For every Christian, this presents a challenge: Every man who calls himself a Christian must seek to become like Christ. Some among them, however, seek not only to follow Jesus, but to follow Him with total dedication.
The Knights are men who have taken up the challenge of discipleship with the Franciscan spirit of generosity and totality. A Knight is one elevated by a King to a position of special trust, service and honor. He is one who has made the interests of his King his own. He serves and protects his Lord not for profit, but from the kind of selfless loyalty that can only be called noble.
Jesus is the Eucharistic King whom the Knights have pledged themselves to serve and to defend. As loyal Knights, they willingly lay down their lives not only for Him, but also for all that is His. It is for this reason that their protection and service extends to His holy Temple.
St. Francis of Assisi was a man with a chivalrous heart. When he loved, he loved without reservation. As a young man, he was enthralled with the things of the world, but once he saw beyond them to the One Priceless Pearl, he was satisfied with nothing less than Its possession. The Knights claim the poor man of Assisi as a special patron of their community and seek to live out his motto, “My God and my All.”
The Evangelical Counsels
The three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience are so called because in their religious context they stem from practices encouraged by Our Lord Himself either in word or in deed. No Christian may lawfully make an idol of material goods, misuse the gift of intimate love and its expressions, or disobey the Commandments of God. Yet these limitations permit him great freedom in seeking to provide for his own needs and comforts, in enjoying the gift of marriage and family, and in making many choices in his life according to his own inclinations and preferences.
Our Lord presents to us a new, steeper, and yet somehow safer path to the Kingdom of God. He tells the rich young man to sell everything, give it to the poor, and to come follow Him. He advises those who can to sacrifice the goods of marriage for the sake of the Kingdom. His whole life was a great act of obedience to the Father. He even goes so far as to equate love for Himself with obedience to His commands (cf. John 14:15).
Throughout the history of the Church, both individuals and communities have embraced these counsels as means of seeking a more radical, transforming imitation of Jesus Christ. Although expressed as three distinct ideals, poverty, chastity and obedience are really one in their object: total freedom to seek God.
They are one example of the paradoxical theme that runs throughout the Gospels: He who would save his life must lose it. Blessed are they who mourn. Woe to the one who laughs now. Our Lord consistently contradicts the attitudes that are prevalent now even as then. The goods we most naturally seek and desire, He tells us to renounce and promises us greater happiness thereby.
This paradox, as with all Gospel exhortations, proves itself true when it is authentically lived. Those who have given themselves over to God find themselves repaid a hundredfold (cf. Matthew 19:29), sometimes in earthly blessings, but always in an abundance of grace. To a materialistic world, the profound joys of the spirit often remain unimaginable. Yet, it is to these joys that some of the most mysterious actions of the saints can be attributed. Imagine St. Lawrence the Deacon joking as his flesh was roasted on a gridiron. His case may be singular in its humor, but its message is reinforced by the lives of thousands of other saintly souls. The things of Heaven far, far surpass the things of earth!
It is this principle that is expressed by the evangelical counsels: St. Augustine tells us that he who does not possess God, possesses nothing; he who possesses God and nothing else, possesses everything; and he who possesses all things together with God, possesses no more than he who possesses God alone. Understanding this principle, souls embrace the evangelical counsels to free themselves entirely to pursue the Highest Good.
The counsel of poverty is intended to be lived both in spirit and in fact. The spirit of poverty is lived when created goods are used only to serve God and when even the procurement and possession of necessities is not a preoccupation. Our Lord exhorted everyone to trust in the Father’s providential care, which is guaranteed above all to those who seek first the Kingdom of God.
Poverty is lived effectively (in fact), when available comforts and pleasures are willingly foregone and when even avoidable inconveniences are graciously submitted to in imitation of Christ. This serves as both a practical means of growing in virtue and as a witness to others of the surpassing value of spiritual goods over material ones. Every religious community and every individual seeking to observe the Gospel counsel of poverty must prudently assess the level of effective poverty that is appropriate to their mission and state in life.
The virtue of chastity is demanded of every Christian. It seeks to protect the integrity of the person by maintaining the sexual appetites in well-ordered submission to the spiritual faculties. The counsel of chastity, on the other hand, goes further. It often entails foregoing both the goods of marriage and of family for the sake of more intimate union with God. This sacrifice is liberating on more than one plane. Practically speaking, the time and energy consumed by family life can easily dissipate one’s thirst for spiritual activities. On a more profound level, a life of chaste celibacy, embraced for God, is a prefigurement of the life of Heaven. There earthly marriage will be no more and the soul will find its total fulfillment in its inexpressibly complete union with its Creator.
The evangelical counsel of obedience is directed toward the greatest single good granted by God to the human person beyond his creation: free will. The will is the faculty through which we love. In creating each person, God made of him a gift to himself. In obedience, a person can make the most complete return of this gift. The value of obedience is so great that Our Lord described it as His very sustenance. “My food is to do the will of the One who sent Me” (John 4:34).
Perhaps of all the aspects of Christianity that are incomprehensible to the modern age, the concept of adoration is the most foreign. Since the most intelligent and gifted of all the angels (Lucifer—his name means “light bearer”) did not see the point, this is not surprising. Adoration, understood in its proper sense, is a response that can only be made to the Most High and Uncreated Being. It is the response of the creature to his Creator, of the finite to the Infinite, of the impotent to the Omnipotent. By its very nature, adoration can only spring forth in a humble heart, since the truly humble heart is the one that has perceived the indescribable gulf that exists between the nature of God and the nature of all else that is, most especially itself.
Throughout the centuries, Church theologians have speculated that it was a lack of this perception and the unwillingness to perceive it that brought Lucifer down from his lofty post. In this modern age, this unwillingness is manifested by many who show a disinterest in bending the knee. Some are even offended by the notion. In precisely such a climate, Eucharistic adoration takes on an almost revolutionary import.
In the Sacred Host, Our Lord presents to us His most humble manifestation. Not content merely to assume human flesh, He hides even the limited dignity of that nature and is pleased to appear as the commonest of substances. Rebelling against the pride of the ages, Catholics find in the Holy Eucharist the God before whom Lucifer would not bow, and so they kneel in humble adoration with profound faith in the Real Presence.
It is this same degree of adoration that will occupy every soul in the Kingdom of Heaven. There we will know even as we are known (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12), and that inexpressible knowledge will dazzle us with its radiance. Although it is faith and not vision that enables us to see that glory now, still, before the Eucharistic King, we partake even now in this life of that heavenly beatitude.
The Knights’ Residence and Friaries
If the family is the domestic church, then its place of residence should be a holy place. This premise holds true for all communities of Christians. The architecture and decor of a building contribute greatly to creating a sacred atmosphere. But these alone do not comprise a holy dwelling. A house should be blessed and adorned with sacred images. But it effects little to have holy images decorating unholy lives.
A community’s residence should be a place of peace. It should be a place where virtue habitually conquers vice, where pride yields to humility and charity covers a multitude of sins. It should be a place where truth is spoken, deceit shunned, and corrections gently offered and graciously received. Worldly attitudes should find no entrance here, and the temptations of the flesh no encouragement. Hell’s bitterness should be rejected as a poison and Heaven’s sweet forgiveness offered as a balm. Life in community is not, nor should it be, without its trials. Within these walls many difficulties will arise, many struggles be undergone, many sufferings borne, and many lessons learned. But if within each heart good will thrives and charity grows, then in this place angels will ever deign to dwell.
It is not angels alone who will dwell in such a place, for the Lord promises to be among those gathered in His Name. He also promises to make His home in those who keep His commandments, and not He only, but the Father as well. A house filled with charity becomes above all a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity. Yet more profoundly, the Most Holy Trinity becomes the true home of all those who live in love.
(Recreation as “re-creation” of both body and spirit)
Prayer needs no justification for those who believe. Work needs little for those who are sensible. But recreation is often looked upon as a waste of time, even by those who are spiritual. Yet the prudent know that the spirit, like the body, has requirements that when sensibly met, fit it for better service to higher ends.
Eating is not the most noble task of man, but it is one of the most indispensable. Adequate rest, too, cannot be foregone without consequences. In a similar way, wholesome recreation serves to refresh a weary spirit.
Beyond its practical benefits, recreation also has a higher significance. It is a reminder that ends surpass means, that when the toil of this life has passed, an Eternal Day of rejoicing will dawn. On that great Day, the contemplation of God above all will be our happiness, but not lacking will be the fellowship of the saints, the unearthly delights of a glorified body, and a host of inconceivable enjoyments which have yet to enter the heart of man.
Times of recreation, then, are not divorced from the spiritual life. If they are spent in God’s presence and directed to His service—for all time is His.
Personal and Communal Conduct
In the Sacred Incarnation, one finds an endless wellspring of meditation, not the least of which is a testimony to the power of meditation. Not least is a testimony to the power of example. For thousands of years the Father spoke to His chosen people. He spoke to them through a burning bush, through angelic visitations, through prophetic visions, through stones divinely engraved, and even through a donkey. Yet none of these communications would compare with the Word that was destined to be uttered in the fullness of time.
It was in a hushed cave that the air would first be stirred by the sounds of a tiny Babe. As unassumingly as that sacred Voice first pierced the silence, it was a Voice destined to echo across all the ages to come. But it was not a Voice alone that spoke to mankind, but a Life as well. It was the quiet days of a carpenter’s Son, lived in humble and gracious submission. It was the dusty Feet trekking countless miles on hot and tiresome paths. It was Hands that reached out to heal and to bless, a Head that had nowhere to lie, a Side that was pierced by a lance. Everything that Jesus did carried within itself a lesson for all mankind.
Standing before Pilate, Jesus proclaimed that He had come as a witness to the Truth. And so, the Christian after Him must take up the standard that He carried and bear witness as well. A world in which God has walked with human feet, is no longer the same. No more can the Christian who has come to know this truth be unchanged. And he must live in such a way that those who have not yet seen these Divine Footprints will marvel.
Like a city set upon a hill, the follower of Christ is elevated as an example to other men. Even when earthly eyes do not behold him, he is yet aware of another Gaze. Living always in the presence of God, the Knight strives to ever live uprightly. Like a lamp raised aloft, he sheds light upon a darkened world simply by the holiness of his life.
It is one of the great “Sons of Thunder” who informs us that no man can love the God he does not see if he does not love the brother that he does see (cf. 1 John 4:20). It should be a source of encouragement that these words come from an Apostle who quite seriously asked whether it would not be suitable to call down fire from Heaven to consume an entire town (cf. Luke 9:54). The inhabitants of that town are undoubtedly still grateful that the Master was of a milder bent that day than the disciple. We, on the other hand, can be edified to see this fiery man mellow into the aged teacher who would often repeat, “Little children, love one another” (cf. 1 John 4:7).
St. John of the Cross counseled some nuns that they had come to the Monastery for no other reason than to be worked and tried in virtue. Like a great sculpture, we are being chiseled, he explains. Some chisel with words we would rather not hear, some with deeds we would rather not endure, others by not esteeming us, and the like. No one who has lived in community would argue the truth of his words, but not everyone welcomes the reality they present.
The humble of heart find the mysterious sweetness hidden in the sufferings of community living. For they alone realize the gift that each opportunity for virtue is. Only the man who understands the severity of his illness will be adequately grateful for the administration of the remedy.
Seeing the perversity of his selfishness, his pride, his anger, his jealousy, and his ill temper, the man with self-knowledge will not resent the chisel that cracks against his vices and seeks to free him from them. Even though the chisel may be wielded by one who bears him little esteem, he sees past the immediate to the ultimate and knows that God Himself guides every tool, whatever medium He may use.
Such a man as this will profit much from community living. As he is emptied of his own perversity, he will discern a sacred spark smoldering and then catching fire within himself. It is the spark of holy charity, a spark that was lit 2000 years ago: “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already!” (Luke 12:49). The soul consumed with such a holy fire will find in community life a place to pour himself out for others. “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
According to St. Thomas, self-discipline is not a complete virtue. A man may discipline himself out of pride. He may discipline himself to do evil. A virtue must be directed to a truly good end to be a virtue at all. At the same time, however, without self-discipline a man may recognize the truth but not be able to live according to it. This entails its own dangers. Our Lord exhorted His listeners to walk while they had the light, for the night would soon come. It is so with the conscience of man: He who cannot bring himself to follow the truth may soon find himself unable to recognize it.
Asceticism is directed to freeing a man from that which would hinder him from living in the truth. It intends to reclaim for the human spirit the dominion over the lower appetites that was lost through Original Sin. Asceticism has a deeper significance, too: In becoming man, Our Lord emptied Himself in a way incomprehensible to the finite mind. Every form of Christian asceticism is profoundly linked to this mystery of self-emptying. As St. Thomas More informed his children, for doing anything there is no motive that surpasses the intention to imitate Christ.
Days of Retreat
It is appropriate for anyone traveling to a destination to pause occasionally to assess his progress and the prudence of his chosen path. A day of retreat is intended to be precisely such a pause in the ordinary run of days. It is a time for a man to remind himself that he walks not merely to exercise his limbs but ultimately to arrive at a goal.
Life offers many opportunities to be submerged by mundane or even pressing preoccupations. It is true that the deeper one’s spiritual life, the less power the transient has, to override the eternal and transcendent, even in daily living. Still, certain times set aside which especially focus on ultimate realities are necessary for the soul.
The Church has long presented to her children for their meditation the four last things: death, judgment, Heaven and Hell. In many ways, these realities are inconceivable to the mind of man. Living, he has known death only as something outside himself. Judgment remains daunting but mysterious. The experiences of good and evil, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain have given him some small presentiment of Heaven and of Hell. But, being locked in time, eternity eludes him. At best, he can project in his mind a colorful and magnified image of his earthly experiences, but even this he can do only briefly.
Yet, as elusive as these last things are to our understanding, they lie before us nonetheless. In his weakness man often prefers to disregard them entirely rather than be humbled by their magnitude and finality. A day of retreat, however, is a time to turn one’s mind to that inevitable hour and to the eternal destiny which is yet undecided. Thus, may a man, pausing and pondering long on his destination, hope more surely to arrive at it.
Even more than this, however, a day of retreat is a day to spend in solitude with God. It is a day to listen to the gentle voice of the Spirit, to renew one’s desire to seek the Lord above all. It is a day to rest one’s soul in His Presence and to be strengthened by His grace. It is a day that anticipates that other Final Day, when God will be all in all.
“Anyone who welcomes a prophet will have a prophet’s reward” (Matthew 10:41). The promise that Our Lord makes is a startling one. How can it be that so generous a reward is given for so small a service? Such are the wages of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Within those words, however, is hidden something profound but easily overlooked. The prophet must be received because he is a prophet, not because a reward is promised. To open one’s home or one’s heart to those sent by God is to receive God Himself. To serve the good because it is good is to become good. And to be good is a reward in itself.
Hospitality reflects the generosity and providence of God, the goodness that diffuses itself, the abundance that gives, the humility that serves, the sensitivity that perceives, the tenderness that heals. Here is imitated Jesus’ feeding thousands with bread and feeding millions with Himself. Here is imitated Jesus’ washing His Apostles’ feet and the Risen Lord’s roasting fish for tired and unsuccessful fishermen. Here is reflected the silent King in the tabernacle who occupies Himself with waiting and with listening.
Like the widow of Zarephath, who offered Elijah her last measure of flour and last portion of oil, those offering hospitality in the Lord’s Name will often find it a test of their generosity. Yet even as she in giving would receive so much, so those who expand their time and energies serving Jesus in others will find themselves mysteriously replenished: “Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back” (Luke 6:38).
Perhaps the most profound mystery of all is that even while it is really Jesus who is being served in our neighbor, it is also Jesus who is serving our neighbor through us. He it is who bestows the grace, if only we are willing to die to ourselves sufficiently to let Him live in us. “Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest” (John 12: 24).
Family life, particularly Christian family life, offers an earthly manifestation of the relationship of the Persons within the Blessed Trinity. It is a great and noble good and a gift from God. Nonetheless, Our Lord Himself made several perplexing statements in the Gospels. He informed His followers that anyone who preferred father and mother to Him was not worthy of Him (cf. Matthew 10:37). He told a young man bent on burying his father to “let the dead bury their dead” (Matthew 8:22). The same Jesus who so tenderly restored a son to his mother in Nain boldly states that He has come to set children against parents and so on.
With great emphasis, Jesus establishes a hierarchy of values here: He must take precedence over all, even those things most noble and worthwhile in themselves. For some this precedence is more absolute, calling for greater renunciation and sacrifice. But whenever Our Lord demands renunciation, He does so only that He may bestow a greater gift. He promises a hundredfold to those who renounce the goods of family (cf. Matthew 19:29). And far more significantly, He promises eternal life.
In a sense, the eternal life promised to man begins here. The more that is renounced for the sake of God, the more God Himself becomes the soul’s happiness. This is a foreshadowing of the blessedness of Heaven, where each soul shall slake its thirst eternally at the fountain of the Living God.
It is not the disciple alone who profits when he leaves everything to follow Jesus, for Our Lord is generous in bestowing His gifts on those whom the disciples leave behind. The graces that spring from a life consecrated to God are abundant, and the first fruits of such graces benefit those nearest and most beloved by the disciple. To give oneself to God, then, is the most generous act a man can make even regarding his own family; for it is precisely in serving God that we serve others best.
The Apostolic Life of a Knight
An apostle is one who is sent. He represents the one who sends him and brings tidings from afar. So, it is with those who have accepted Our Lord’s commission to labor in His vineyard. They must be mindful of He Who has sent them forth. Teaching what He taught and doing what He did, they carry on the mission of Christ in the present day. Through them, the Sacred Incarnation of Jesus Christ is made manifest in the world and the fruits of His redemption are applied to an increasing number of souls.
It is a manifestation of the inscrutable generosity of God that He, who needs no one, chooses to work through frail and fallible men to bring about the salvation of other souls. As with the human body, blood cannot reach an extremity without first passing through other parts. So, in like manner, with the Mystical Body of Christ, each member depends on others.
Those sent in Christ’s Name take with them the sweet tidings proclaimed by the angels of the Nativity: “Peace to men of good will” (Luke 2:14). That peace comes through the words of truth that cut through the devil’s dissimulations and the world’s entrapments. It comes to us through compassionately assisting those in need of comfort. It comes through the ears that listen and the hands that help and through the heart that is content to feel another’s pain when no other remedy is possible.
Only he who knows the love of God can understand the value of a soul. And only he who understands the value of a soul can perceive how little a cost it is to labor tirelessly in this vineyard. If the Blood of Jesus Christ is not too dear a price to pay for souls, then what, except God alone, may a man prize more highly?
It is this truth that motivates the Knight of the Holy Eucharist to spend himself for others. He places himself at the service of the Lord. He has made the interests of the King his own, and all that is dear to His Lord he himself esteems. Commissioned to go forth in his Master’s Name, the Knight carries on the work of Jesus Christ in the modern world. For the apostolic life of a Knight is the life of Jesus, lived here, lived now, and lived in him.