“Are you junior Knights of Columbus?” This was the question posed to me by an elderly woman during my freshman year of college as I joined my brother knights for 8am Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception adjacent to The Catholic University of America’s (CUA) campus. It was a Friday morning, and of course I loathed getting out of bed. However, I had made a commitment and I wanted to follow through as best I could.
Some of the upperclassmen knights that were with me answered politely back, “No, ma’am, we’re just regular knights.” She smiled and wished us well, clearly happy to see young men going to Church. Back then, our council membership was small, but we had big aspirations. All of the guys that I joined the Knights with had the same idea in mind. Here we were, embarking on a new chapter of our life. We wanted our faith to be enriched and strengthened. We wanted to serve the community and neediest among us. We wanted to find friends who would support us in our endeavors.
The Knights of Columbus are a 1.9 million member Catholic fraternal organization. Founded in 1882 by the Venerable Servant of God Fr. Michael J. McGivney, the order is founded on the principles of charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism. Originally formed to provide financial assistance to members and their families, the order today continues to do so through its insurance program, which funds its charitable works. The Knights of Columbus are organized into local councils, often housed within parishes, and are governed internationally by a supreme council headquartered in New Haven, Connecticut – where the order was founded.
As the Knights of Columbus meet this week in Toronto, Canada for their Supreme Convention – their international convention during which they elect officers, pass resolutions, and report on membership, etc.—I wanted to share my story of the impact this organization has had on my life.
Growing up, I always wanted to get involved in extracurricular activities at school and within my community. I joined the student council, led clubs, and served as a counselor to other students. When I arrived at college, things were no different. The CUA council of the Knights of Columbus was the first group I joined. It soon became apparent to me that I had found just what I needed – what I had been looking for as a new college student. This group would help me realize that my faith should not just be important - but it should be the cornerstone of my being.
As a knight, I have grown in fraternity with my brothers. I have been able to serve my community through charitable fundraisers and service opportunities. I have supported veterans and active-duty military – something that the order encourages no matter which country a council is in. I have been able to instill in others the characteristics of true chivalry. Because of the Knights of Columbus, I have become a better Catholic and a better man.
I would encourage any Catholic male to think about joining this organization. A similar organization for women is the The Catholic Daughters of the Americas. If you are already a knight, I would encourage you to stay involved and help to recruit others. As our chaplain is fond of saying, “What you give to the council, you will get back one hundredfold.” I cannot endorse this statement enough.
Let me leave you with a few lines from a song that we sing at the end of our council meetings:
We have a mission great
True to our Church and State
Onward we move
We dry the mourner's tear
The tired heart we cheer
Faith in our works appear,
Upheld by Love.
These few lines, I think, embody just what it means to be a Knight of Columbus.
The last week of Lent had me thinking really hard, not just because Holy week was fast approaching and I needed to decide which Mass to attend on Palm Sunday, but because this past weekend I was giving a talk at my fourth and final Catholic Daughters of the Americas retreat. My talk was going to be about Lent (obviously) but more specifically, giving things up for Lent.
I ended up writing a thousand words on the last 12 years of my life—what I gave up for Lent each year and what I got out of it. I talked to my friends in Catholic Daughters about my lack of understanding when it comes to Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice, and how lent is a time to strive to understand that and to strengthen our relationship with Christ. My talk culminated in my revelation that adding something to my life during Lent, rather than giving something up (I had tried giving up soda and peanut butter cups) helped me to understand Jesus’ sacrifice for us and to strengthen my relationship with God. I shared with them my experience doing community service and how I my attempt to added more prayer to my daily life as an attempt to do this. I found that daily prayer was ultimately the best way for me to strengthen my relationship with God and when I walked into church on Sunday I felt more at home because I had never ended the conversation I started with God the week before—I had continued it every night while fulfilling my Lenten promise to pray. I asked my fellow Catholic Daughters what they had given up for Lent and how this might strengthen their relationship with God. What I did not realize until after I shared my own Lenten experience with them is that finding what works for me during Lent is only the first step.
Yes, I had graduated from giving up soda and candy for forty days in the Spring and grown to making a personal commitment to talk to God more, but why? What was it for? I realized this Saturday as I sat among my friends who I’m about to leave (springtime and looming graduation fills me with a large dose of nostalgia) that I strengthen my relationship with God so that I can help them strengthen theirs as well. Sometime we don’t realize the impact and influence we have on those around us.
Lent is a time to reflect on our faith and how we practice it. Many people do to intensify their practice of the their Faith during Lent, whether it be attending daily Mass, going to Confession or simply getting back in the habit of going to Sunday Mass. In the beginning, I added daily prayer to my life during Lent for myself. But, I now see that in strengthening my own relationship with God I have acquired the tools and experience to help my peers grow closer to God as well—and I should do that! As Lent comes to a close and Holy Week begins, I challenge you to find a way to use your personal growth during Lent to help those around you. How can you be a positive presence in the lives of those around you?
Eileen Welch is a senior at The Catholic University of America and the Regent of Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Court Catholic University.
This past Sunday, October 6th was “Respect Life Sunday,” a day designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to kick of their Respect Life programming for the year. When I went to Mass this weekend, I offered extra prayers for the protection of the unborn and the protection of life until natural death. I did not really think about it any more than those few minutes at Mass.
Later in the evening however I had a general meeting of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas on my campus. Our chaplain spoke briefly about Respect Life Sunday and offered this group a challenge. He spoke about the good things that the pro-life ministry does (March for Life, sidewalk prayers, raising awareness, etc), but also pointed out the need for more resources for women actually in the position to be making decisions about whether or not to end their pregnancies. He spoke about how too often, the decision to end a pregnancy is made because it is the easiest. He challenged us to re-think our views on the pro-life ministry.
In the United States, the pro-life ministry in the mainstream focuses a great deal on the changing of laws that allow abortion. This goal is a good one, a necessary step to ending the practice of abortion in the United States. But what our chaplain said when he gave us this challenge resonated with me and made me think. There should be a larger goal of not only trying to amend laws to prohibit abortions, but also trying to offer resources to pregnant women. I firmly believe that abortion should not be legal, but until there is a time where that is the case, shouldn’t we work just as hard to make abortion not as common?
Of course this still leaves the question of how: how do we as Catholics strive to make abortion something less common? On the large scale this involves better counseling resources for pregnant women unable to care for their unborn children, showing these women that there are options available that are alternatives to abortion. But how do we, on a smaller, individual scale help reach this goal? That question I do not have an answer to quite yet. But it certainly will be on my mind and in my prayers.
For an inspiring story of one man’s change of heart about his daughter with Down’s Syndrome, watch this video below:
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center