ORLANDO, Fla. (OSV News) – Amid the swirl of incense and the fanfare of brass orchestra and choir singing a triumphal “Te Deum,” several hundred clergy processed into the opening Mass for the Knights of Columbus 2023 annual convention, escorted by uniformed fourth-degree Knights.
“I welcome all of you to this place and home of faith,” Bishop John G. Noonan of Orlando, the chief celebrant of the Aug. 1 Mass, welcoming the 2,300 Knights and family members in the temporary sanctuary where an icon of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd looked out over the gathering.
The Knights of Columbus 141st Supreme Convention held Aug. 1-3 in Orlando gathered Knights, both lay and clergy, from all over the globe at the Orlando World Center Marriott, showing its international reach and “Catholic” nature of the brotherhood, encompassing men of diverse cultures, languages and continents all held together by the same faith in Jesus Christ. The Knights and their families came from seven countries — the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Philippines, Poland, Ukraine, South Korea — and the U.S. territory of Guam. The prayers of the faithful were given in five languages: English, French, Tagalog, Spanish and Ukrainian.
The music, provided by the Choir and Brass Ensemble of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, included beautiful Eucharistic hymns with music from Poland and France. It also gave a significant nod to the Irish heritage of the Knights’ founder, Blessed Michael McGivney. The choir sang “Ag Criost an Siol” (“To Christ the seed”) in Gaeilge, Ireland’s Indigenous language, and St. Patrick’s Breastplate.
More than 50 bishops and archbishops were in attendance, which also included three cardinals: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York; Cardinal James M. Harvey, a U.S. prelate who is archpriest of Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls; and Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.
The Mass showed Catholic bishops and faithful of the Eastern Churches, including the Ukrainian, Chaldean, Maronite and Syriac Churches, alongside their brothers of the Latin Church. In fact, the highest-ranking Catholic prelate at the Aug. 1 Mass was not a bishop of the Latin Church, but the head of the Syriac Catholic Church: Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan of Antioch.
Flanked by the Knights’ own patrons, Blessed McGivney on the left, and the Virgin of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, on the right, Bishop Noonan gave the homily based on the two readings taken from the day’s Mass.
The first reading, taken from parts of Exodus 33 and 34, spoke about Moses speaking with the Lord “face to face, as one man speaks to another,” praising the Lord’s mercy and justice, while fasting and interceding for the people of God, and writing down the Ten Commandments. In the Gospel reading from Matthew 13, Jesus explains to his disciples the parable of the weeds in the field, where the “children of the Kingdom” are the good seed planted in the field; while the weeds are the “children of the Evil One” who are sown by the Devil. At the end of the world, Jesus says, the Lord will send out his angels to separate the weeds from his harvest, with the evildoers going to punishment and the righteous enjoying the Father’s kingdom.
“We too have been struggling, struggling for these last few years,” Bishop Noonan said. “Our world and our nation has gone through the experience of weeds and deserts. We have felt lost and forsaken, like the people of Israel — and yet Jesus reminds his disciples to be cautious and patient with dealing with the weeds and weeds growing in our midst.”
Bishop Noonan reminded the Knights the U.S. church is called in its 2022-2025 National Eucharistic Revival “to celebrate the sacredness, the beauty and the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.”
The bishop pointed out that all things are in God’s hands: “Jesus is the master of the harvest,” and “he will separate the wheat from the weeds.”
But Bishop Noonan challenged the Knights to think of the parable, and Moses’ preparation of the people to enter the Promised Land, and connect it with what they are doing in their lives with respect to “the greatest gift of all: receiving Christ in the Eucharist.”
“Are we prepared to receive Christ, the Eucharist, by separating ourselves from the evil that sometimes contaminates us and our world?” he said. “By separating the weeds from the wheat, by allowing Christ to separate the sin from the sinner?”
“The grace of the Eucharist transforms lives,” he said. “The sacrament of reconciliation purifies us; helps us; separates us from the sin; preserves and increases and renews the life of the grace we receive at baptism.”
He added, “We’re called to be renewed. We’re called to be made whole. We’re called above all to be renewed with Christ in the Eucharist.”
Bishop Noonan then recalled the Knights to the witness of their founder, Blessed McGivney (1852-1890), the parish priest who started the fraternal order in 1882 that has its headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut.
“He was challenged; he was entrusted to preach the Gospel; he was entrusted to bring the Eucharist, Christ, to others,” he said.
Bishop Noonan reminded the Knights that Blessed McGivney also faced a world that was “troubling, difficult and harsh.”
“And in those moments, he saw hope. Despite the failings of humanity, he wanted to bring hope to others,” the bishop said. “And he did bring hope by allowing Christ to help him. Let us be mindful of Father Michael McGivney, a man who saw the needs of the people and reached out to heal them, to separate the weeds from the wheat.”
“We too can do great things, if we allow the Lord into our lives; if we let him heal us, guide us, and above all, teach us,” the bishop said, concluding his homily. “So today, as we begin this convention, may it be a time for us to be Eucharistic, to be above all, Christ-filled, so that we too can bring Christ to others.”