Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto gave the homily at the daily Mass for Wednesday, August 8 at the Knights of Columbus Supreme Annual Convention. Below is the text of the homily, as pronounced during the mass.
Our mission, like that of each generation of Christians, is to make Christ known in the age in which we live, and we should celebrate the fact that the mysteries of faith are being proclaimed by word and witness to the ends of the earth. But we should not be surprised at the storms that occur when the divine wisdom of the Gospel confronts the human wisdom of this age.
We can learn from the readings today, and from the example of St Dominic, whose feast we celebrate, we can learn how to engage effectively in the struggle to evangelize the world of this age, which so often is not attentive to the wisdom of the cross.
In the first reading St Paul says to the Corinthians: “I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. Yet we do speak a wisdom to those who are mature, but not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.”
We proclaim the supernatural wisdom of the Gospel, which is in harmony with true human wisdom, whether it be in affirming the sanctity of life, or of marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, faithful in love and open to the gift of life, or of other fundamental realities that are clearly evident by the light of faith and reason. But we do so in a social environment that is shaped by the false wisdom of this age that is increasingly hostile to Christian faith, and even blind to what human reason itself reveals.
“Proclaim liberty throughout the land.” This quote from Leviticus that is inscribed on the Liberty Bell and is the theme of this convention, might seem to relate mainly to the situation in the United States, but in other countries as well militant secularism seeks to marginalize the witness of faith and to restrict it merely to the sphere of private devotion. Unfortunately, while we’re trying to evangelize this age, the rulers of this age, who shape popular culture are effectively de-evangelizing many of the Christian people. Often the misguided ideas against which we speak are increasingly attractive, and the principles we affirm are unattractive, to Catholics as much as to any others, who are unconsciously absorbing the false wisdom of the age.
One effect of this is that any political or judicial action which the Church may take to counter the challenge of militant secularism, and the threat to religious freedom, is undermined when it is clear that the Catholic people themselves are not united in their affirmation of the wisdom of the Gospel.
Popular culture is the sea in which we swim; it is the air we breathe. It is so omnipresent that it is unnoticed as it shapes the unspoken assumptions of our society. Sometimes it is harmless, or even beneficial, but too often it is unwholesome.
The false wisdom of the age is communicated with extraordinary effectiveness, through touching personal stories that convey a message of moral relativism, and through the skilful promotion of an individualism that corrodes the bonds of love, and ultimately leads to a discordant society of lonely people, without purpose and without peace. While the rulers of this age persuasively tell stories, we tend to issue documents, full of truth, but unread. Too often the unholy rhetoric of de-evangelization is more creative, more persuasive, more effective than the holy rhetoric of re-evangelization.
But in the human heart there is a yearning for truth, especially since a diet of illusion eventually robs us of inner peace, and causes misery in society. It is spiritual and intellectual junk food, delicious but incapable of sustaining life. Long ago St Augustine spoke of the deep human reality that is as true today as it was in his age: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Our mission is to offer to our age the life giving Gospel alternative to the superficially attractive wisdom of this age, and we need to do so persuasively, to get through to people, including Catholics, who are bewitched by the wisdom of this age.
On today’s feast, we look to the example of St Dominic, who in the early 13th century was sent by God to the rescue the Church at a time when it faced a challenge superficially different but fundamentally similar to the one we face today.
Large numbers of Catholics had left the Church, attracted by an alluring alternative to the orthodox Gospel. It was sweeping through southern France, and was immensely popular. Orthodox Christianity was on the defensive, with diminishing impact on the popular culture of the land. St Dominic saw the problem clearly, and was guided by the Holy Spirit to see the solution, one which addressed not the symptoms of the problem, but its cause.
His approach of prayer, of personal and communal example, and of the effective preaching of Christ, can guide us today. First, prayer. We need to attend to the fundamentals. As we busily design strategies to advance the new evangelization, we need to build upon the bedrock of prayer, and not just give it lip service. Prayer is not just pious icing on the cake; in many ways, it is the cake. As St Benedict says in the Prologue of his Rule: “whatever good work you begin to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it.”
The sacramental encounter with Christ in the Eucharist, continued contemplatively through Eucharistic adoration, is essential to our life of faith. St Dominic spent countless hours in prayer before the Lord. Bishop Sheen reminds us that the effective ministry of conversion flows from the Eucharist. What does that mean for you, and for me, in the days that lie ahead?
Another gateway to divine wisdom is the Rosary, a prayer deeply connected to the Dominican tradition. It immerses us in the mysteries of salvation and helps us to reach out for the intercession of Our Lady. In any great and seemingly overwhelming crisis, whether in St Dominic’s time, or at the time of the Battle of Lepanto, or today, we need to pray the Rosary.
And we need to build our efforts upon the foundation of a prayerful meditation on the sacred scriptures. St Dominic carried the words of St Paul and the Gospels with him always. The ancient practice of “Lectio Divina”, the praying of the Word of God, should inform all that we do, day by day, for we proclaim not the wisdom of this age, but holy wisdom, manifest in sacred scripture and most fully in the person of Our Lord Jesus himself, whom we encounter in Word and Sacrament. The apostolic mission of the Knights of Columbus, at every level, must be rooted in fervent prayer if it is to be fruitful.
The second point that St Dominic emphasized was personal and communal example. This obviously means cleaning up corruption in the Church. We can see how our scandals, sexual and financial, especially among the clergy, speed the process of de-evangelization. St Dominic insisted that the preachers live with manifest austerity and Christian integrity, obeying the invitation of the Lord in today’s Gospel to leave all behind to follow him.
But we can also cause scandal in other ways, less obvious, that hinder the conversion of this world by blocking the effect of the divine wisdom which we offer. In the Apocalypse, the Risen Lord says in the Letter to the Christian community at Ephesus: "I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate the wicked. … Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first.” (Apocalypse 2: 1-4) St Dominic and his companions gave a witness of joyful, loving orthodoxy, and so must we, if we are to proclaim the Good News effectively both to this secular society, so cynical about religion, and to those who once were practicing Catholics but have left us. An old priest at the seminary at which I studied used to say: the faith that is sad, or mad, and not glad is bad. The power of the rulers of this world will only be conquered by the example of joyful, practical love.
The divine wisdom will shine in this suffering world through each Knight and his family, and through each local Council of our order, and through every level of this evangelizing brotherhood that is the Knights of Columbus, to the extent that we give an example of joyful orthodoxy that bears fruit in practical love.
Finally, St Dominic and his companions, sought to communicate effectively and persuasively. They were attentive to the questions that were actually troubling the confused Catholics to whom they preached. First they listened, and then they used all their gifts of intellect and imagination to counter the false wisdom of their age, so as to communicate the real wisdom that comes from God, the wisdom
of the cross of Christ. But first they had to understand the false wisdom, so as to counteract it. We have to do that as well in our own age.
St Thomas Aquinas, that great disciple of St Dominic, always expresses accurately the ideas of those with whom he disagrees before he replies. First we need to listen, to understand why people leave the Church, why people so willingly accept misguided ideas about life or marriage or other matters of profound importance. First we must listen, before we can effectively preach the Good News of Jesus to our troubled world. We owe it to Our Lord, and to all whom we are called to bring to his Gospel, to listen and to understand the pain and confusion that makes good people so susceptible to the false wisdom of our age.
As we celebrate this Feast of St Dominic, he guides us as we confront the challenges of these days by laying before us three keys to evangelization: prayer, personal example, and a resolve to communicate the Gospel effectively to the people of our age.
“May Saint Dominic come to the help of your Church, O Lord, and may he, who was an outstanding preacher of your truth, be a devoted intercessor on our behalf.”