A reflection on the Immaculate Conception
Remarks of Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
Year of Faith Pilgrimage
& Knights Tower Carillon
50th Anniversary Celebration
Basilica of the National Shrine
of the Immaculate Conception
September 8, 2013
For many decades, the Knights of Columbus has been dedicated to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The connection is, of course, visible in the church structure, especially the Knights Tower Carillon celebrating its 50th anniversary today.
But as Knights, our dedication to Mary, the Immaculate Conception, unites us to this basilica in a more profound way.
Historically, we know that Father McGivney was acquainted early on with Mary’s title, and surely it formed him in his spirituality. In fact, just months before Our Lady identified herself as the Immaculate Conception to St. Bernadette in her apparitions at Lourdes, young Michael McGivney witnessed his childhood parish construct a new church that was named in honor of the Immaculate Conception. Later, as a priest, he celebrated his first Mass there, and throughout his priesthood he preached with fervor about our Blessed Mother.
Today, we too embrace Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, through our lives as Catholics and especially as Knights of Columbus.
Just as the carillon of the Knights Tower sends beautiful music into our nation’s capital and reminds all who hear it of this place of God, our lives as Catholics and as Knights of Columbus must also reach out to enrich others and remind them of Our Lord’s presence among us.
As Knights of Columbus, we do this first and foremost through our work of charity.
Our charity in particular should express the truth revealed by God and lived through his Church — the truth of the dignity of every person, a dignity revealed in a special way by Mary, the Immaculate Conception.
So important is Mary, under this title, that the Knights are bringing devotion to her in parishes throughout the world, by dedicating our Marian prayer program to the Immaculate Conception during the next two years.
Through her title of the Immaculate Conception we see the mystery of redemption revealed to us in a unique way.
As Blessed John Paul II wrote, the salutation ‘full of grace’ “is how the Lord had always seen and thought of Mary…from all eternity.” These words call us to reflect: What is it like to see Mary through God’s eyes?
Here, the artist cannot do Mary justice.Paintings of the Immaculate Conception portray Mary as a beautiful woman.
But there is another reality — one that cannot be portrayed in this way. If we think about what the Immaculate Conception really means — that she was, from the first moment of her conception, free from original sin by a special grace of God — another portrait of Mary becomes immediately appropriate: Mary the Unborn.
Our Lord sees and loves and saves Mary before she had free will; before she could speak; before she could breathe; before her parents were even aware of her existence.
And thus her immaculate conception declares that spiritual reality exists even in the womb — at the very beginning of life.
And thus Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is the paragon of human dignity. Because, in reaching out to Mary with extraordinary grace while still in the womb, God reminds us that our dignity comes to each of us as a gift from the Creator.
We also might call the Immaculate Conception the ultimate reminder of the importance of religious freedom.
Because, in God’s gift of transforming Mary’s soul, God reminds us that our relationship with Him is indeed the source of all other relationships.
This brings us to another reason for increasing devotion to the Immaculate Conception: her message of hope is needed in our world.
Today, the turmoil in our world begs for Mary’s voice. Yesterday was declared by Pope Francis as a day of prayer for peace in Syria. The U.S. bishops have called for the problems of immigration to be remembered today.
And while tomorrow any number of pressing issues may surround us, our hope will remain secure as we continue to fix our gaze on Mary.
When Our Lord became man, he did not come in glory, but as a child in poverty.
His life was immediately endangered, and he was forced to flee as a refugee to Egypt, a country which historically had persecuted those of his religion and his race.
And yet Mary remained with him with her “welcoming love,” from his conception until his death.
Today, we may understand the crisis we face as in no small part a crisis of welcoming love.
In the Gospels, Jesus declared the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love our neighbor. The obvious question, of course, is just “who is my neighbor”? Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. In other words, strangers are made into neighbors not by geography but by love.
So today let us recall words of Blessed John Paul II when he visited the United States in 1987. He said:
- reinforcing the social fabric of this nation;
- promoting the true advancement of women;
- securing the rights of minorities;
- pursuing disarmament, while guaranteeing legitimate defense; all this will succeed only if respect for life and its protection by the law is granted to every human being from conception until natural death.
This is the voice of the pope who did not hesitate to say “Totus Tuus, Maria.”
Visiting a museum in Poland some years ago, I was struck by several pieces of armor worn by Christian knights some centuries before.
On their breastplates, these knights wore medals of the Immaculate Conception directly over their hearts.
Today, knights no longer wear armor. But we can bring Mary with us. We can allow her to make an impression on our hearts, to help and guide our lives.
Through her intercession, we may truly witness to God’s love, goodness and truth.
Whatever we face in the future, let us bear the banner of Mary, praying the prayer which has come down to us through the centuries and that we heard beautifully sung this afternoon:
“We fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.”