Doubling Down

Despite a tremendous outcry of protest over the last week and a half, the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council has confirmed and doubled down on the decision to move forward with new Fourth Degree uniforms.

According to the K of C website, the board made the decision because of:

the aging of our Fourth Degree membership, the slow growth of the fourth Degree, (fewer than 20 percent of Knights are Fourth Degree members, and only a fraction of that number even serve as honor guards), and consistent reports that the old regalia presented a barrier to Fourth Degree membership, especially among younger men.

Further down, they say:

For years, supreme officers and directors have received comments from members and prospective members that the old regalia was a barrier to membership overall, or to membership in the Fourth Degree.

Of course they have. I’m sure they’ve received all kinds of comments, from all kinds of people. But as someone who has been a professional public opinion researcher for over twenty-five years, I’m not convinced by anecdotes. Everyone in my line of work remembers what that one focus group participant in Omaha (or wherever) told us that one time.

The question is: Where are the numbers? What kinds of comments have they received or solicited from current members? How many of those members joined precisely because of the traditional regalia? And let’s not forget another important group: what does the average Catholic in the pew think about the traditional uniforms, and the proposed new ones?

There’s a more fundamental question that’s not being asked, however: Why is the Color Corps disproportionately composed of older men? This question is critical for understanding why it will be so difficult to grow the ranks with younger recruits. And you don’t need survey data to answer it. Continue reading

Color Me Stunned

Well, I didn’t see that coming.

Last week, at the Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson announced a major change to the Order’s uniform for the Fourth Degree. For decades, our official uniform has been a black tuxedo, a white ruffled shirt, and French cuffs. Note, in addition, the red-white-and-blue social baldric. Here I am, with my son, when we joined the Fourth Degree last year:

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A relatively small subset of Fourth Degree Knights also serve in the Color Corps — the most visible portion of the Order. You’ll see us as honor guards at funerals and other important Masses (especially when a bishop is presiding), in parades, and at other events where we want to lend special dignity. On top of the base tuxedo uniform, CC regalia includes white gloves, a cape, chapeau (the feathered cap), and a service baldric (which holds the sword) replaces the social baldric:

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Jackson (MI) Rose Parade, June, 2017

When a Fourth Degree honor guard processes into a church ahead of the priest (or bishop), swords drawn and at attention, you know something very special is happening.

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Going forward, K of C Supreme says, the cape and chapeau will be retired, and the official uniform will look like this:

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From the Knights Gear website:

The official dress uniform (Official Navy Blue Blazer, Official Fourth Degree Gray trousers, Official Fourth Degree Necktie, and Official Fourth Degree Black Beret with Fourth Degree metal badge) is purchased as a set.  Individual items are not for sale at this time.

The garments of the official dress are tailored in Italy.  The fabric used for both blazers and pants is woven in Italy specifically for the Knights of Columbus from a high quality super 130 wool.    The blazer buttons are made in Italy. The KofC blazer patches are completely hand embroidered.  The tie is Italian silk, but made in the USA.

Once you receive the uniform, please take it to your tailor for professional finishing.  Trousers come with an unfinished hem.

When I first saw this announcement, on social media, I thought it had to be a joke or a parody piece from The Onion. Ironically, in the days since, it has in fact become the basis for biting satire in the Catholic version of The Onion.

Reactions on social media have been overwhelmingly negative, especially when intensity is taken into account. It seems Supreme was as blindsided by this negative reaction as those of us in the Color Corps were by the announcement itself.

Supreme was looking for a way to energize the Fourth Degree — and they’ve done so. Just not in the way they were intending. I’ve never seen my brother Knights rally together so vocally as they have in reaction to this announcement.

The stated intention is to make the Color Corps more attractive to young men, who supposedly find the traditional regalia off-putting. I’ll believe that when I see a scientific, random-sample survey of the membership, rather than the handful of anecdotes offered so far.

But let’s grant for a moment that the new uniform is more popular with young Knights than the traditional regalia is. I would argue that it doesn’t matter. For at least several years, the new uniform would actually significantly depress Color Corps participation. The reason is simple: coming up with $510 (plus the cost of final fitting, and plus a dress shirt), for a super-high-quality Italian wool suit, is beyond the reach of many young people (not to mention the retirees on fixed incomes).

But … but … but … doesn’t the traditional regalia cost just as much? And don’t you also have to buy a tuxedo, in addition to the roughly $500 for a traditional regalia package? Continue reading

Taking the Fourth … And Lambs!

I’ve been an active member of the Knights of Columbus for many years now; the Knights are a Catholic men’s service organization, whose members give countless volunteer hours (and dollars) helping the Church and the community. I’ve also found that being active in the Knights is a great way to meet other like-minded men, and I very much enjoy the time we spend together. My oldest son (previously known on the blog as Homeschooled Farm Boy … which no longer really fits, because he’s no longer a boy and he’s graduated from homeschooling to college, but whatever) joined about a year ago as well.

The K of C has four “degrees” of membership. The First is where everyone begins. Over time, as members decide to make more of a commitment, they can advance to additional degrees. I quickly advanced to the third degree, which is considered “full membership,” and had been there for a long time. I guess I just hadn’t felt a big sense of urgency about taking the fourth degree; it is an optional “extra” on top of the full 3rd degree membership, so not strictly necessary. One practical barrier: it seemed the exemplification ceremonies were always a long distance from home, and would require too big of an investment of time. Don’t get me wrong: I did want to become a Fourth Degree Knight. I just wasn’t sure when I’d be able to do it. (For those unfamiliar, this link has a good summary about degrees of K of C membership.)

This spring, the opportunity finally presented itself. There would be a Fourth Degree exemplification not only in the area — but at our own parish. How could I pass that up? What sealed the deal was that my son also wanted to do it. We’d be able to advance to the highest degree of Knighthood together.

The standard “uniform” of the 4th Degree is a black tuxedo, and everyone needs one for the exemplification ceremony. (A small number of 4th Degree knights make up the “color corps” that most Catholics are familiar with: those are the tuxedo-clad men with cool hats, capes, and swords who sometimes form processions at Mass — but that’s only a small number of 4th Degree guys. The rest of us don’t dress up like that.)

I hadn’t even worn a tuxedo since my wedding, which was more than 20 years ago. My son had never worn one. I ended up buying one for myself, and we rented one for him; he needed it for the exemplification, but he’s probably not finished growing. Chances are, he’s not going to attend another ceremony where he’ll absolutely need the tux before he does finish growing, so we figured a rental made sense for now.

The exemplification was today. It was an absolutely wonderful experience. Not only the ceremony itself, but the full day of fellowship with my brother Knights from all over the region (some drove quite a distance). After the exemplification itself, we all attended the 4:30pm Mass at our parish with our families. There was then a reception, and a big catered banquet. If anyone reading this is a 3rd Degree Knight who’s been on the fence about advancing to the highest degree, my advice is: just do it. It’s totally worth it.

Here we were, after the ceremony, while waiting for Mass to begin:

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We finally got home sometime after 9pm. I changed out of my tux, pulled on my junky farm clothes, slipped into my boots, and headed to the barn. And … found a wonderful surprise. The first two lambs had just arrived! It’s hard to get a good photo in the barn at night, so this will have to suffice for now:

Cocoa Puff Twins 2016

They are twin females, from a chocolate brown ewe we call Cocoa Puff. She’s a good mother, and was busy getting them cleaned up. She still had afterbirth hanging from her rear end, and both lambs were still pretty wet, so they’d only recently been born. I was really glad I’d decided to keep the barn door closed tight today while we were gone; it was a pretty chilly day, with snow and wind gusts (so much for Spring). The temperature inside the barn stayed reasonably comfortable, so I’m hoping both lambs will be fine. I’ll check on them again before I go to bed, but Cocoa Puff is a pro.

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Last year, Cocoa Puff’s lamb died. That was sad, but Homeschooled Farm Girl saw an opportunity to begin trying to milk our sheep. Cocoa Puff gave a lot of milk, and we made quite a bit of really outstanding cheese (cheddar) from it. By summertime, HFG had gotten Cocoa Puff pretty tame and trained for milking — and really enjoyed it. The only disappointment about Cocoa Puff having twins is that they’ll need all her milk. We won’t be able to milk her again this year.

There are still about a dozen more ewes to deliver. I’m sure at least one of them will have a singleton, or will lose a lamb, and thus give us a chance to make sheep cheese again.

What an amazing day! From ceremonies with tuxedos, to the lambing pen, all within a couple of hours. I can’t imagine a better life.

Excellent Holy Week Viewing

Holy Week is now upon us. These are the final days of Lent, during which we prepare for the great paschal mystery of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The best preparation, of course, is to attend the sacred liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and (finally) Easter. Prayer, and traditional devotions such as the Stations of the Cross, are also essential. However, as you make your preparation for Easter, there are a few television programs that I also highly recommend.

The first is Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ. No, it’s not for the faint-hearted; it’s one of the bloodiest movies I’ve ever seen. But none of that blood, or violence, is gratuitous. It all really happened (and was probably even worse in real life). I’ve seen it a number of times now, and get something new out of it every time. It’s impossible to watch this film and not come away with a profound sense of sorrow for your sins, and for a renewed appreciation for what it cost to redeem us from our sins.

In addition to the usual sources (such as Netflix and Amazon), a couple of different cable networks will be showing it several times this week (all times Eastern).

TBN will be showing it on:

  • Monday at 1am
  • Wednesday at 5pm
  • Holy Thursday at 10pm
  • Good Friday at 4:30pm

UP network will be showing it on:

  • Good Friday at 11pm
  • Holy Saturday at 9pm

A few years back, the History Channel put together a fascinating documentary called The Real Face of Jesus? It’s a scientific investigation of the Shroud of Turin, which is believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus. A team of graphic experts uses 3D software to bring the image on the shroud to life. It’s a really remarkable undertaking, which shows how faith can work together with science and technology to give us a better understanding of who Jesus is. History Channel is airing it on Holy Saturday (March 26th) at 10am. Or, you can watch it on YouTube:

My final video recommendation might seem a bit odd: The Star of Bethlehem. Yes, the primary focus is on the Christmas star which the Magi followed. But the scientific, astrological investigation goes far beyond that. Rick Larson realized that modern software allows us to plug in any geographical location, along with any date in human history, and produce an accurate map of how the various stars and constellations were aligned on that particular day. Larson shows the peculiar alignment and motions of stars around the time of Christ’s birth, and why the Magi would have interpreted these signs the way they did.

Larson then “fast forwards” to the original Good Friday. He explains how he identified Good Friday, shows what the stars and constellations looked like on that day (including the eclipse recorded in the Gospels), and makes some fascinating observations about how these “signs in the heavens” connect with what was playing out on Calvary. I came away from it with a much deeper appreciation not only for the events of Christmas, but also for the events of Good Friday. Again, this is a really excellent example of science working together with faith to deepen our understanding of Christ’s life and death.

The video is available at Amazon, on Netflix, or you can stream it on YouTube:

Having Need

Who are your favorite minor characters in the Bible? The gospels, in particular, introduce a number of intriguing people we never hear much more about. This weekend, at the beginning of the Palm Sunday liturgy, we will be hearing from one of my favorite minor characters. He isn’t named, and you might miss him altogether if you’re not paying attention. But he’s an interesting guy, and I’ve learned some important lessons from him. Can you spot him?

Jesus proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.
As he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany
at the place called the Mount of Olives,
he sent two of his disciples.
He said, “Go into the village opposite you,
and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered
on which no one has ever sat.
Untie it and bring it here.
And if anyone should ask you,
‘Why are you untying it?’
you will answer,
‘The Master has need of it.’”
So those who had been sent went off
and found everything just as he had told them.
And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them,
“Why are you untying this colt?”
They answered,
“The Master has need of it.”
So they brought it to Jesus,
threw their cloaks over the colt,
and helped Jesus to mount.
As he rode along,
the people were spreading their cloaks on the road;
and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives,
the whole multitude of his disciples
began to praise God aloud with joy
for all the mighty deeds they had seen.
They proclaimed:
“Blessed is the king who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven
and glory in the highest.”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him,
“Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”
He said in reply,
“I tell you, if they keep silent,
the stones will cry out!”

— Luke 19: 28-40

Amidst all the action of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, it’s easy to miss one of the people who made the event possible: the owner of the colt. We may even wonder why St. Luke bothered to include the owner of the colt. How is this small detail important to the Palm Sunday events?

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I think it’s a good reminder that Jesus doesn’t usually act, or even work miracles, using thin air. He often requires others to supply the raw material that he will work with or transform. Think about the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes; without the boy who voluntarily gives up his lunch, the miracle doesn’t happen. Likewise the the wedding at Cana; the servers have to fill the stone jars with water before Jesus turns it into wine. He doesn’t wave his hand and summon the wine from nothing. If the servers don’t follow Mary’s admonition to “do whatever he tells you,” there is no wine. We have to do our part, and contribute our portion. He takes that little offering, and uses it as the basis for his miracle.

Which brings us back to the owner of the colt. It seems he must’ve been familiar with Jesus, and supportive of his ministry, because he lets the colt go without further questioning the disciples. What I find most interesting, though, is the way the request is framed. It’s not really even a request. It’s a statement of fact: “The master has need of it.” Jesus Christ, omnipotent God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, has need of something. He can’t — or doesn’t want — to do everything himself. He counts on our cooperation. Otherwise there is no wine at Cana, no loaves and fishes for the crowd, and no triumphant entry to Jerusalem.

I wonder if what Jesus has most “need” of isn’t so much the physical material itself, but rather our generous giving up of that physical material? And our willingness to deprive ourselves of the use of that physical material, along with our faith that he will do something even better with it?

Lent is an especially good time to think about the physical goods from which we can sever our disordered attachments. For us to reach our full potential of holiness, Jesus “has need” that we detach ourselves from certain physical goods. It might be the selfish use of our free time, or excessive time spent with television, or too much casual use of some treat like alcohol or candy, or something else. Whatever we’ve chosen to give up this Lent, as we enter Holy Week we can renew and further super-naturalize our motives for giving it up.

Looking elsewhere in the New Testament, it seems that the voluntary giving up of material goods isn’t the only thing Jesus “needs,” especially after his death and resurrection. St. Paul tells us, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Col. 1:24). Christ’s physical redemptive suffering took place at one particular time; what is “lacking” is the extension of his redemptive suffering beyond that particular time. That’s where you and I come in. Following Paul’s example, each of us can offer up his or her own sufferings for the good of the church and others in our own time.

Thus, with this openness to every human suffering, Christ has accomplished the world’s Redemption through his own suffering. For, at the same time, this Redemption, even though it was completely achieved by Christ’s suffering, lives on and in its own special way develops in the history of man. It lives and develops as the body of Christ, the Church, and in this dimension every human suffering, by reason of the loving union with Christ, completes the suffering of Christ. It completes that suffering just as the Church completes the redemptive work of Christ. The mystery of the Church—that body which completes in itself also Christ’s crucified and risen body—indicates at the same time the space or context in which human sufferings complete the sufferings of Christ. Only within this radius and dimension of the Church as the Body of Christ, which continually develops in space and time, can one think and speak of “what is lacking” in the sufferings of Christ. The Apostle, in fact, makes this clear when he writes of “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church”.

— John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, #24

When I encounter some kind of setback, or life throws an unexpected curve ball or suffering my way, I like to think: the master has need of it. His church, which is his body living on today, has need of it. Whatever this difficulty is, I can offer it up as a sacrifice along with my prayers.  This suffering, this affliction, this difficulty … the master has need for me to offer it for the building up of the church.

I may not own a colt, but I can still profit from and follow the example of one man who — many years ago — did own one, but gave it up because the master had need of it.

Watching Over

Earlier this month, I was in Washington, DC for several days on business. The hotel where they put me up was a fairly short walk from one of my favorite churches: St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill. I stopped in for the 8am Mass on a beautiful, sunny, Tuesday morning. It was a wonderful way to begin what would be a long and productive day of work.

The interesting thing about St. Joseph’s is its location. When you step oute5727265bd92922630f980c7b3b4badb
the front door and look across the street to the left, the U.S. Capitol is literally right there. The Hart Senate Office Building is about a half-block walk. (A plaque in the church entryway explains that Robert Kennedy was a regular worshiper here when he was in Congress.)

I didn’t recognize any Kennedys on this trip, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if some of the people there were members of congress or their staffers.  I did immediately recognize one person in the congregation, however: Justice Clarence Thomas. He was several rows directly behind me. Sitting next to him was a somewhat younger, professional-looking woman I didn’t recognize. I assumed she was a court clerk or staff attorney. I don’t think she was part of a security detail, because the Justice let her go ahead of him in line for Communion, and her whole focus was on the sacrament.

Soon after Mass, both of them exited the back of the church. Out of curiosity, I stood on the steps to see what would happen next. The Supreme Court building is only two blocks from the church, and it looked like they’d be walking. Behind both of them was a youngish-looking, very tall black man in a dark suit. I couldn’t see an earpiece from that distance, but everything about him screamed “Secret Service.” As Justice Thomas and the woman crossed C Street, the agent walked right behind them with extreme situational awareness. His head was constantly moving, scanning for potential threats. As it was now 8:30am or so, the streets and sidewalks were bustling with morning commuters; there was plenty to be attentive to. The little group reached the opposite sidewalk, and continued walking toward the Court, with the agent hovering behind them. Just another late-winter morning in Washington, DC.

Having seen enough, I went back in the church to pray for a few minutes. I kept thinking about the Secret Service agent, and how protectively he had been watching over the Justice. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if everyone could have that kind of security?

Then, an instant later, I realized: You know, we already do. Every one of us has a guardian angel, who watches over us with even greater situational awareness than an entire team of elite security guards. Thinking about what I’d seen outside the church, it struck me that the scene was very similar to an iconic illustration that each of us has probably seen a thousand times:

guardians-feast

It’s a shame that, because we can’t see that guardian angel, we so often forget that he’s even there. But he is, and he’s “got our back” even better than the best Secret Service agent could. Perhaps today, we could make a resolution to do a better job remembering his presence and invoking his assistance.

Real Face

A quick post with a strong recommendation: the History Channel has put together an excellent documentary program called “The Real Face of Jesus.” It’s a two hour scientific investigation of the Shroud of Turin, led by an American research team.

These researchers are graphic experts, and their goal was fascinating: decode the 3D data embedded in the 2D image of the Shroud, and use their 3D imaging software to create a true-to-life image of the Man the Shroud wrapped. We’ve never seen anything like this. The end result is a stunning likeness.

They had to address all kinds of issues in being able to lift the 3D data, which are all described in the program. Our family learned much more about the Shroud (and the science of imaging) than we’d ever thought possible. Although the History Channel producers don’t officially take a side as to the authenticity of the Shroud (which the same position of the Catholic Church, BTW), the evidence presented is overwhelming. Also, as an aside, the level of detail as to the wounds Christ suffered in the Passion is remarkable in itself. Lots of food for meditation on Good Friday.

My only criticism is a few sections where they talk about the Gnostics in the early Church, and their conceptions of reality. These passages are totally unnecessary, and paint the gnostics as way-ahead-of-their-time-intellectual-victims-of-know-nothing persecution. Seemed almost lifted from unused portions of The DaVinci Code.

But if you can put up with some of that nonsense, I highly recommend this program. It’s slated to air again tomorrow (Holy Saturday) at 8pm, Midnight on Easter Sunday morning, and next Saturday (April 10th) at 5pm.  All times Eastern. Check your local listings, and set your DVR. It’s worth it.

A very blessed Good Friday to all. Hope everyone has a good end to Lent, and a blessed Easter.