On the second day of the Knights of Columbus’ annual conference, Cardinal William Joseph Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, delivered a homily in which he spoke of Mary as a model for following God’s will and warned American Catholics that they too “will be pierced by that sword of opposition” if they are faithful to Christ.
Noting that today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, Cardinal Levada began by reflecting on the history of the feast and Mary’s role in the Incarnation.
“We see in the mystery of the Incarnation the most remarkable example of the power of God’s word: the Word himself becomes flesh, the Son of God is born in time.”
The cardinal explained that there are two lessons connected with the Incarnation.
First of all, he explained, “the work of creation and salvation is first, last, and always God’s initiative. Life is God’s gift, not our accomplishment.” Secondly, he continued, though it is God’s work, we also “have a role to play.”
He went on to explain that Mary was not simply God’s instrument “by which the word became flesh, a lifeless patch of land made fruitful by the downpour of God’s word,” but she was a human “with a free will and she cooperated in God’s saving plan. Mary freely and joyfully embraced God’s will, and for this reason she is intimately connected with her Son’s mission.”
“The Mother of Jesus is involved in the whole mystery of the life of Christ, she is we might say a ‘co-conspirator’ in God’s plan of salvation,” he observed.
“The significance of this for us is both very simple and very awe-inspiring,” Levada said, honing in on the meaning for modern Catholics. “Only once in history did God himself literally become Man, so that Mary’s child is uniquely the Son of God. But spiritually God the Son assumes a human nature in each of us.”
The same Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary, he explained, “also sanctifies us, making us more truly the Body of Christ – to the extent that we open ourselves to God’s will in our lives.”
This openness to God’s will and the guidance of the Holy Spirit will inevitably lead to conflicts between secular society and Catholics in America, Cardinal Levada told the Knights.
“Our nation has been blessed with many gifts and resources, and at times that abundance can blind people to our utter dependence on God, and the need to seek to do his will. We Knights of Columbus are dedicated to fostering both faith and patriotism in your members; and you experience the tensions when our religious ideals come into conflict with a society that is becoming increasingly secular.”
“Like Mary, we too will be pierced by that sword of opposition if we are faithful to Christ. That is the cost of discipleship,” Cardinal Levada remarked.
“As American Catholics, we can and we should work with all people of good will, regardless of their religious beliefs, to improve the lot of others.” However, he concluded, “no matter how remarkable its scientific accomplishments or technological advances,” America, “will always be a barren patch of earth without the life-giving refreshment of the word of God.”