Nearly 2,500 Knights and their families gathered in Phoenix’s JW Marriot Desert Ridge Resort to celebrate their annual convention’s opening Mass this morning, on the Feast of St. John Vianney. In his homily, principal celebrant Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted called on the Knights not to fear the “demands of morality” as many of their peers do.
Concelebrated by seven cardinals, 80 bishops and 80 priests, the Mass opened the 127th Annual Convention of the Knights of Columbus. The theme of this year’s convention, “We stand with Peter in solidarity with our bishops and priests,” takes place during the “Year for Priests,” proclaimed by Pope Benedict.
Several relics of the patron of priests, St. John Vianney, were brought to the altar during the opening procession. The saint’s feast day is celebrated today.
During his homily, Bishop Olmsted reflected on Matthew’s Gospel, which recalled Christ walking on water. “In the Gospel passage for this Mass, a battle rages between fear and faith. The disciples in the boat, tossed about in a stormy sea, are frightened by the pounding of the waves and the violence of the wind. When Jesus comes to them, walking on the sea, they are even terrified of Him; they cry out in fear, ‘It is a ghost!’ At once Jesus speaks to them, ‘Take courage, It is I; do not be afraid’.”
Though the battle with fear is “very real,” Jesus wants us to overcome all our fear, a message that St. John Vianney echoed, the bishop reminded the Knights.
During the life of Father John Vianney, Bishop Olmsted explained, Catholics living in Ars “were ignorant of their faith and indifferent in their practice. Addictions were widespread. Marriage and the family were breaking down. Hope was running low. What they needed was a holy priest, a messenger of Christ who would help them overcome their slavish fears, and surrender with gratitude to the love of God. But they were afraid of the moral demands that faith would make upon them. And so, upon his arrival as the new parish priest in Ars, Fr. Vianney was not made welcome,” he recounted.
Turning to modern times, Bishop Olmsted said, “this fear of moral demands is the greatest fear in society today, a fear that keeps people from surrendering in faith to the Lord.”
“When our contemporaries take up the search for something more, false notions about ethical demands may frighten them away.” This was the case for Christian author C.S. Lewis, the bishop explained. When he converted to Christianity, “he was convinced that he would never be happy again. He said that he knew it was right for him to believe in God, that it was the ethical thing to do, that it was the thing his intellectual searching and his informed conscience were requiring him to do; it was a matter of integrity. But he never guessed that it could lead to happiness. That was God’s surprise!”
The bishop encouraged the Knights saying, “we followers of Christ need not be afraid because, as the Angel tells Mary, ‘Nothing is impossible with God.’ The demands of God are not burdensome, when supported by the rich mercy of God. The law of the Lord leads us away from sin and the disorientation that it always sows; and it lead us to truth and goodness and beauty. It leads us toward full maturity in Christ.”
Reflecting on today's Gospel reading, Bishop Olmsted explained that Peter overcame his fears when he climbed out of the boat and began walking on the water toward Jesus. “But then, Peter’s faith wavered as he noticed the strength of the wind. He began to pay more attention to the threat of the storm than to the One who controls all storms and indeed all of creation. His fear overshadowed his faith and Peter began to sink.”
“However, even as he was sinking, Peter found enough faith to cry out, ‘Lord, save me;’ Jesus at once stretched out His hand, caught Peter, and began to walk with him back to the boat. Many years later, perhaps recalling this incident, Peter wrote in his first Epistle, “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the suffering of Christ’.”
“Are not these words timely for us today, in AD 2009 as we begin this Supreme Convention?” the bishop asked. “Whatever ‘trial by fire’ the Lord may give us to endure, whatever fears we may have to face, let us trust the words of our Redeemer, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’”
Further information about this week’s conference can be found at www.kofc.org.