Be confident witnesses to Jesus Christ

August 25, 2011

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo presided at a Mass at the 129th Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention in Denver, Colorado earlier this month. Below is the text of his homily at the Votive Mass of Our Lady of Guadalupe:

"I want to express my gratitude to Carl Anderson and to all Brother Knights for their kind invitation to me to preach the homily at this liturgy today. I thank Cardinal Stafford, the Celebrant, the Cardinals, Archbishops, bishops, priests and deacons here present for the liturgy, to you Knights and your families, and to all here present for this Convention, a sure act of fraternal solidarity but also a point of Catholic Witness for laity who are called to live the Gospel by growing in personal holiness and to be a persuasive and assured presence in the world to the truth and charity of Jesus Christ, Beloved Son of the Father and likewise Son of the Virgin Mary.

We are celebrating a Votive Mass of the Virgin Mary this morning under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas to whom the Knights of Columbus have been consecrated. Later in the Mass, copies of her image, all blessed by the Holy Father, will be distributed to each State Deputy. This is a way to inaugurate an Order-wide Marian Prayer Program venerating our Patroness and focused on the praying of the Rosary. The image will travel to each Council in coming months and become a beautiful prayer of solidarity among all Knights throughout the world. Through this initiative, we all pray that the world may know new hope, for Mary appears at the dawn of our salvation and her gift to the Church is to always be a new Advent, a new hope inspired response to the gift of salvation given by her Son, a gift she received in her mind and carried in her womb!

The first part of the Book of Revelation concludes at the end of Chapter 11, after Letters, after seven seals and seven trumpets, the present and future, the destiny of the church, the destiny of her witnesses, the salvation of the faithful, all of this is enclosed in a scene of a heavenly liturgy where the multitude, the 24 elders and the angels, praise God and the Lamb. But the language is still reserved and restrained in its symbols.

The beginning of Part Two of the Book of Revelation, also begins with a heavenly Liturgy and a heavenly scene. We read it this morning. It is the vision of the Woman Clothed with the Sun; she is to give birth to a Child who will rule and govern the nations. And she is faced by the Dragon, the ancient serpent, a direct reference to the scene of the Garden of Eden in Chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis. The dragon is always around! The vision of the Woman, subsequently identified both with the Virgin Mary and the Church in the history of interpretation of the text, is very important. This woman, an embodiment of the heavenly Jerusalem, the new city will be constantly contrasted with the Woman who represents Babylon, the city of opposition to the Lamb and to faithful witnesses of Jesus. The dragon and the symbol of Babylon impose hardships on the woman and her offspring for their witness to Jesus. But her refuge also becomes a place where the faithful witnesses find refuge. Her maternal solicitude brings comfort during their struggles to be faithful. The Woman is the model and type of discipleship and a guide to the Lamb. Certainly, as St. Cyril of Jerusalem told the catechumens of his day, we all go the Father of souls but must pass by the dragon. He is more dangerous for his persuasiveness and his ability to be masked in everyday colors. But the woman, sign of faith, accompanies us in participating even now in the Life of the Lamb Slain. The scene in the First Reading today is one of conflict and hardship; it is also a scene of comfort and of ultimate victory.

The narrative of the Annunciation given us today in the Gospel of St. Luke is calm and beautiful, a kind of contrast to the scene in the Book of Revelation. St. Luke paints a scene in words that is restrained and even ordinary in light of the wonder beyond wonders that is proclaimed. It is the revelation of the Word Made Flesh. The restraint is precisely the means to show this astonishing reality. The Eternal Word is now one of us. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary and became man. The praise of Mary is great, but the praise of the unseen Word in his Mother’s womb is even greater. Still, the Mother of God will always be the God-given protection of the Church and her members as they proclaim the truth about her Son. Her “yes,” her “fiat” is the result of the gift of grace from God and from our side, the creature, she is the highest achievement made possible by grace. Grace makes possible self-surrender and her “engraced” self-surrender is cooperation in the divine plan of our salvation. She is active energetic acceptance. There is no calculation and no obstacle placed to the indwelling of the Lord. Mary’s creaturely “yes” in a mysterious way allows the human nature and will of Jesus Christ to be, by which he says his constant “yes” to the Father. A mystery indeed! In a famous Russian icon of this scene, one from 12th Century, both Mary and the Angel Gabriel stand facing each other against a golden background, both figures larger than life. The angel is in red, white and gold, and Mary enclosed in a red-cherry cloth (Incarnation colors). The Virgin shows an incredible innocent smile, the youngest Madonna ever painted in an icon. The Christ Child is within her and raises his hand in blessing. Outside, Mary has one hand pointed in acceptance towards the angel. The other hand holds yarn from her weaving. She is in time, history and everydayness, but she now accepts to help weave the Eternal Word into our time and history. The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe likewise shows her pregnant with her Son and enveloped in a cloak. Her face is one of maternal solicitude for all her children, and the roses of her prayers reveal the brilliance of her innocence-elevated-creaturely serene person-hood. In both the Russian icon and in the image of Guadalupe Mary is poised to act, ready, standing, attentive and full of energy. No wallflower could have uttered and sung the Magnificat. But she is likewise full of the obedience of faith and accepting of God’s will.

In all of this, Brothers and Sisters, we receive a scriptural summons today in our Liturgy of the Word. We ask for and must be confident witnesses to Jesus Christ, witnesses who count on the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. What is our witness in these days?

May I propose an invigorating dedication to the human person, most especially to those persons most vulnerable. In the current climate the attack on the human person still focuses on the beginnings and end of human personal life, the stages of greatest vulnerability. The Annunciation scene manifests the astounding act of the Eternal Word being conceived in the womb of his mother. It puts an exclamation point on the reality of every human being made in the image and likeness of God. The Eternal Word humbled himself and did not disdain to become one of us in all the stages of our human personal existence. Certainly, we must be mindful of the poor and weak, the stranger and immigrant and those who have wandered away from the Father’s embrace. Above all, though, we Knights must be mindful of the unborn, whose fragile and delicate beginnings the Savior Himself accepted in becoming man. The first and last stages of life, where the newly conceived may not yet have a name and the seriously ill and elderly may have forgotten their name, are most crucial. Do not ever forget them: give them a name, the name of complete commitment and steady clear action in their defense. Be courteous but clear and uncompromising on the issue: witness to the fun