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Among all the causes young people are drawn to fight for these days, for some reason fighting for the Church is becoming less common. Why is that? Perhaps there is a disconnect between genuine love of Christ and the chivalrous spirit that once inspired Christian men in everything from defending Christendom to honoring women.
That's why I deem it's necessary, in this Year of St. Joseph, to remind the faithful of this saint's virtue, who has been called the "terror of demons," to show how this worker of divine deeds exemplified chivalry, a virtue that may be lost if the need for it is not boldly proclaimed.
"Chivalry" comes from the Latin word caballarius, which means horsemen. It's therefore easy to see its connection to the word "cavalry." The word "Calvary" may also come to mind when hearing the word "chivalry," even though there is no etymological connection. Calvary, or the place where Jesus was crucified, simply gets its name from the Latin name for the hill where he died, Calvaria in Latin, also known as Golgotha, but also simply meaning "skull."
Nonetheless, for the sake of Christian culture, it seems fitting to make a connection between Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross and the virtue expected of knights, otherwise known as chivalry — which was developed as a code for knights who were, beforehand, known for being one feud away from slipping into barbarism. Making a connection between Calvary and chivalry is necessary if only to emphasize the way a knight puts his life on the line for the sake of what he loves.
St. Joseph is exemplary in this sense because he risked so much in staying with Mary, despite the reasonable temptation to divorce her, and despite Herod’s men being on the Holy Family’s heels for years. He protected Jesus and Mary, jeopardizing his own life in the process.
But perhaps his most chivalrous act goes untold by Scripture. He was willing to put aside his own pursuits for the sake of God and country. If this child Jesus was the savior promised by God to his people Israel, there was no better reason for him to put aside his pride to defend something greater than himself. Many people in St. Joseph's situation probably would have divorced Mary, but Joseph chose love and sacrifice instead.
We can say many knights followed in St. Joseph's footsteps in this regard. One can speak of the Maccabees who fought chivalrously for Israel as well, but if we're talking about the first Christian to demonstrate chivalry, St. Joseph should come to mind quickly.
Fast forward about 1,100 years and we discover the kind of chivalry we've all heard of, the kind that emerged to meet the needs of the times in the high middle ages of Christendom. Seeing the need for masculine fortitude afforded by the knights, but also a need for civility and statesmanship, Christian leaders developed the code of chivalry so the knight could maintain his fierceness while also cultivating a gentle side that showed how he fought for peace.
Thus, it could be said that chivalry is at the root of the concept of what it means to be a gentleman, and is echoed in the words of Faramir in The Two Towers: "I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend."
The Oxford Languages dictionary used by Google has a fair definition of chivalry: "the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, especially courage, honor, courtesy, justice and a readiness to help the weak."
But do we see such chivalry in any religious orders of the Church? You would think so, since at chivalry's height the Church was also in all its glory. As great Gothic cathedrals, universities and monasteries were being built like never before all across Christendom, the honor of knighthood was also gaining prestige.
It's no surprise then that we saw the rise of the Knights of Malta, Knights Templar, and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre around that same time, for example. These orders and others arose to fight for Christendom against Islamic invasion, especially in the Holy Land. Furthermore, these orders had the support of at least one pope and saint. Pope Eugenius III and St. Bernard of Clairvaux adamantly supported crusaders in the 11th century.
We can add to all of this St. Maximilian Kolbe's Knights of the Immaculata, which he established in the early to mid-20th century "to win the entire world for the Immaculata and, through her, for the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus."
Also, how could we forget the Knights of Columbus, who were founded to support the widows of Catholic men, and serve as the task force extraordinaires in parishes in the United States and around the globe?
The Knights of the Holy Eucharist, founded by Mother Angelica in 1998, continue in the tradition of living holy lives as a way to advance the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, and in doing so they are as chivalrous as the knights in shining armor who came before them, even if in a different way.
So in a very real sense, we see chivalry at work today through orders old and new that fight for the Church and her mother, Mary, just like St. Joseph.
If you want to learn more about one of these orders, the Knights of the Holy Eucharist, visit knights.org and consider supporting or even joining their cause to spread devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ through the Eucharist.