The words Vivat Jesus! are much more than a slogan or password for the Knights of Columbus. In these words, “Jesus lives!” we find the foundation, meaning and mission of our Order.

When Pope Benedict XVI spoke for the first time in the homily at his installation Mass, he said, “The Church is alive — she is alive because Christ is alive, because he is truly risen.” It is this reality of the Risen One that animates the work of the Knights of Columbus and why we greet each other fraternally with “Vivat Jesus!

In his first homily as supreme chaplain at the state deputies’ meeting last June in New Haven, Bishop William E. Lori spoke about the necessity of the earthen vessels of our lives manifesting the glory of the Lord. That, too, is the mission of the Knights of Columbus. As Benedict XVI reminded us at his installation, “the purpose of our lives is to reveal God to men.”

Our Order, perhaps more than any other organization of Catholic laymen, is called to witness to a world that is unbelieving, that is doubtful, that is cynical, and that in many regions has abandoned the Christian faith. This witness comes primarily through our works of charity, through our families, and through the spirit of fraternity that animates our organization; it is a witness that proclaims Jesus is truly alive and so is his Church.

The real “culture war” that we face is the insistence of secular society that Jesus is merely a 2,000-year-old historical fact that can be ignored today. Secular society’s insistence upon legalized abortion, euthanasia and same-sex “marriage” is, in reality, the symptom of this fundamental refusal to see Jesus in his full reality.

Through our works of charity, the Lord’s presence is made manifest, in so many ways, in our parishes, our neighborhoods and our families. This is why Charity remains the first and animating principle of our Order.

This is also why we continue to focus so strongly on charity and why we are so proud that our Survey of Fraternal Activity this year again shows the Knights of Columbus growing in works of charity — nearly $136 million and more than 63 million hours in volunteer service.

With an average of $17 for each volunteer hour, that equates to more than $1 billion in service last year alone, and more than $10 billion during the last decade. And in direct cash payments in the last decade we have exceeded $1 billion.

The real importance of this is not simply a matter of dollars. The real importance is that our councils have an open door and a helping hand for so many neighbors in need.

This month we will celebrate our third Knights of Columbus Eucharistic Congress — a very special event during the Year of the Eucharist. Its theme highlights our principles of charity and unity.

As Catholics our works of charity are rooted in the divine act of charity revealed in the Eucharist, the Eucharist that is also the source of our unity. The Eucharist is our sublime assurance that Jesus lives and that he is with us!

Vivat Jesus!