August 1, 2017
135th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus
Memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori
In 1871, Michael Joseph McGivney was in his final year of minor seminary at Our Lady of the Angels Seminary near Niagara Falls, New York. In the spring of that year, the Holy Father, Blessed Pius IX, added to the list of the Doctors of the Church. He proclaimed that St. Alphonsus Liguori, whose feast we celebrate today, is worthy to be numbered among the Church’s greatest teachers. Undoubtedly, such an occasion would have been noted in a seminary. In fact, we are sure that the young seminarian from Waterbury, the man who, a decade later, would found the Knights of Columbus, benefited from reflecting on the extraordinary life and teaching of the Church’s newest doctor. In recent years a priest from Hartford discovered a book from 1875 with Fr. McGivney’s name inscribed on the front leaf. What was it? A well-worn copy of The Guide for Confessors by St. Alphonsus Liguori.1 St. Alphonsus’ life and writings continue to offer inspiration for the members of this great organization founded by Fr. McGivney.
When Pius IX proclaimed this bishop from Naples a doctor of the Church, he named him the Most Zealous Doctor (Doctor Zelantissimus). St Alphonsus knew the words of today’s gospel: “You are the light of the world.” After a successful career in law, Alphonsus spent the last 60 years of his life, until his death at 91, wholly dedicated to radiating the light of the Gospel to the world. With the fire of holy zeal, he labored as a priest and bishop, a missionary preacher, a tireless confessor, the founder of the Redemptorists, and a prolific author of over 110 theological and spiritual books. He poured himself out to bring the saving message of Jesus to the people of his time.
He invited all through his preaching, his writing, and his life to find the fullness of life that the Gospel promises. He believed in the liberating power of the Gospel to bring life to others. He was convinced that a life lived for Jesus Christ and in his Church was the only real path to human fulfillment. His deepest desire, the motivating force in his life, was to bring souls to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ.
In this way, the Church’s most Zealous Doctor offers a model of missionary discipleship, which is the call of each and every baptized Christian. All of us are called to lives of zealous proclamation of the kingdom. Every Christian, and in a particular way you knights and ladies, have been sent to be light to the world. St. Alphonsus was light in 18th century Italy. Fr. McGivney was light in 19th century New England, as he sought to bring the people of New Haven and beyond to a deeper love of God and of neighbor. And you are called to be light in 21st century America. In whichever part of our great nation you call home, there is a need for zealous Catholics, men and women on fire with the love of Christ and the desire for souls.
You are called to use your God given talents creatively to present the fullness of the Gospel to your friends and family members, your coworkers and your acquaintances. No doubt there are real challenges that we face - growing indifference to spiritual things, deepening secularism in our society, increasing polarization in our communities - but we trust that the same Spirit who inspired the great saints in previous generations is still at work in ours.
The only way we can live up to this call is to come to know and be familiar with this Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ. As St. Paul said in our First Reading: “[We] walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4) If we desire to be the disciples Jesus needs in our time, we must be men and women who live in the Holy Spirit. Which is to say, we must be men and women of prayer.
The centrality of prayer is a truth that St. Alphonsus loved to teach and insisted upon in all of his preaching and writing. Prayer is absolutely necessary for Christians. He famously said: “The one who prays will be saved, the one who does not pray will be lost."2 A life of prayer, of daily and dedicated conversation with God, is not a luxury for the few. It is a necessity for the life of faith and for the work of missionary disciples.
Without prayer, we will not be able to accomplish the mission that God has given to us. Without prayer, the Knights of Columbus will bear no lasting fruit. Without prayer we cannot and will not find the life that Jesus so desires to give to us.
So we must pray. We pray as individuals, making time for God in the midst of our days to read the scriptures, to pray the rosary, to meditate on the great mysteries of the life of Jesus. We pray as families united in a common faith and love, finding support and strength through the ups and downs, twists and turns that confront every family. This is so important and is at the heart of the life of the Domestic Church, the most fundamental cell of society and the Church. The new initiative you launched in 2015 to “Build the Domestic Church” is filled with great promise and has already borne great fruit around the country. As you continue this crucial work, it must always remain grounded and nourished by prayer - both individual and communal.
This is why we are here this morning, united in prayer in this Holy Mass at the beginning of this Supreme Convention. God gathers us around this altar to be nourished by the Bread of Life and filled with the Spirit’s grace, so that we might carry out our mission to be, like St. Alphonsus Liguori and Venerable Michael McGivney, faithful friends of Jesus and zealous disciples of Christ and his Church.
2St Alphonsus Liguori, Prayer: the Great Means of Salvation and Perfection, (Del gran mezzo della preghiera e opuscoli affini) (Opere asectiche, II), Roma 1962, p. 171; quoted in John Paul II, “Spiritus Domini: Apostolic Letter For The Bicentenary Of The Death Of St Alphonsus De’ Liguori,” 1 August 1987