On Wednesday, August 3, 2016, Cardinal Wuerl delivered the following homily during the Holy Mass for the 134th Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention, taking place in Toronto, Canada:
Sheraton Centre Hotel
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Homily by His Eminence Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington
Your Eminences, your Beatitudes, brother bishops, brother priests and deacons Worthy Supreme Knight and brother Knights of Columbus and your families, brothers and sisters in Christ.
As I begin this reflection on our celebration today, I want to express my gratitude to all of our brother Knights for this opportunity to offer this homily in the context of this Supreme Convention.
In the Gospel that we have just listened to, we hear the woman’s cry, “Lord, help me.” This is a cry that echoes regularly in our hearts and on our lips, in moments of prayer, in times of challenge and in the midst of all the things that make our daily life – “Lord, help me.” This petition is echoed in all of us as we try to make our way through life ever closer to the Lord and ever more faithful to his Gospel: “Lord, help me.”
As we ask for the Lord’s constant grace, support and help, what is it he asks of us in return? The Gospel today tells us that what Jesus wants from us is our act of faith in him. He wants to be able to say to us as he said to the woman in the Gospel, “Great is your faith” and “Let it be done for you as you wish.”
We pray and one of the reasons we come to Mass and why at each day in this Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus there is the celebration of the Eucharist is that we seek continually to renew and strengthen our faith. We pray that our faith be strong, that it always be open to the powerful presence of God’s Spirit, a Spirit that guides, heals and renews us.
But faith is also meant to be shared. We can also hear Jesus saying, if you would be my faith-filled disciple, then you must be my witness.
Just as the prophet Jeremiah announced to “all the families of Israel” the word of God “I will be your God … and you shall be my people.” So are we called to keep alive and audible that message and that invitation – to become a part of God’s family.
As he prepared to return to his Father in glory, the great challenge that Jesus set before his disciples, before all of those who placed their faith in him, before you and me, is “You will be my witnesses.”
In this Convention, we recognize our theme, “A Light to the Nations,” as an expression of that evangelizing command to be disciples – evangelizing witnesses. It is precisely to be “A Light to the Nations” that we are called as Knights of Columbus individually and as our Order – to be a reflection of Jesus who is the “Light to the Nations.” Part of our mission is to shed light on the condition of our brothers and sisters who suffer so violently persecutions for the faith. The presence of so many hierarchs of the Eastern Churches is a testimony to our solidarity with them but also a challenge to stand with them in defense of Christians.
But how do we bear this witness How do we share this message? How is it that we are able to do this? How is that we are able to be a reflection of that light in our families, our communities, in the workplace, in wherever we find ourselves?
In the great task of the New Evangelization – in the carrying out of the work of the evangelizing disciple – there are, I believe, three steps. Each of us is called first to renew our own faith. This is something we do both intellectually by learning more about our faith and affectively by opening our hearts more deeply in prayer. Every Knight of Columbus receives Columbia Magazine. Here we find a rich treasure-trove of information and inspiration about our faith.
But it is not enough that we just appreciate personally our faith. We have to be confident in its truth so that we are willing to stand in that truth and be a witness to it in all that we say and do. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is a wonderful example of both saying and doing the Gospel.
But there is a third element. Not only are we to deepen our faith in this Year of Mercy and in this challenge to be an evangelizing disciple, not only are we to stand confident in that truth but we must be willing and prepared to share it.
All around us are those who need, once again, to be invited back into the fullness of the Sacramental life of the Church, back into the embrace of God’s mercy and Christ’s living presence in his Church.
Each evangelizing disciple, each Knight of Columbus, each one of us is called to undertake this task.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, offers us the perennial wisdom of the Church on how we do this. He tells us, go out, encounter, accompany those who should be more fully with us and as we do this we evangelize.
Each missionary disciple has many qualities. There are a great number of identifiable characteristics of a new evangelizer. I would like to conclude this homily simply reflecting on four of them. It seems to me that the person who is going to bear the light to the nations, the person who is going to, in his or her life, to be a reflection of Jesus and his Gospel and to be a witness to his Church in our world must have these characteristics.
First, we must be bold – have courage. After the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, the Apostles were all gathered in the Upper Room. They remained there “timid” as the Acts of the Apostles describes them. And then came the outpouring of the Spirit – the same Spirit you and I received in Baptism, the same Spirit nurtured in this Eucharist – and we are told they were then bold (cf. Acts 2:4). Peter boldly stood up and announced the Resurrection (cf. Acts 2:22- 36). Paul boldly went out and preached in all of the lands that he could reach (cf. Acts 19:21-22). You and I have to have that same serene, confident courage.
The second characteristic of the New Evangelizer is a sense of urgency. It is our turn now. Others have proclaimed the Gospel before us and we stand on their shoulders. But it is our turn now. The model of the urgency of the evangelizer is found in Mary. No sooner did she learn of the needs of her cousin, Elizabeth, than she, the Gospel tells us, in haste went to her.
Our task is not just to know God’s word but to do it. One way we can share our faith is to share the monthly issue of Columbia Magazine that each of us receives. I have made a practice for some time now of giving my copy after I have read it to a college student on one of our many campuses. It can serve not only as a way to grow more deeply in the faith but as an invitation.
The third characteristic of the Knight of Columbus evangelizing disciple is a connectedness to the Church. My brothers, the only Gospel message that we can proclaim, the only valid proclamation we have, is the one that it is verified in the Church. It comes to us in that great line we call the Apostolic succession and Apostolic tradition. None of us has received directly the Gospel. It comes to us mediated and passed on in and through the Church.
Sometimes terms like “Apostolic succession,” “Apostolic tradition,” “Papal Magisterium,” take on an abstract quality. Children usually have a way of going right to the core of things. Thirty years ago as a young bishop, I found that when I visited parish schools I often received mail, lots of letters. This was not spontaneous correspondence. The letters came in neat packets and you could identify the age of the youngster by the preferred writing instrument, a crayon graduating to a colored pencil, to the ubiquitous No. 2 pencil and finally to a ball point pen.
One of the letters I have cherished and kept to this day. It said, “Dear Bishop, I find it amazing that you know someone who knew someone who knew someone.” Apparently, the teacher had said you are writing to the bishop so fill up the page. And my little correspondent continued, “…who knew someone who knew Jesus.”
I said to myself, “When I get to the parish school, not only am I going to thank little Dominic, in the fourth grade, but I am going to appoint him to the Archdiocesan Theological Commission.
Is that not what we believe? That we, through our connectedness to the Church, through our communion with the touchstone of the faith, Peter, we can truly claim to know someone who connects us to Jesus Christ.
Yes, the name changes from John Paul to Benedict to Francis. But the rock is the same.
Our allegiance must be the same because the assurance of our faith rests on that connectedness.
That brings us to the final characteristic. The defining quality of every missionary disciple must be joy. My brothers and sisters, we announce a Risen Lord. We have received the words of everlasting life. I think one of the reasons that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is heard and received with such welcome is because he radiates the joy of the Gospel. So should you and I. Christ is risen and we are his heralds, his witnesses.
As we take on the task to be “A Light to the Nations,” we simply remind ourselves of the joy and the truth of our Gospel message and the fact that because of our connectedness to the rock, to Peter, you and I can always say we know someone who knows someone who brings us to Jesus.
CNS photo/Paul Haring