I think it’s unlikely that those founding members of the Knight of St Columba, who gathered in Glasgow back in 1919, could ever have foreseen that we would be here today, at Aylesford Priory, celebrating this wonderful centenary anniversary. In the words of St Peter, on the mountain of the Transfiguration, we too say from our hearts, ‘Lord, it is wonderful to be here.’ – And it is, isn’t it? Are you sure? Is it wonderful to be here? Yes, it is.
With over 4000 members, across 300 Councils in England, Scotland and Wales, the Knights of St Columba exists for one simple purpose: to serve Christ through the mission of His Holy Catholic Church. That was the inspiration at the beginning and it remains alive in you today: to serve Christ through the mission of His Holy Catholic Church.
Now, I know that pride is one of the seven deadly sins. But I do have to confess that, as your new Archbishop, I am immensely proud that the Southwark Province of the Knights of St Columba is one of the largest, if not they largest in the country, with 32 Councils and over 500 members. What a joy it is to be here with you. To each of the Knights, to your wives and you’re your families, I want to say an enormous thank you for continuing to carry that torch ignited one hundred years ago, for keeping the flame of faith burning brightly with dedication in the service of Christ and His Church. Today, in the words of St John Paul II, “Let us remember the past with gratitude, live the present with enthusiasm, and look forward to the future with confidence.” (NMI 1) Our hope is in the Lord Jesus and He will never let us down.
The apostolate and spirituality of the Knights of St Columba can summed up in the three words which are familiar to every member: charity, unity and fraternity.
The charity, the love, which underpins your service as Knights of St Columba can never be something optional or superficial. ‘Do not let your love be a pretence,’ says St Paul. If we take seriously the Christian call to loving service, we will always prefer good over evil, right over wrong, truth over falsehood, and not just for ourselves, but for every person and for our society as a whole. The love shown to us by the Lord Jesus is a sacrificing love. This means there is a personal cost to each of us if we want to love like Christ. It means we have to change, to be in continual conversion, not modelling ourselves on worldly standards, attitudes or desires, but shaping our lives to mirror Christ. We are to live the life of the Spirit, from the inside out, beginning with the heart. In the words of Blessed, and soon to be Saint, John Henry Newman, we seek that perfection of love in Christ by changing often to be more like Him. In this way, our witness to His love in us, and through us to others, becomes evermore authentic and genuine. A Christian who does not love is a like a light that never shines, like a fire that gives no warmth. But if we live by the virtue of charity, the light and warmth of our love will draw others to Christ.
As Knights of St Columba you are agents in the service of unity: unity within our families, unity within our parishes, and unity within our local communities. Again, St Paul’s instructs us: ‘Do all you can to live at peace with everyone.’ An essential part of your charism is to be peacemakers, to be unifiers. So many people today experience the disunity of brokenness, whether through broken hearts, broken relationships, broken hopes, or broken futures. You must be reconcilers and healers, treating everyone with kindness irrespective of their circumstance. Be, each of you and together, a source of that unifying blessing, joy and consolation, which flows from discipleship of the Lord Jesus.
To the work of charity and unity, you are called to fraternity. ‘Love each other as much as brothers should,’ says St Paul. ‘Have a profound respect for each other… working for the Lord with untiring effort.’ At the heart of fraternity is friendship. To be a friend of the Lord Jesus, to know and love and serve Him, is to see Him in every person, ‘to make real friends with the poor,’ in whatever sense they experience poverty, materially, emotionally or spiritually. By living in fraternity, as brothers and sisters in Christ, in friendship with Him and with each other, we are compelled to make hospitality our special care. Anyone in need is our brother, our sister and our friend. As we recognise the Lord Jesus in the weakest and the poorest, so we must be to them His heart, His love, His lips and His hands.
A life of charity, unity and fraternity rooted in a living relationship with Christ. Does this sound impossible, too much to ask? Is it ridiculous to want to love, to build relationships and to serve others in friendship? The simple answer is no. It is easy? Not always. Is it necessary? Absolutely, if we really want to serve Christ through the mission of His Holy Catholic Church.
Perhaps sometimes, like St Peter, we might be tempted to ask ‘What about us?’ What reward are we going to get? The promise of the Lord Jesus is enough for any of us. In fact, it’s more than enough. We will be repaid in ways we cannot calculate here and now. And more importantly, when we give of ourselves generously, by following and serving Christ, then the way to eternal life is opened up before us.
For the past one hundred years the Knights of St Columba have followed the example of their patron. The Irish Abbot and evangelist St Columba built his life on the Gospel. He was courageous and daring, winning hearts and minds for Christ. In our time and place, encouraged by the Knights who have gone before you, this is your mission today. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, you must continue ‘scrutinising the signs of the times, interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.’ (GS 4) With your pastors, discern how your service of Christ, through the mission of his Holy Catholic Church, can best be put into practice. Prayerfully ponder how to announce today the beauty of the Gospel; how to witness to its truth; how to form new generations of disciples and leaders; how to promote the teaching of the Catholic Faith, the Sacrament of Marriage, the dignity of the family, and the sanctity of human life. Always with the compassion of the Lord Jesus, do all you can to build up His Body, the Church.
It was by fidelity to God that Abram became the father of a great nation and the source of blessing for future generations. By your own faithfulness to God, through His Son, Jesus Christ the Lord, may you become a blessing for others, so that, together, we can discover the will of God for the sanctification of His people and the praise and glory of his Name. With gratitude, give thanks for all that has gone before. With enthusiasm live faithfully in the present. And look towards the future with confidence. Amen
+ John Wilson
Archbishop of Southwark