Wednesday, August 05, 2009

In Phoenix, Here's to the Knights

For the 127th time, the Knights of Columbus are spending these early August days in Supreme Convention, this year in Phoenix.

Now boasting a record 1.8 million members worldwide, little escapes the grasp of the church's largest fraternal organization, whose efforts provide crucial manpower and funding for works ranging from parish socials to national initiatives supporting everything from priestly recruitment to an enhanced voice for the church's stances on family life and the protection of human dignity.

Mostly away from the spotlight, though, over the last year the Knights devoted some 69 million hours of service to church and community and donated $150 million to charity... and it's in tribute to the order's fidelity that its weeklong gathering invariably draws an A-list of hierarchs, led this time around by the Vatican's #3 official: the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, LA's own Cardinal William Levada.

Yet while the "Grand Inquisitor" took a lower profile turn, celebrating and preaching today's main Mass for the 2,000 delegates in attendance, the keynote at last night's marquee States Dinner -- given in 2007 by B16's personally-dispatched "Vice-Pope" -- came from the chief of the nation's bishops, the USCCB president Cardinal Francis George of Chicago (above), whose fulltext focused mostly on Caritas in Veritate, but included a notable commentary on the state of the Stateside church, including an announcement that the body of bishops "now want to explicitly address" their fold's "severely strained" bonds of unity:
Holding everyone and everything together in unity is another ways of saying Catholic. Unity with God is sanctity. Unity with believers in Christ is called ecclesial communion. Unity between husband and wife for the sake of their children is called family. Unity with fellow citizens who love a common homeland is called patriotism. Unity with those with whom we share similar values is called friendship.

A Catholic way of life is based on assent to revealed truth and obedience to appointed pastors, both of which create the unity Christ wishes us to enjoy. The Church’s unity today is severely strained, as we all know. Bishops and priests have sometimes been less than worthy of their calling, and lay groups have sometimes come together to create a Church in their image and likeness rather than Christ’s. Political interference and the hostility of some in the media and entertainment industries, the self-righteousness of some on both the right and the left, have created a dangerous situation, one the bishops now want to explicitly address. How to stitch up the Church where her unity is torn, how to use the authority given by Christ to the apostles without wounding the faithful who are already hurting is a project that begins with the bishops’ own submission to Christ and our own self-examination in the light of God’s word.
Suffice it to say, how the divide'll be addressed over the months to come bears watching. Close, close watching.

In his homily today, meanwhile, Levada likewise touched on the current ecclesial situation on these shores, calling the Knights to engage with "all people of good will... to improve the lot of others":
All Christians are called to give over their lives to Christ, to allow Him to live through them. Let me conclude with a specific application of that truth to us as Catholics in America, and for us as Knights of Columbus in our beloved country. Our first reading offers us another image, not unlike that with which I began this homily:
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.” (Rev 21:2-3)
The new Jerusalem does not rise up to heaven from the earth; that city is Babel, not Jerusalem. Rather it comes down from heaven to us. In some versions of the legend of Our Lady of the Snows, we are told that the snow fell in the exact outline of the church to built there. That may be a somewhat fanciful image, but I think it makes a good point. Although we sometimes sing about building the City of God, in fact our task is more modest: we do not build heaven on earth, we simply prepare the site to welcome the new Jerusalem which comes from God.

This is an important lesson for us Americans. Our nation has been blessed with many gifts and resources, and at times that abundance can blind people to our utter dependence on God, and the need to seek to do his will. We Knights of Columbus are dedicated to fostering both faith and patriotism in your members; and you experience the tensions when our religious ideals come into conflict with a society that is becoming increasingly secular. The Christ who lives in us is truly “a light of revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel”, but he is also “a sign that will be contradicted”. (Lk 2:32, 34) Like Mary, we too will be pierced by that sword of opposition if we are faithful to Christ. That is the cost of discipleship. As American Catholics, we can and we should work with all people of good will, regardless of their religious beliefs, to improve the lot of others. But we must also bear witness to our conviction that the American “city set on a hill”, no matter how remarkable its scientific accomplishments or technological advances, will always be a barren patch of earth without the life-giving refreshment of the word of God.
At the Convention's close, the Knights will host a Marian Congress dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, its highlight a festival for the 18,000 expected to fill Sun Country's hockey arena.

PHOTOS: Knights of Columbus