Knights of Columbus

  • I joined the Knights of Columbus, the leading Catholic fraternal society, five years ago. Initiation into the Knights took place through three “exemplifications” meant to introduce men to the Knights’ principles of charity, unity, and fraternity. These ceremonies took place in private and generally with men whom I had just met, since the ceremonies took place across the Greater Philadelphia area at various points throughout the year.

    I’m honored to be a Knight, but I also recognized that the ceremonials would likely have to change if they were to continue achieving their purpose of equipping Knights to embody their principles. Now, the Knights are doing that:

    The Knights of Columbus has announced a major revision to its longtime initiation ceremonies and for the first time will open them to the public, saying the changes are needed to become more appealing to prospective members and to respond to a “crisis” in church membership.

    “Today, we need an exemplification of our principles that presents, in a clear and convincing way, how charity, unity and fraternity can come together to form a Catholic way of life for today’s man and his family,” Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson said in the January 2020 issue of Columbia magazine.

    The rituals of the Knights, sometimes called ceremonies or exemplifications, have for decades been separated into first, second and third degrees focused respectively on the principles of Charity, Unity and Fraternity, the first three principles of the Catholic men’s fraternity founded in Connecticut in 1882 by Father Michael J. McGivney.

    The Knights of Columbus now claim about 1.9 million members in 15,900 local councils in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Poland, Ukraine, South Korea and several other countries.

    I think it’s especially important that new Knights will be welcomed in the presence of their families.

  • Knights of Columbus has announced the launch of the Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund, which is modeled on community foundations like The Cleveland Foundation or Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund will serve as a way for Catholics to create charitable funds and direct charitable giving on an individual, family, or community level. There’s nothing quite like this, and I expect it will become a major part of the culture of Knights of Columbus:

    Knights of Columbus, one of the largest Catholic philanthropic organizations in the world, today announced a new affiliated vehicle for donors called “Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund” (KCCF). KCCF allows donors to open donor-driven accounts, recommend charities to which donations can be sent through a safe, secure and confidential portal.

    Carl Anderson, CEO of Knights of Columbus, said, “Catholics today are looking for opportunities to demonstrate their faith and to support organizations that reflect their values. They want to direct their charity to organizations easily and efficiently.”

    The addition of a donor-advised fund option satisfies a unique customer and market niche that is a powerful tool for maximizing philanthropic impact on organizations that align with Catholic values and teachings. Donor-advised funds have become the fastest-growing segment of charitable-giving vehicles due to their flexibility and simplicity. Assets in the donor-advised fund are invested tax-free with no distribution requirements, excise taxes, or other reporting requirements for the individual donor. Donors can make a current charitable contribution, receive an immediate potential tax benefit, and then recommend grants from the fund over time. And tax-free investing over time can result in larger ultimate gifts for charities.

  • Tyler O’Neil writes on our recent Americans United for Life/YouGov poll that indicates that majorities of pro-choice Americans oppose late-term abortion:

    The vast majority of Americans who consider themselves pro-choice oppose the kind of radical abortion provisions proposed by Democrats in New York and Virginia, according to a new Americans United for Life (AUL)/YouGov poll released Tuesday.

    A full 68 percent of pro-choice Americans oppose abortion the day before a child would be born, the poll found. Sixty-six percent of pro-choice Americans oppose abortion in the third trimester and another 77 percent of them oppose removing medical care for a viable child outside the womb. A majority of Americans (53 percent) identify as “pro-choice,” while a large minority (47 percent) identify as pro-life.

    Americans as a whole proved even less likely to support the killing of a baby in these circumstances. Eighty percent oppose abortion the day before birth, 79 percent oppose abortion in the third trimester, and 82 percent oppose removing medical care for a viable child after birth.

    “This survey vividly reveals both the American people’s common-sense appreciation for the sanctity of life and the widespread horror, even among self-identified pro-choice Americans, of new laws like New York’s that effectively allow abortion up until the moment of delivery,” Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of AUL, said in a statement on the findings. …

    Last month, Gov. Cuomo (D-N.Y.) signed the Reproductive Health Act (S.B. 240) on the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (1973). The law allows abortion throughout pregnancy — even up to the baby’s due date — in the name of protecting a woman’s health. It also repeals protections for babies who survive abortion and removes New York’s protections for wanted babies killed if a pregnant mother is physically abused. …

    Few Americans realize, however, that the current legal system is indeed this radical. Under Roe v. Wade and later Supreme Court precedent, if a doctor considers killing an unborn baby vital to save the life or health of a woman, an abortion can be performed up until the moment of birth. The Court’s precedent has an extremely vague definition for “health,” enabling a wide loophole for late-term abortion.

    “Few Americans realize that when Roe v. Wade enshrined abortion into American law, it did so with practically no limits,” Tom Shakely, chief engagement officer at AUL, told PJ Media. “Abortion is often justified based on the alleged basis of maternal health, but for most of America’s post-Roe history, there has been no consistent definition for what constitutes a legitimate health reason.”

    “In practice, the sort of permissive abortion law that New York has adopted simply enshrines a peculiar public right to private forms of violence upon the most vulnerable members of the human family,” Shakely declared.

    According to a Knights of Columbus poll released last month, a whopping 65 percent of Americans support changes to the law that would involve repealing Roe v. Wade.

    We commissioned this poll precisely to discover where Americans stand on some of these fundamental life issues. What we’ve found is that late-term abortion is a nonpartisan issue: large majorities of Americans on both sides of the traditional pro-choice/pro-life spectrum reject late term abortion, not to mention the sort of acts that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has legalized in New York or that Gov. Ralph Northam would legalize in Virginia.

  • Saint John Paul II Shrine

    In Washington today and tomorrow on a short work trip. Ducked out of a conference session earlier this afternoon to visit the Saint John Paul II Shrine, run by the Knights of Columbus that’s adjacent to Catholic University’s campus.

    I’ve visited this place before—but only the parking lot, and before he was recognized as a saint, and before it was a shrine. It was great to explore their permanent exhibit on John Paul’s life, from his childhood and the role of his parents (which isn’t often remarked upon) to the more well known aspects of his public life. The shrine’s chapel is particularly beautiful in its grand but intimate way.

    At one point in the exhibit I was struck by the relationship that Cardinal Wojtyla and his fellow Polish cardinal had in dealing with the Soviets after World War II. It was noted first that the Soviets gave their necessary approval of Wojtyla as cardinal because they saw him as as simply a “poet,” basically harmless. This rather neatly illustrates the problem with totalitarianism. That is essentially the problem of dominating the spirit.

    Another point was that Wojtyla’s precedessor cardinal has successfully bargained with the Soviets to preserve “Catholic education, church property, and seminaries.” I remember walking the streets of Paris a few years ago, and remarking to my secular friend how amazing it was that here in France, an ostensibly democratic people had so wiped out (through its late 19th and early 20th century secularization laws) the ability for the French to be Christian by wiping out most of institutional Christianity. That rupture has created a serrated sort of curriculum that cuts and fragments by rendering theology as something fundamentally different from (or opposed to) philosophy, mathmatics, science, art, etc.

    The Soviets, too, sought to conquer by atomizing daily life and the experience of individual life, but it was strangely in communist Poland that the Church preserved itself more effectively than against the enlightened secularism that today is leading to things like scientism rather than science, and seems to be fueling the fires of a new nationalism in so many nations.

    In any event, I think it’s turning out that Western secularism is as atomizing and corrosive as so much of what we fought in the last century, and we’ll need Christian voices to help recover and rebuild for whatever comes next.

    We’re likely talking not in terms of decades or years, but rather in centuries.

  • In the latest issue of the Knights of Columbus’s Colombia magazine, a piece from Archbishop William E. Lori caught my eye. Excerpting:

    More than 50 years ago, the fathers of Vatican II recognized that marriage was threatened by divorce and so-called “free love,” and that “married love is too often dishonored by selfishness, hedonism, and unlawful contraceptive practices.” The council also cited the economic, social, and psychological pressures facing families in the modern world. (GS, 47).

    For the past five decades, societal support for marriage and family has eroded even further. … couples must make a conscious decision to make their homes truly a domestic church—a home built on the solid rock of faith. Families are made beautiful by a self-giving love that not only endures but flourishes amid sacrifices and sufferings…”

    What is the “domestic church?” A short-ish answer:

    From the beginning, the Church was formed from believers “and their whole household.” New believers wanted their family to be saved (Acts 18:8).

    In our modern world (often hostile to religion), religious families are extremely important centers of living faith. They are “domestic churches” in which the parents are the first heralds of faith (Second Vatican Council). In the home, father, mother, and children exercise their baptismal priesthood in a privileged way. The home is the first school of the Christian life where all learn love, repeated forgiveness, and prayerful worship.

    When we separate ourselves into discrete and severable bits, we become less than ourselves. Christianity, for instance, can’t simply be something we “do” but instead has to be reflected in who we are. A holistic, integrated lifestyle is the way to go.

    A stronger sense of the domestic church is an important way to live out the truth that “all great change begins at the dinner table.” If our family, friends, and children only come into contact with prayer and the sacramental life through their priest, rather than primarily in the home, the faith dies.

  • About this time last year I wrote about joining Knights of Columbus, which I did by taking the first of three degrees through the Fr. McCafferty Council #11013 in Bucks County. About midway through last year I transferred to the Fr. John E. Doyle Council #9715 in Montgomery County.

    I’d like to join somewhere in Philadelphia, but there aren’t any groups there yet. For the foreseeable future, I’m happy to be a member where I am and contribute. Small things; probably helping them relaunch their website and enable online payments.

    About the three degrees: the first degree is focused on charity, the second is focused on unity, and the third on fraternity. Each are pillars of the Knights, and principles that help bring together millions of members in their local communities.

    There’s a fourth degree, which is focused on patriotism. I don’t plan to take the fourth degree, for three reasons: it involves separate obligations and dues on a regional level I’m not interested in committing to, it involves dressing up in complicated garb, and I’m already committed to becoming active in some way with the Sons of the American Revolution.

    I took my second degree in December in Norristown, and my third degree today in Upper Darby. It’s a great organization, bringing together regular men to do worthwhile work. I’m happy to be a part of it.

  • When I lived in Old City, Philadelphia I would frequently pass the Natural Museum of American Jewish History on Independence Mall. This was around the same time that I had joined the board of the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute, which played a central role in the 19th-cenutry creation of the American Catholic school system.

    Growing familiar with the Catholic history of the city, and seeing how American Jewish history was being told in a relevant way to international visitors, started me thinking seriously about the role that a “National Museum of Catholic History” could serve.

    There is no such museum or cultural center for Catholic in the United States today. I think Catholics tend to view their Christian life in a much smaller, humbler, and more parochial way, so this makes sense to a degree. Catholics tend not to see themselves as a national constituency in the same way that other Christian denominations do.

    But it’s also past time we learned to start doing that—seeing ourselves as a people, and curating our story so that future generations can understand their role as Catholics in American life.

    A few thoughts on what such an institution might look like:

    • A museum that tells the Catholic story from its beginning—the one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church
    • A museum and cultural center focused as much on artifacts as cultural conservation—on the living out of the orthodox faith in the present
    • A place for Catholic thinkers, leaders, and educators to serve on fellowship to teach in a coordinated way, developing curriculum that could be used nationally in schools and parishes
    • Not limited to history of Catholicism in America, but that still speaks to it in a special way—speaking to ways that Christianity has shaped the American experiment, and the ways it has to stand apart from the state
    • A headquarters in Philadelphia with sister institutions in other cities that speaks to Philadelphia’s unique role as a “Holy Experiment” and Pennsylvania’s special role in crafting American pluralism and religious toleration
    • A welcoming place for all types of visitors that is nonetheless unapologetic in conveying the particularities of the universal faith

    The Knights of Columbus seem like a natural organization to spearhead something like this. It could, however, be too narrow if created by any single constituency. It’s for this same reason I’d be hesitant about the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops organizing it by themselves.

    I’ll probably develop this further as time goes on.

  • Earlier this year I joined the Knights of Columbus, the world’s oldest Catholic fraternal service organization. Specifically, I joined the Fr. McCafferty Council in Yardley, PA. I was living in New York at the time, and it seemed to make sense to join in Yardley so I could stop in between visits to Philadelphia. In practice, that never really worked, so last night I joined the Fr. John E. Doyle Council closer to family.

    When I was initially trying to join a year or two ago, I was amazed at the total lack of councils in Center City Philadelphia. Other than the far Northeast, there simply weren’t any. After attending council meetings, I tend to understand why. The Knights councils seem to rely on a level ofneighborliness and personal investment of time and organizational capacity that probably just doesn’t exist among the right age groups in the city right now. I hope that changes, because as beautiful as the suburbs are, the Knights should also be active in the heart of the city.

    I plan to go through the second degree process before the end of the year, which I think is focused around the “unity” aspect of the Knights’ four principles.

  • I’m heading to Saint Ignatius of Antioch in Yardley, Pennsylvania tonight to join the Knights of Columbus. The Knights of Columbus are the world’s oldest Catholic fraternal service organization. The Knights are driven by local councils, basically chapters, and have an enormous collective impact. I’ll be joining through the Fr. McCafferty Council #11013.

    After joining the Sons of the American Revolution two years ago I’ve felt like the Knights represents a natural companion commitment as the other side of the same coin. Rod Dreher’s recent insight also comes to mind here: “It is one thing for the church to be separate from the state, but a meaningfully different thing for religion to be separate from life.”

    I’m excited to be joining, and am sure I’ll write more about membership in the months and years to come. In the mean time for context, here are the Knight’s four principles:

    Charity – Our Catholic faith teaches us to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Members of the Knights of Columbus show love for their neighbors by conducting food drives and donating the food to local soup kitchens and food pantries, by volunteering at Special Olympics, and by supporting, both spiritually and materially, mothers who choose life for their babies. Knights recognize that our mission, and our faith in God, compels us to action. There is no better way to experience love and compassion than by helping those in need, a call we answer every day.

    Unity – None of us is as good as all of us. Members of the Knights of Columbus all know that – together – we can accomplish far more than any of us could individually. So we stick together…we support one another. That doesn’t mean that we always agree or that there is never a difference of opinion. It does mean that – as a Knight of Columbus – you can count on the support and encouragement of your brother Knights as you work to make life better in your parish and community.

    Fraternity – The Venerable Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus, in large part, to provide assistance to the widows and children left behind when the family breadwinner died – often prematurely. The Order’s top-rated insurance program continues to do this today, as do individual Knights, who last year gave more than 10 million hours of their time to assist sick and/or disabled members and their families. In the Knights of Columbus, we watch out for and take care of one another.

    Patriotism – Members of the Knights of Columbus, be they Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, Cubans, Filipinos, Poles, or Dominicans, are patriotic citizens. We are proud of our devotion to God and country, and believe in standing up for both. Whether it’s in public or private, the Knights remind the world that Catholics support their nations and are amongst the greatest citizens.