Monday, April 27, 2009

On Whales and the K of C

I once read that whales -at least some of them- still have leg bones somewhere in their massive bodies, left over from another era when they lived on land. It's hard to imagine these graceful giants on land; even if they were significantly smaller, their movements must have been a lot more awkward than what they enjoy now.

In the same vein, the Knights of Columbus were at one time ungainly land animals, so to speak. My grandpa and his buddies used to typify the Knights, from what I can tell: good-hearted guys, but very much interested in the organization as something more like Fred Flintstone's Water Buffalo Lodge. Some priests to this day are pretty ambivalent about having the Knights in their parishes because they developed a reputation as a bunch of guys who like to hang around and drink (and sometimes wear funny hats).

Like the whales, though, the Knights have become more graceful and elegant. From the top down -and not in small part because of the leadership of our current Supreme Knight, Carl A. Anderson- we fall on a spectrum closer to lay movements like Opus Dei now, and further away from drinking clubs like the Water Buffaloes. Service to the community and to the Church has always been a part of what the Knights are all about; now it's the very essence of the organization.

Likewise, "family" has always been a part of the K of C's self-image. One of the primary reasons it was established over 125 years ago was to provide a support system for widows and orphans of Catholic men who often worked (and sometimes died) in the sweatshops and construction sites of a rapidly industrializing country. During the "Water Buffaloes" era, though, the organization's activities too often pulled fathers away from their families for events in which women and children were not welcome. Fortunately, many councils now have a great deal of participation from relatively young fathers, and the organization as a whole is focusing on fatherhood more (notably in its Fathers for Good initiative).

One area that is lagging somewhat behind these positive trends, though, is the state convention (at least here in Colorado, as far as I'm concerned). We just got back from attending it for the first time as a whole family, and it was overall a positive experience...but there were a few things about it that I view as a little off-message. First, there just wasn't enough for the rest of the family to do while the men's business meetings were taking place, especially for really young children like Eva and Charlotte. This may largely be because so many of the men who attend are at or past retirement age; however, if the convention targeted young families more, more young families would probably attend.

Second, the tradition of state officer candidates and other sub-groups wining and dining...and wining some more...the delegates in the hospitality rooms screams "Water Buffaloes" to me. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy sitting and talking with other Knights and their wives in an informal setting, and I don't even mind the alcohol. But the fact that you can hear the merry-making from nine floors down in the hotel strikes me as the wrong message to send to the employees and other guests of the hotel, many of whom are potential Knights -or, more importantly, potential Catholics. Also, it doesn't seem like the most family-friendly way of doing things: I felt pretty uncomfortable taking the girls through for food really early in the evening, even though there wasn't anyone who was any less than sweet to the girls. It was just too loud, too crowded, too...much. Maybe a less rowdy, but still fun, alternative would be to keep the free food, but set up a cash-bar system. I've always noticed that paying for my own booze keeps me from overindulging quite as much!

Now, let me emphasize that the state convention, like the K of C as a whole, is family and service oriented. You can see it in the people they choose to honor (last year's Family of the Year, for example, was a homeschooling-NFP teaching-domestic church-deluxe family) and the people they choose to lead them (next year's State Chaplain is one of the kindest and holiest priests I've ever met). But a lot of these guys have been attending state conventions since my grandpa and his buddies were living it up, and there are quite a few things in any organization that are done a certain way because "it's always been done this way."

But I think some of those vestigial legs are becoming less noticeable, and these whales are starting to show a lot of grace. In more ways than one.

1 comment:

il postino said...

Ya' know, I really liked the analogy with the whales when I started writing this, but by the end...not so much. Oh, well! I hope somebody out there gets something out of it anyway.