Editor’s note: This following text is from Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan’s Aug. 7 keynote address at the States Dinner during the 130th Supreme Convention.
Worthy Supreme Knight and Mrs. Anderson; my brother Knights and beloved wives; my brother cardinals; Bishop Brown, Archbishop Viganò, 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!” (cf. Luke 5:4); 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.
As loyal American citizens, of all faiths or none at all, renew vigilance for our “first and most cherished freedom,” thank you, brother Knights, for continuing your 14-decade tradition of “proclaiming liberty throughout all the land.”
Usually, at the States Dinner, thousands of our Knights look up in admiration to the dais, the head table, to the “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 to fulfill better 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 will 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. St. Paul likewise tells us that the love of Jesus for us, his Church, is just like that of a groom for his bride (cf. Eph 5).
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 the love that God has for us. It is faithful; it is forever; and it brings about new life in children.
We are such hopeless romantics that we contend that 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. 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 too 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, I attended an archdiocesan pastoral council meeting during which we discussed ways to increase vocations to the priesthood and consecrated religious life (yet another project, by the way, that you Knights have vigorously promoted). Well, 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 bulletproof vest, wondering what she had in mind.
But she 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!”
“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 percent 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 is the number one reason I speak to you with a sense of urgency about marriage this evening.
The second reason is that the very definition of marriage as a lifelong, life-giving and 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. The theme of this Supreme Convention is, of course, the defense of religious freedom. In the noble American project of ordered virtuous democracy, government exists not to invent, define, grant or impede genuine freedom — the “first and most cherished” being freedom of religion — but to protect liberties that come not from any human whim but from the Creator. That’s about as American as Yankee Stadium; and a government that presumes to redefine marriage is perilously close to considering not God, but itself, as “the Almighty.”
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 enterprise, but also 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, then home, industry, finance, culture, society and governing structures are more easily directed to virtue, responsibility and the restraint of the primitive lust and selfishness that wreck civilization. Ask, for instance, Edward Gibbon, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, what happens when a culture loses 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”; and solidarity rather than selfishness, is precisely traditional marriage and family. When that goes, we all go.
But 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 have 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; and who, rather than wringing their hands, have joined their hands to defend, promote and strengthen the very relationship between one man and one woman, united in lifelong, life-giving, faithful love, that dates back to the Garden of Eden itself.
May the dawn of the Year of Faith, the ringing call for the new evangelization and our renewed defense of religious freedom renew our Knights, their wives and their families in this noble joining of hands.
Thank you, Knights of Columbus!
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan is archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is a member of St. Anthony Council 417 in Washington, D.C.