If you’re on the St. Andrew/Roanoke-Catholic campus at 4pm, you will hear the church bells ring. Why? To welcome our Holy Father to our country. All church bells will sound because: the pope, universal shepherd, successor of St. Peter in the Apostolic See, Vicar of Christ—here with us.
At Holy Mass today, we read from the book of Ezra about the house of God, and we sing Psalm 122, about going to God’s house. I know that a homily is hardly the appropriate opportunity to offer you my personal memoirs, but…
Tomorrow I will be at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Twenty-one years ago, I graduated from college on the steps of that house of God. Twelve years ago, I was ordained a priest inside.
I have spent more hours of my life praying in that building that I could ever count. In college, I did a paper on the architecture. I learned how to swing a thurible in there. I chanted the gospel there when I was a transitional deacon. I said Mass there on the first anniversary of my father’s death. I have been a pilgrim there, taken pilgrims there, heard pilgrims’ confessions there, said Mass for pilgrims there.
That building is a great house of God, a stronghold of prayer, high on a hill, visible from great distances. (Like St. Andrews!)
Pope Francis will do quite a few things while he’s here with us in the US. One of the big ones is: He will canonize a saint. A saint who lies in a tomb in Carmel, California. (I visited it in 2014.) An organizer, a builder, a man of enormous love, a patron of seminarians. I have loved Father Junipero Serra for twenty years.
Also, in my twenties, I knew a good number of Jesuits. Pope Francis reminds me very much of some of them, of how they thought and what they paid attention to.
Forgive me. I’m just a little overwhelmed by how one single day will draw together for me so many strands of memory and affection. A little pilgrimage to concelebrate with the Pope, that encapsulates 25 years of my life.
When you reach middle age, you hardly expect so much of your life to come together, in focus, on one single day. May God be praised!
A lot of people think of New York City as a godless place. But I am going to demonstrate with solid evidence that New York City has a lot of holiness, from one end of town to the other. Because you can take any two days on the calendar and connect them with the holiness of New York City. Let’s take tomorrow and the next day. Ready?
Ok. Anyone Ukrainian? Anybody know any Ukrainians? Anybody know where Ukraine is?
Many Ukrainians migrated to the U.S. during the 20th century. On the Lower East Side of Manhattan Island, you can find a huge, beautiful Ukrainian Catholic church, on 7th Street. And there’s a school there, K-12. Down the street you can get some great pierogis.
Wait a minute. Ukrainian Catholic? Shcho tse? What is this?
St. Josaphat made Ukrainian Catholicism possible, by his heroic self-sacrifice. He loved Christ, the Pope, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, and his country. As you may know, the Ukrainians have a beautiful way of life, and they have their own way of celebrating the Mass—a way that goes back to the most ancient times, like our way of doing it does.
St. Josaphat gave his life so that his people, with all their ancient Christian traditions, could be Catholic. He suffered martyrdom 390 years ago tomorrow. He didn’t think twice about risking his life for Christ, because he considered himself a humble servant of the Lord, simply doing his duty.
Now, speaking of humble servants of the Lord…We’ve got a connection between tomorrow and the holiness of New York, with St. Josaphat and the Ukrainian-Catholic school (like our own Roanoke Catholic School!) on the Lower East Side. But what about Wednesday?
No problem. I have two nephews who live on the other end of Manhattan Island, the northern tip of it. They live at 186th Street.
Anyone know what usually happens to the body of a saint after his or her life on earth? We build a beautiful chapel or church so that people can come and pray for special help from this particular saint.
Anyway, Mother Cabrini—anyone ever heard of her? A tireless missionary nun who came to America to help the Italian immigrants. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was beatified 75 years ago Wednesday. And whenever I see my nephews, I see her, too, because her shrine is at 190th Street.
For you, dear reader, who does not find him- or herself on the bus with us to Washington, so that you, too, might hear the words and thoughts of the goofy priest the young people have with them on the bus…
When the Lord Jesus comes again in glory at the end of time, all the dead will rise again. The saints will rise to everlasting happiness.
The bodily remains of the saints are a precious reminder of our hope for eternal life. That is why we have shrines for their graves. To visit the body of a saint is to draw close to the glory of God. Venerating the body of a saint is an act of faith in the promises of Christ.
For the past three years, my brother and his wife have lived one block away from a saint. My little two-and-a-half-year-old nephew has lived his whole life two hundred yards away from the body of a holy nun.
Someday the neighborhood saint will rise again in glory. When she does, it will be on Ft. Washington Avenue in Manhattan. My brother, sister-in-law, and nephew live a block away from the Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Washington Heights, New York.
Whenever I go to visit my brother and his family, I try to visit Mother Cabrini, too. Believe it or not, I have run into people I know at the Shrine there. It is a small world.
Since my brother is Presbyterian, and my sister-in-law and nephew are both Jewish, they don’t pay much attention to their neighborhood saint. There is a little festival on her feast day, so they know that her feast day is tomorrow (November 13). But that is about all they know.
They do not know that she was a brassy and tireless champion of the poor. They do not know that she traveled all over North and South America founding convents. And they do not know that someday they will see her alive in their neighborhood. (Though perhaps they will have moved to the suburbs by the time the Lord comes again. Or maybe they will be resting in their graves then, too. It could be today; it could be countless years from now.)
I don’t think a lot of the people in Washington Heights appreciate how fortunate they are to have a neighbor who is a canonized saint. At this point in history, there are very few neighborhoods in the western hemisphere that have such a privilege.
I try to pray to Mother Cabrini for my brother’s family as often as I can. May my brother and his wife see the light, and go and kneel at Mother Cabrini’s tomb and pay their neighborhood saint some respect. They simply could not ask for a more desirable neighbor.
In the meantime, I pray that she will watch over them.
Today’s feast is very important. It is so important that we even keep it on a Sunday. Last week we kept All Souls on Sunday, because it is such an important day. Usually, if a feast falls on a Sunday, we do not keep it that year. So the Dedication of St. John Lateran must be an important day. The problem is that a lot of people have no idea what this means.
Let’s go over the name of today’s feast word by word, so that we can be sure that we understand what we are celebrating.
First word: Dedication.
Generally speaking, we human beings do what we need to do IN BUILDINGS. Don’t get me wrong—it is nice to get outside, go for a walk, take a bikeride. But we are not like birds, or tigers, or wolverines. We cannot live outside. We need shelter from the elements.
As a general rule, we cannot have Holy Mass outside. Maybe occasionally, like Pope John Paul II’s funeral 2 ½ years ago in St. Peter’s Square. But, generally speaking, we need a church for Mass.
A church building is not like any other building. A church building is itself a symbol of invisible realities. Both the exterior and the interior of the church building express the reality of God, His angels, and His saints. For any prayerful Catholic, his church is a precious fixture in his interior life.
Because a church is a sacred building, set aside for divine worship, it must be solemnly dedicated after it is built. Then, every year on the anniversary of the dedication, we can thank God again for the gift of the church building, and for all the grace that He pours out in it.
Today, then, is the anniversary of the dedication of a church building. Which church? St. John Lateran. Ever heard of it?
St. John Lateran is a church in Rome.
Now, of all the churches in a particular city, there is one that is especially important, namely the cathedral. The “cathedral” is the church which has the cathedra in it. The cathedra is the bishop’s seat of office. The cathedra symbolizes the bishop’s authority to teach and govern his diocese.
Here in Washington, many people think that the cathedral of our diocese is the National Shrine. The Shrine is the grandest church in the city. But the Archbishop’s chair is not in the Shrine. The cathedra is in St. Matthew’s on Rhode Island Avenue, downtown. St. Matthew’s is the cathedral.
Washington is not the only city where people get confused about which church is the cathedral, as we shall see.
Of all the dioceses in the world, there is one that is uniquely important. All the bishops in all the cities of the world are successors of the Apostles of Christ. The Bishop of Rome is the Successor of St. Peter, the chief of the Apostles. Therefore, the Bishop of Rome is the Pope, the chief shepherd of the whole Church.
The cathedral in Rome is the most important church building in the world. In the cathedral in Rome, the Pope sits in his cathedra and teaches and governs all the Catholic people on earth.
The National Shrine is the largest Catholic church building in the western hemisphere, but it is not the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Washington. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is the largest church on earth, but it is not the cathedral of Rome.
“Lateran.” What does this word mean? We have to go back seventeen centuries. Christianity was legalized by the Emperor Constantine in A.D. 313. For the first time, it became possible to build churches.
The Emperor’s family owned a large piece of property that had previously belonged to a prominent Roman family, the Lateran family. The Emperor gave it to the Pope, and the Pope built his cathedral church on that piece of property.
In 324, this cathedral church of Rome was solemnly dedicated and placed under the patronage of St. John. Because it was on land that had belonged to the Lateran family, it came to be known as St. John Lateran.
So today is the day that the Pope’s cathedral was dedicated, the day the most important church building in the world was dedicated.
Now, most people think of St. Peter’s Basilica as the Pope’s church, and of course it is his church. For the past 700 years, the Pope has lived at St. Peter’s instead of St. John Lateran. The truth is that the Pope has four Basilicas in Rome: His cathedral, St. John Lateran, the basilica at the tomb of St. Peter, the basilica at the tomb of St. Paul, and a basilica dedicated to our Lady.
May God be praised for giving us such splendid churches in which to worship Him!
Generally speaking, on Sundays we do not keep the saints’ feast days. So today we did not keep the feast of the North American Martyrs. Nonetheless, it is good for us to call them to mind. Their blood shed for the faith sanctified this continent and made it a fertile ground for the Church.
They were Jesuits and lay men who accompanied the Jesuits to New France in the early 17th century. The two most famous among them are St. Isaac Jogues and St. John de Brebeuf. St. Isaac Jogues had two of his fingers bitten off by hostile Indians. He was given special permission by the Pope to continue to say Mass. Then he asked to be allowed to go back to North America, where he was killed.
There are two beautiful shrines of the North American Martyrs, both of which are very much worth visiting. One is located near Albany, New York, in Auriesville. This is the place where St. Isaac Jogues was killed.
Even more wonderful is the shrine in Midland, Ontario, north of Toronto. This is where St. John de Brebeuf was killed.
In addition to the beautiful shrine, there is also a reconstruction of the original Jesuit mission, which is evocative down to the last detail.
The Hurons lived a rough life there. They liked to season the dried fish they ate in the winter, but of course they had no salt. So they used ashes from the fire.
On a much more mundane note: Clinton Portis is awesome! It was not a pretty game. We will, however, take the W.
And poor, poor Dallas…losing to those scrubs, the St. Louis Rams. Maybe the Rams are actually not so bad after all.