Knights of Columbus Pilgrimage
National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
The Gospel just proclaimed is tailor-made for this occasion, when, during the Year of Faith, the family of the Knights of Columbus comes on pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “Knights Tower” with its 56 bell carillon.
This is what Jesus said to us in today’s Gospel: “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This is the one who began to build but did not have the resources to finish’” (Lk. 14-28-30).
Thanks to the generosity of the Knights of Columbus coupled with the genius of architects and the skill of craftsman, the Knights Tower was indeed completed, and for half a century, has remained a very visible feature in the Washington skyline, with the peal of its bells being heard both near and far. As Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle said when the Tower was first dedicated, “To the members of the Knights of Columbus, in the name of all the bishops of the United States, I say we are deeply grateful for this wonderful gift. Long after we are gone, this tower and these bells will be paying honor to God and to His Mother.”
II. Tower of Faith
Taking our cue from Cardinal O’Boyle, we can say that the goal of building this tower was not merely to complete the architectural design of this great basilica. It was not merely for looks or for grandeur. Rather, during this Year of Faith, this graced opportunity for us to be renewed in faith, I would submit that the Knights Tower should be seen as a tower of faith, that rises in our midst as sign and symbol of the Church’s faith ... the faith we profess as baptized members of the Catholic Church, as men and women and young people from all walks of life, and as members of the family of the Knights of Columbus. To see how the Knights Tower is an apt symbol of our faith, we have only to turn to the recent encyclical on faith, Lumen Fidei, begun by Pope Benedict XVI and now given to the whole Church by Pope Francis.
III. Firm Foundation
Let us being by noting that the Knights Tower is built on a firm foundation. It does not rest on sand or marshland but rather on solid rock; otherwise, it would not stand the test of time. In the same way, this tower calls us to set our lives of faith on a solid foundation. For to believe is to be established in the truth; as the new encyclical on faith puts it: “Faith without truth does not save; it does not provide a sure footing. It remains a beautiful story, a projection of our deep yearning for happiness, something capable of satisfying us to the extent that we are willing to deceive ourselves” (Lumen Fidei, no. 24).
Even as the tower must be anchored on a deep and solid foundation, so too our faith needs to be anchored in the truth – not merely opinion or feeling, not merely the kind of truth that can be seen and measured . . . . . . but the utterly reliable and rock-solid Word of God, revealed by the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit and communicated in the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium.
Yet the knowledge of the truth which faith imparts to us is not cold or calculating. No, it is a truth which transforms us inwardly—body, mind, and spirit— a truth which turns us away from sin and opens our hearts to love; it is a truth that guides the course of our lives and allows us to understand what St. Paul termed, “the mystery” – namely – God’s plan of salvation, revealed in Christ, which spans the whole of human history. Again to quote the Pope’s beautiful letter on faith: “Faith knows because it is tied to love and love brings enlightenment.” How important for us all but especially for the Knights of Columbus. After all, the first principle of the Knights is charity. Through many programs of service and countless volunteer hours, the Knights bear witness to the truth of God’s love, a truth that can only be fully understood by the light of faith.
IV. Hearing and Seeing
But there is another obvious feature of the Knights Tower that makes it an apt symbol for the faith that we profess, namely, it can be heard and seen for miles around.
So too, the encyclical, Lumen Fidei, speaks of faith as hearing and seeing (cf. no. 29). Morning, noon, and night the bells in this carillon ring out the Good News of Salvation: “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary!” “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us!” ‘Faith,’ St. Paul tells us, ‘comes from hearing’ (cf. Rom. 10:17) and as the bells in this carillon resonate, the truth of Christ resonates in our hearts ... just as the voice of the Venerable Father Michael McGivney rang out from the pulpit in St. Mary’s Church in New Haven ... a voice that continues to resonate in the heart of every Knight and his family.
Yet faith is not only heard; it also offers us a vision of truth and love to guide our lives. In gleaming limestone, the Knights tower rises from earth to heaven; it directs our gaze and lifts our spirits upwards ‘where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father’ (cf. Col. 3:1). Conversely, from the heights of this Tower, we can see an earthly city, Washington, our nation’s capital. But gazing on that vista, our eyes of faith perceive the vast expanse of God’s love in human history, leading us to His Kingdom. The bells open our ears to the Word of God, the Tower opens our eyes to the truth, beauty, and goodness of God’s love, helping us in our daily journey to set our hearts toward Christ our Redeemer.
V. Sacramental Structure of the Faith
Allow me to develop still further this notion of the Knights Tower as a symbol of faith. For this Tower to endure ‘from generation to generation’ (cf. Ps. 78; Luke 1:48), it must have a sturdy inner structure so as to manifest its outward beauty. And so it is with the faith we profess: It is not merely a matter of words; it is not just a message, however lofty. Rather, as the encyclical Lumen Fidei teaches us: “…what is communicated in the Church, what is handed down in her living Tradition, is the new light born of an encounter with the true God, a light which touches us at the core of our being and engages our minds, wills and emotions, opening us to relationships lived in communion” (no. 40).
The way we truly encounter Christ, ‘the light of the world’, is through the sacraments. Through the sacraments we touch the divine realities that we profess to believe in. Like the Knights Tower the Sacraments engage our senses ... our sight, our hearing. Like the Tower, the outward signs of the sacraments lead us to an inner structure ... but not a structure of wood, steel, and concrete. Rather, as Lumen Fidei teaches, the faith itself has ‘a sacramental structure’ (no. 40). The visible, material signs of the sacraments point beyond themselves to the Risen Life of Christ in which, by faith, we participate as members of the Church: Water point to and imparts new life in Christ; oil to the strength of the Holy Spirit, bread and wine is completely changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.
We can understand this a bit better if we recall the ancient practice of “christening bells”. Indeed, I can confirm, thanks to the Basilica archivist, Dr. Rohling, that the 56 bells in the Knights Tower were “christened” – cleansed and blessed with holy water and anointed with the oil of the sick. Over time that ritual has changed and, in any case, was never meant to suggest an actual baptism. Yet we cannot miss the fact that, by this blessing, these bells were set apart and dedicated to announcing the faith, engendering joy, and calling us worship. So it is that by our baptism, Christ’s love penetrates the depth of being, cleanses us from sin, makes us capable of professing the Church’s faith, sets us apart for authentic worship in communion with the whole Church, and calls us to proclaim the faith by a charity that evangelizes.
VI. Structural Integrity and Unity
Indulge me as I offer a final comparison between the Knights Tower & our life of faith: For the Knights Tower to stand ‘from generation to generation’ (cf. supra), it must maintain its structural unity and integrity. If the mortar between the stones were to deteriorate or elements of its structural support were removed, the Tower would be weakened and may eventually collapse.
So it is that the faith we profess is one, a coherent whole, and it meant to be professed in the unity of the Church. As the encyclical on faith reminds us, no one professes the faith alone (cf. no. 39); rather, we do so in communion with the Church, evoking a common and living memory of Christ’s saving words and deeds (cf. no. 38). And the faith itself is structured around four elements, the profession of faith, the celebration of the sacraments, the commandments, and prayer (cf. no. 46). Remove or compromise any one of those elements, and the entire structure of the faith is weakened.
To ensure that the men of his parish and their families would have support in professing and living the faith of the Church, the Venerable Father Michael McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus and taught us the principles of unity and fraternity. We are one in the unity of the Church’s faith and in a life of charity. We best exemplify the principle of fraternity by strengthening and supporting one another in being true to the faith of the Church.
VII. Conclusion: Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization
Atop the Knights Tower is a blue peak surrounded by small blue lights, perhaps meant to alert any aircraft overhead in the night sky. Yet for us who look up at the Tower from “the valley of darkness” that light reminds us of Mary, the Woman of Faith, the Mother of God, the Star of the New Evangelization.
Drawn by the gentle light of Mary’s love, we have come to this Basilica, this National Shrine, to Mary’s House. We have come to beg the intercession of Mary, who believed in all that God promised; to Mary, full of grace, who conceived the Word of God in her heart by the Holy Spirit. We have come to ask for a faith so strong, so beautiful, so all encompassing, that we are willing to accept the Cross in our lives and to leave behind everything for that love which surpasses every other love ... the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord (cf. Rom. 8:39). Then, will the Word of God resound in our words and deeds! Then, will the Light of Truth shining in our hearts shine also on our faces.
May God bless us and keep us in his truth and love!