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In Unity with the Church

In performing simple gestures to support the beatification of Father Michael McGivney, the New Haven Community re-discovers an experience "so rich that it asks only to be tasted and followed."

Statue of Father McGivney outside Saint Mary's Church

On October 31, 2020, Father Michael Joseph McGivney (1852-1890), a Connecticut diocesan priest, was declared a Blessed by the Catholic Church. It does not happen every day that an American receives the honors of the Church! Although the Beatification Mass took place in the Cathedral of the Archdiocese in Hartford, a number of ceremonies and events took place in the parish church of St. Mary in New Haven, where Father McGivney ministered for six years and where he founded in 1882 the Catholic fraternal society known as the Knights of Columbus. That church is also where his body is currently entombed.

As our small CL community had been meeting (since 1989!) for School of Community in that very parish, we thought that we would offer our services as volunteers during the celebration events as a gesture of gratitude to the Dominican friars who have hosted us there for so many years. Our contribution was very humble (participating in the Mass for the volunteers, praying during the Adoration vigil hours, welcoming the pilgrims and taking their temperature before they entered the church, sanitizing the pews after each function, taking part in the candlelight procession in the streets of New Haven, attending the All Saints Mass) and we lived through it not only as a charitable work, but also as an experience of unity with the entire Church.

Indeed the history of the life of Fr. McGivney and the events that took place during the day were not at all disconnected from what we have been reading in this year’s School of Community text, or from the life of our community, or even from the current happenings in America.

Father Carrón has spoken to us of the fatherhood of God and of our sonship as a generative relationship (The Radiance in your Eyes, chapter five). Father McGivney did live his life in a way that clearly shows that this relationship can generate new human experiences, particularly at a time and in a society that is very hostile to such experiences. By accepting to be personally assigned by Probate Courts the parental responsibilities of orphans, thus preventing their removal from the family and assignment to the State, as prescribed by the law of the time, and by ministering to death-row prisoners (something extremely unusual even by today’s standards, given the special circumstances it involves), Father McGivney was nothing else and nothing less than a witness of the fatherhood of God.

And Fr. McGivney was respectful of freedom and not unaware of the manipulations and corrupted practices of political campaigns of his time, as he told his congregation on the eve of the 1884 presidential elections:

My friends. . . in casting your ballots. . . let not the soft or luring words of tricky politicians, or the seductive dollar turn you a hair’s breadth from your lawful path. Vote not as other men dictate, but rather like men with the interest of your country at heart. Vote according to the dictates of your own consciences. (New Haven Morning News, November 3, 1884; courtesy of Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P.)

Another significant event that took place during the beatification celebrations was the simple but powerful account of the miracle credited to Father McGivney’s intercession, the medically unexplained resolution of a major body abnormality, incompatible with life, in a young child from Tennessee. The witness was given by his parents, and it highlighted how they were able to recognize (in dates, in conversations, in happenings) the signs of the presence of the Mystery. This poses (to us!) once again the question of the depth of our own faith, especially at a time in which several people in the community are affected by serious illnesses: do we really believe that the miracles we are praying for are still possible?

Despite the weight and the type of burdens we might be experiencing, Father McGivney’s life is a powerful reminder that all of us are called to holiness. And what could this possibly mean for us now? During his homily at the All Saints’ candlelight Mass that started at midnight, Fr. Jonathan Kalisch, O.P., offered some clues:

Look around: did you think you would see so many people tonight at this hour? This is what it means to be in communion with the saints. Where else would we rather be in this day? You can see and feel this unity: we are not alone! This is what the saints teach us. Remaining united with Christ and in Christ gives us the certainty that the Church is our true home.

In the end, we believe that what we have experienced in these days as a community, even in its simplicity (for we have not done anything particularly exceptional or heroic) has been a unique, beautiful opportunity to appreciate how the experience of the Church and its history, as presented to us by people of faith in the past, but also in present times, and lived in communion with others, is so rich that it asks only to be tasted and followed.

CL Community, New Haven, Connecticut

Saint Mary's prepares for the beatification.


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