Supreme Knight and Mrs. Anderson;
Past Supreme Knight and Mrs. Dechant;
My brother knights and beloved wives;
My brother cardinals;
Bishop Brown, Archbishop Viganó, my brother bishops, priests, and deacons;
Our consecrated women and men religious;
Seminarians, guests, friends one and all . . .
Que viva Cristo Rey!
To anyone who claims the Church is lackluster; To anyone who thinks the Church has lost the dare given us by Jesus to “cast out to the deep!” To anyone who doubts the solidarity between God’s people and His priests and bishops; To anyone who contends that Catholics are beaten down by constant attacks on faith, the Church, our values, and our God-given freedom of religion . . . I say, “Let them come to the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus!”
As we anticipate the Year of Faith, I thank you, brother Knights, for 130 years of vibrant, salt-of-the-earth-light-to-the-world Catholic witness! As we prepare for the upcoming Synod of Bishops in Rome on the New Evangelization, I congratulate you, brother Knights, for taking that ball and running with it, in the same missionary spirit that characterized Christopher Columbus.
It’s good to be in California; they love us here in Anaheim. Heads up, though: one of the bellboys here at the hotel did complain to me that we knights don’t tip that well. “We love these Knights of Columbus,” he said, “but, they arrive with the Ten Commandments and a ten dollar bill . . . and leave without breaking either!”
Carl, thanks for giving me the “honeymoon suite.” I was a bit surprised. Let me assure you that’s the first time that’s ever happened! I am reminded of the story told by the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Seems as if he, too, was offered the “honeymoon suite” at a hotel where he was to give a talk. It was in a southern city, at that time unfamiliar with Catholics. As Archbishop Sheen was leaving his honeymoon suite for supper, the housekeeping attendant asked if she could turn down the bed, and the archbishop told her he would appreciate such service. When he returned later that evening, sure enough, the bed was turned down, and there was a mint on both pillows. On one side of the bed was the archbishop’s pajamas laid out; on the other, apparently for Mrs. Sheen, was his beautiful lace alb he wore for Mass!
Which brings me to my topic: Marriage.
Usually, at this State’s Dinner, thousands of our knights look up in admiration to this dais, the head table, to this “crimson tide” of bishops and cardinals. Tonight, I’m going to literally “turn the tables” as we up here look out with awe, admiration, and deep appreciation upon you, our knights and their wives, united in marriage. For this evening, I want to salute marriage . . . and it would be tough to find anyone who has done more to defend, strengthen, and promote marriage than you, Knights of Columbus, and your cherished wives and families. In fact, as you are aware, one of the driving motives of the Venerable Father Michael McGivney in founding the Knights was to assist men better fulfill their vocation as husbands and dads.
We Catholics are hopeless romantics, you know, when it comes to married love . . . Against all odds, we still believe that, when a man and woman vow that they’ll love and honor each other, “for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until death do us part,” they really do mean it; We still hold fast to the teaching of the Bible that God so esteems marriage that He compared His personal, passionate, eternal love for Israel to that between a husband and a wife; that Saint Paul tells us that the love of Jesus for us, His Church, is just like that of a groom for His bride; We still have in our gut the Church’s timeless “Valentine’s Day card,” that the love between a husband and a wife has the same characteristics as does that of God for us: it is faithful; it is forever; it brings about new life in children.
We are such hopeless romantics that we contend the best way to get a hint of how God loves us now, and in eternity, is to look at how you, married couples, love one another. “The love of a man and woman is made holy in the sacrament of marriage, and becomes the mirror of your everlasting love . . . ,” chants the Preface in the Nuptial Mass. You see why we, mostly celibates up here, look out upon you married couples with awe? We gaze out now at thousands of icons, reflections, mirrors of the way God loves us.
Now, you are, we are, the first to acknowledge that this romantic, poetic, lofty, divine luster of marriage can at times be tarnished a bit in the day-in-day-out challenges of lifelong, life-giving, faithful love. For example, I recently had the golden jubilee of a wonderful couple I’ve known for decades. “What’s the secret to the success of your fifty years of marriage? I asked Pat. “Well, you know Eileen and I are both of Irish background, so, for our 25th anniversary, I took her back to Ireland.”
“Pat, how thoughtful,” I remarked.
“Yeah and then, for our 50th, I went back to get her! There’s the key to our success!”
Tension, trial, temptation, turmoil - - they come indeed, but - - just as Jesus worked His first miracle, at the request of His blessed Mother, for a newly married couple at Cana by turning water into wine - - so does Jesus transform those choppy waters of tension, trial, temptation, and turmoil, into a vintage wine of tried-and-true-trust in marriage.
So, brother Knights and wives, I thank you for being such metaphors of God’s love; and I exhort you, please, to continue, now, more than ever, to be so. Why, now more than ever! Let me give you a few reasons.
When I was Archbishop of Milwaukee, at an archdiocesan pastoral council meeting, we were discussing ways to increase vocations to the priesthood and consecrated religious life . . .yet another project, by the way, you Knights have vigorously promoted. Well, Jan Ruidl, one of the members, commented: “Archbishop Dolan, in talking about an increase in vocations for priests, sisters, and brothers, I think you’re barking-up-the-wrong-tree!” Uh-oh, here it comes, I thought, buckling my bullet-proof vest, figuring Jan would begin arguing for an end to celibacy or to the male-only-priesthood. But Jan continued: “The greatest vocation crisis today is to lifelong, loving, faithful, life-giving marriage. You take care of that one, and you’ll have all the priests and sisters you need!” Well-said, Jan!
“For an increase in vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life, and the Sacrament of Marriage” should perhaps become the new phrasing for a prayer of the faithful at every Mass, as we are sobered by the gloomy statistics that only 51% of our young people are approaching that sacrament, a piece of data you all somberly see verified even among your own children and grandchildren. A vocation crisis in the call to the Sacrament of Matrimony . . . reason #1 for this sense of urgency regarding marriage I speak to you about this evening.
Reason #2: the very definition of marriage as a lifelong, life giving, faithful union of one man and one woman is in peril, with a well-choreographed, well-oiled crusade to conform marriage to the whims of the day instead of conforming our urges to God’s design, as revealed in the Bible, nature, and reflective reason. Once again, a tip of our zucchetto to you knights who have been indefatigable in defending marriage.
And, a final fact that prompts us to a sense of renewed promotion of marriage? Its singularly pivotal, irreplaceable role in what the modern Popes have called the civilization of love, a topic eloquently written about by our own Supreme Knight in his book by that very title. See, it’s not just saints, pontiffs, or theologians who predicate marriage and family as the central, love-promoting cell of the human project, but historians, sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists. They demonstrate that, when the normative relationship for a man and woman’s existence is that of a husband, wife, father, and mother, well, then, home, industry, finance, culture, society, and governing structures are more easily directed to virtue, responsibility, and the restraining of the primitive lust and selfishness that destroy civilization.
Ask, for instance, Edward Gibbon, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, what happens when a culture looses this focus. The most effective guarantee of a civilization of love rather than the survival of the fittest; the culture of life over the culture of death; the law of the gift rather than the law of the “get,” solidarity rather than selfishness, is precisely the preservation of traditional marriage and family. When that goes, we all go.
Enough from this man in the honeymoon suite! Because I’m preaching to the choir! I’m looking out with awe upon Knights of Columbus and their wives who radiantly live the vocation of marriage, and who got kids and grandkids to prove it; who have chosen to accept God’s invitation to everlasting life as a couple, not alone; who worry about the weakening of marriage and its toxic effect on our culture and the Church we cherish; but who, rather than wring hands have joined hands to defend, promote, and strengthen the very relationship between one man, one woman, united in lifelong, life-giving, faithful love, that dates back to the Garden of Eden itself. Let the dawn of the Year of Faith, the ringing call for the New Evangelization, only renew our knights, their wives, and their families in this noble joining of hands.
Thank you, Knights of Columbus!
Que viva Cristo Rey!