“You shall love the Lord, your God,with all your heart,with all your soul,and with all your mind.This is the greatest and the first commandment.The second is like it:You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matt. 22:37-39
On November 10, 1884, Father McGivney delivered his farewell sermon to his beloved St. Mary’s parish. Parishioners wept. “Never, it seemed, was a congregation so affected by the parting address of a clergyman as the great audience which filled St. Mary’s yesterday,” the New Haven Evening Register reported. “There was never a more energetic or hardworking young priest stationed in New Haven than he.”
Why was Father McGivney so beloved? What made him such a remarkable parish priest? Undoubtedly, it was because Father McGivney held fast to these two great commandments.
First, he loved the Lord, with all his heart. He was a man of prayer and he relished uniting others to the Lord by means of the sacraments. This is the great and privileged work of a priest.
There’s a remarkable story about Father McGivney making a pastoral visit to a local prison. The words of Jesus easily come to mind, “I was in prison and you visited me” (Matt. 25:36).
Father McGivney became especially fond of the 21-year-old James “Chip” Smith, who was sentenced to death for murdering a police chief. The repentant offender benefited greatly from Father McGivney’s presence and spiritual guidance. For his part, Smith was absolved of his sins and Father McGivney even offered Holy Mass for him in prison.
Shortly after that Mass, the young priest’s grief was manifest. Smith comforted him, saying, “Father, your saintly ministrations have enabled me to meet death without a tremor. Do not fear for me, I must not break down now.” Father McGivney was present at the young man’s execution, praying for him unceasingly with–a newspaper reporter attests–a face wet by tears.
By his ministrations, Father McGivney sought to bring this ailing soul peace. He built up the faith of his people by teaching the catechism and preaching. He protected the spiritual welfare of Catholics by encouraging and nurturing their faith.
All this he did with a great sense of peace. McGivney is said to have had a priest’s face that is, “a face of wonderful repose.” People saw his interior peace, the kind of thing born only of a right relationship with God, radiating from his countenance.
Second, Father McGivney was beloved because he loved his neighbor. Father McGivney did not simply preach love of neighbor. In a time when Catholics faced great material need, Father McGivney provided for the least. His work, founding the Knights of Columbus as a fraternal benefit society, would provide for the sustenance of members’ widows and their children. Again we hear the words of Jesus as Father McGivney offers food and drink to those in need (Matt. 25:35) and comforts those who mourn (Matt. 5:4).
One priest testifies to Father McGivney’s charity saying, “The poor found in him a Good Samaritan, and were frequent recipients of his bounty.” A true Good Samaritan, Father McGivney did not turn to abstraction or theorizing. He simply helped those in need.
Describing the invitation to serve those in need in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Pope Francis writes, “The parable eloquently presents the basic decision we need to make in order to rebuild our wounded world. In the face of so much pain and suffering, our only course is to imitate the Good Samaritan” (Fratelli Tutti, 67). This was Father McGivney’s widely renown labor.
Father McGivney will be beatified this Saturday, October 31. Beatification, though, is not an honor awarded to a man or women because of measured or evident success. Beatification is a recognition of the depths of a heart’s love: love for God and love for neighbor.
Pope Saint John Paul II has said, “The world looks to the priest, because it looks to Jesus! No one can see Christ; but everyone sees the priest, and through him they wish to catch a glimpse of the Lord!” Anyone looking for Christ can catch a glimpse of Him in Father McGivney.
Knights lead novena in preparation for the beatification of their founder