.
There are also many shadows. They are not only found here in South Texas but also throughout the U.S. – and in many other parts of the world. One of the most difficult issues is the constant migration of peoples, often because of violence in their homelands, lack of employment, deep poverty and, indeed, great misery. Pope Francis recently reminded us that “the Church is mother and her motherly attention is expressed with special tenderness and closeness to those who are obliged to flee their own country and exist between rootlessness and integration.” On his visit to the Island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean, he spoke very movingly about the “globalization of indifference” regarding immigrants, whose plight, he said, was like a “painful thorn in my heart.”
The Holy See reports that, in 2012, there were some 16 million officially recognized refugees in the world and 28.8 million internally displaced persons. In addition, an estimated 21 million people have been trafficked, including 4.5 million for sexual exploitation and 14.2 million for what amounts to slave labor! Pope Francis says that God continues to ask us, “Where is your brother whose blood cries out to me?”
In our nation we are engaged in a very controversial debate about a painful and difficult issue: reforming our current immigration system that is clearly broken – putting 11 million or more of our sisters and brothers in jeopardy, fearful of being detained and deported, separated from their families. This is happening today on an unprecedented scale in our U.S. history. This is not a liberal or a conservative issue, a Democratic or a Republican issue, it is an issue for every patriot, every citizen, and every man or woman of faith. It is a human issue, a moral issue. We cannot be indifferent to it.
Especially here in South Texas we are very concerned about our undocumented brothers and sisters, especially those who have been separated from their families or are threatened daily with such separation. We need to bring the light of the gospel into the hidden places – the desolate places – the neighborhoods and the detention centers. We will some day stand before God’s throne and will have to answer the Lord’s question: “Where is your brother? Your sister?”
My sisters and brothers, it is good for us to be here in the presence of the Lord. We have so much to be grateful for. We thank God for his blessings, and we thank the Knights of Columbus for all of the good they have done. During my beautiful World Youth Day pilgrimage, I heard the Holy Father call the young people of the Church to action. He reminded them that: “The life of Jesus is a life for others. It is a life of service.” Now, even though a few of us may be a few years beyond being called “youth,” … Pope Francis’ words still ring for us as a true challenge that shines with the light of the very principles of the Knights of Columbus: “Go. Do not be afraid. Serve.” We stand firmly and generously in the light, but we must also confront the shadows, the darkness, that surrounds us. May Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas, help us to know her Son better and become more faithful disciples of Jesus who is the Light of the World!