This morning, the Knights of Columbus celebrated the final liturgy of their 129th Supreme Convention. The annual memorial Mass commemorates Knights and their family members who died over the past year. The main celebrant was Bishop William E. Lori, S.T.D., the Knights' supreme chaplain. Bishop Lori's homily is published below.
Years ago, when I was a young bishop, I had the privilege of installing a new pastor of a large parish in suburban Maryland. In my enthusiasm, I used fairly elevated language to describe the priesthood and the mission of a parish priest in the life of a parish. After Communion, the new pastor spoke; he was most gracious but also very clear. Addressing his new parishioners, he simply said: “My job as your pastor is to save souls. I’m here to help you get to heaven.” Sitting there listening to that good priest speak to his people with directness and love, I dictated a mental memo to myself that read, “Next time, get to the point!”
I think of that moment of grace and truth every year on the feast day of the Curé of Ars, St. John Vianney, the Universal Patron of Parish Priests. After all, St. John Vianney’s life was consumed with saving souls. The overarching goal of his life was helping his parishioners and many of those who flocked to his little parish in the village of Ars, France, to undergo conversion, to grow in holiness, & to become fit for eternal life in heaven. What a powerful reminder this feast is for me and for my fellow bishops and priests as we commend the beloved dead of our Order to the tender mercies of God. We, dear friends, are fellow pilgrims with you on the path of salvation, fellow pilgrims who must seek forgiveness of our sins and holiness in our own lives. Even so, the Lord in his mercy has called us and sent us to expend ourselves in helping you and helping many others to reject sin, to refuse to mastered by evil, and to attain that holiness of life of which Christ himself is the measure.
Indeed our salvation is inextricably bound up with yours. As your bishops and priests, we know the Lord is going to ask us at our judgment whether or not we were gave our lives in union with Christ for the salvation of others. So this morning, we meet again in the shared hope that all of us and all of those who have gone before us in faith will see the Triune God face to face and rejoice in his presence forever.
Sketch of the Life of St. John Vianney
As many of you know, St. John Vianney lived from 1786 until his death in 1859. He faced many obstacles on the path to the priesthood, such as a lack of formal education, opposition from his father, conscription in Napoleon’s army, and difficulty in understanding the Latin language. But with the help of holy parish priest and his own responsiveness to God’s grace, all those obstacles were overcome, and in God’s providential love, he became one of the greatest priests who ever walked the face of the earth.
After he was ordained a few years, he was sent to a desolate little church in Ars where, in the wake of the French Revolution, the practice of the faith had fallen off. Many people were too preoccupied with work and pleasure to go to Mass on Sunday. Few were adequately catechized and even fewer went to confession regularly – it sounds all too familiar, doesn’t it? As soon as he entered the boundaries of his new parish, he knelt down in prayer. The Curé of Ars must have felt as Christ did in today’s Gospel, for he knew that the people in his new parish were “like sheep without a shepherd.” So he came among them as a man of deep prayer and severe penance, grappling in the strength of Christ with the very powers of evil. St. John Vianney knew that, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “Only the one who listens to the Word [of God] can then become its herald.”
And what a clarion herald he became! Like the watchman described in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, he warned his parishioners against everything that would threaten their salvation while at the same time opening their hearts to the love of Christ, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in Eucharistic Adoration. He spent long hours in the confessional leading many to Christ and to eternal life, so much so that Bl. John Paul II referred to him as “a prisoner of the confessional”! The Curé of Ars did all this, my dear friends, “so that the world may know new hope!”
People flocked from everywhere to go to confession to this holy priest, to hear him preach, to be touched by that new hope with which his life brimmed. This is how a once-desolate parish became a vibrant Eucharistic community made of people who knew & loved the faith, & whose consciences had been purified. Radiating poverty, chastity, and obedience, he helped his people to set their hearts “…on what is above, not on what is of earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Remembering Our Beloved Dead
This same hope of eternal life, this zeal for souls, is what motivated our founder, the Venerable Fr. Michael J McGivney. He spent his life in service to his parishioners and his beloved Knights of Columbus. This is the hope that inflamed the Mexican Martyrs, among them members of the Knights of Columbus who are canonized saints. Think also of Blessed Pope John Paul II, who was such a good friend to our Order. For all the world, this great pontiff was ‘a witness to hope’ as he proclaimed Christ, defended human dignity, attracted the young to the Faith, renewed the priesthood, even as his life was overtaken by suffering. I saw the same hope of eternal life shine on the face of our recently departed Supreme Secretary, Emilio Moure, in the final days of his battle with cancer. Emilio never took his salvation or anyone else’s salvation for granted but this faithful son of Our Lady of Guadalupe was radiant in hope of eternal life as he approached the hour of his death.
St. John Vianney’s feast day reminds us that Christ, in his love for us, endowed his Church with all means of our salvation and that the Holy Spirit has poured into our hearts a love that is stronger than sin and more powerful than death. The friends and members of the Order who were so outstanding in holiness, spur us each of us on to conversion and holiness of life and prompt us to us pray in hope and to pray earnestly for the salvation of the members of the family of the Knights of Columbus who have gone before us in faith.
In a few moments, we will hear their names read by our Worthy Deputy Supreme Knight. Filled with hope and in the deepest spirit of charity, unity, and fraternity, let us commend them to the Lord!
It is said that St. John Vianney regularly preached for over an hour at a time. I guess you’re hoping I won’t imitate that part of John Vianney’s life! So let me leave you with this: St. John Vianney famous said that “the priesthood is love of the heart of Jesus.” Just as you, dear members of the family of the Knights of Columbus, stand in solidarity with the Holy Father, your bishops, and your priests, so too we stand in solidarity with you, in a solidarity of that love which overflows from the heart of Jesus and leads us and our loved ones to joys of everlasting life.
May God bless us and keep us always in his love, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.