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Homily for Mass at the Gathering of U.S. Cardinals

Homily for Mass at the Gathering of U.S. Cardinals
Cardinal Keeler
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption, May 07, 1998
The first reading, from the letter written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians at Colossae, was addressed to a community Paul had never visited in person. He wrote from prison, most likely from Rome, to instruct the people about the attitudes and virtues they should cultivate and how they should go about their work. The Church renews this message for us today, in this setting. The Apostle Paul insisted on love as the key virtue, "which binds the rest together and makes them perfect." Love is the work of the Holy Spirit, a gift poured into our hearts at baptism, along with faith and hope. And this church is both a witness to and a place for the Holy Spirit’s action touching and guiding our Church in the United States. Through the Holy Spirit’s action, Pope Pius VI was moved in l789 to name John Carroll of Maryland the first bishop of our infant nation. Father Carroll was laboring here, in his own home territory, thanks to a providential decision of an earlier pope. Like other Maryland Catholics of his day, John Carroll had been sent to Europe for his education. There he determined to enter the Society of Jesus and became in time a priest teaching in the Belgian College which had been his alma mater. In l773, providentially for us, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Jesuits, freeing up John Carroll and others for ministry on this side of the Atlantic. The Holy Spirit acted through the laying on of hands and prayer of Charles Walmesley, bishop and vicar apostolic, in St. Mary’s Chapel, Lulworth Castle, England, on the Feast of the Assumption, August l5, l790. This infusion of God’s Spirit is reflected in this Eucharist by the presence of Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, whose episcopal lineage goes back to Archbishop Carroll. It is my privilege to recall John Carroll also by wearing tonight his pectoral cross, the very cross he wore in the distinguished portrait by Rembrandt Peale you will see this evening at the Convention Center. The Holy Father assigned John Carroll two early tasks. One was to build a cathedral. For this undertaking Bishop Carroll chose Benjamin Latrobe, at that time charged also with the design and supervision of the construction of the nation’s Capitol in Washington. Latrobe wanted to build a Gothic church, but Bishop Carroll pressed for a neo-classical design, creating Lulworth chapel on a larger scale and at the same time linking the country’s first cathedral with the construction style of the newly formed District of Columbia. Built high on a hill, the Basilica became a symbol of the city. In its original design, the interior was bathed with natural light from windows in the dome, and the church itself was, and is, a testament to a golden age when an ancient faith and a newfound freedom met. Please God, these next few years will see this holy building and its heritage conserved and renewed, as much as possible, according to the original intent of Carroll and Latrobe. Bishop Carroll’s other task was to provide seminary education for American students in the United States: again the Holy Spirit acted, as Sulpicians fleeing the persecution of the French Revolution came to found in 1791 the first seminary, now St. Mary’s Seminary and University here in Baltimore, and, in 1808, to assist in establishing the second, Mt. St. Mary’s, Emmitsburg. Faculty and students from both seminaries came in force to celebrate together the dedication of this cathedral in l821, as both have come here more recently to celebrate together their common heritage, and both are represented among those serving at this Mass. This place has witnessed the Holy Spirit’s action in other ways: so many bishops were consecrated here to be pastors and apostles across the nation, including especially the sees where cardinals now serve. Because this building was still under construction, the first bishops of Philadelphia and Boston were ordained in 1810 at the Pro-Cathedral of St. Peter. Later bishops of Boston and New York were consecrated here, and I have no doubt that at those Masses in l825 and l826 Archbishop Ambrose Marechal used the chalice he received from the hands of Pope Pius VII in l822, a chalice on exhibit this evening, and the crozier, or pastoral staff, which I am using at this Mass. Among other bishops consecrated here as shepherds for diocesan churches from Florida to Idaho and from New England to New Mexico, were two brothers, Bishop Thomas Foley, Bishop of Chicago at the time of the great fire and builder of Holy Name Cathedral, and his younger brother, Bishop John Foley, who guided the Diocese of Detroit into the early years of this century. The Archdiocese of Washington could claim this church as its Cathedral for a century-and-a-half until 1940, when it became an archdiocese and gained its own Cathedral of St. Matthew. Paul’s message also had meaning for other groups gathered here in faith in years and decades past. Those who met in council here ten times in the l9th century to chart the Church’s course in the rapidly growing United States needed to lift up for themselves Paul’s message, "Over all the virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect." A vital, pastoral love was needed to accommodate and welcome the new arrivals coming first from Ireland and then from Germany, France, and here in Baltimore early on from French-speaking Haiti, where within a few years of the founding of the diocese, the Sulpicians were ministering to the first American Catholic community of African descent. Later on, the countries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire sent their waves of immigrants—Slovakia, Bohemia, Austria, Bosnia, Slovenia—and then the Slav countries of the East, Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine, coming at the same time as immigrants from Italy. (More recently, the Middle East, Spanish-speaking countries and, now, Asian lands have enriched our own with new arrivals.) Love, an apostolic, evangelical love flowing from the commission of Christ to teach all nations, also called those meeting here to be conscious of their call to preach the gospel to the poor. In the Third Plenary Council, for example, special stress was laid on bringing the gospel to children, through Catholic schools, to the poor African Americans and Native Americans through a new collection and office for this purpose, and to society as a whole by promoting quality higher education and research at a new Catholic University. The cause we celebrate this evening had its formal beginnings in the Third Plenary Council debate and action in November 1884, with then Archbishop James Gibbons presiding. In his residence next door Archbishop Gibbons convened on May 7, 1885, the first meeting of the committee appointed to carry forward the Catholic University project. There was love also, a consuming love for God overflowing in care for neighbor, seen in the lives and works of Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton, whose first school opened five blocks from here in 1808, of Saint John Neumann, pastor of a parish one block away, consecrated Bishop of Philadelphia in 1852, and of Mother Mary Lange, whose congregation of women religious was the first in the world of African descent, begun here in 1829, when Archbishop James Whitfield saw "the finger of God" in their work. In 1889 and in l989 the bishops of the country gathered here to mark the centennial observances of the Church’s life. The first celebration closed with the bishops going on pilgrimage to Washington to dedicate, in the presence of the President of the United States, the new Catholic University of America. The second celebration saw the largest assemblage of our bishops in the country’s history—the result of efforts directed by Archbishop William Donald Borders—in which many retired bishops came to join the others in concelebrating the Eucharist with Agostino Cardinal Casaroli, the Holy See’s Secretary of State and the Holy Father’s special envoy. All the active cardinals of that day were in the sanctuary. Subsequently, in l995, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass at Oriole Park in Camden Yards, using the chalice Pope Pius VII gave to Archbishop Marechal in 1822 and the archbishop’s chair from here. Then the Holy Father came here to pray and to bless the plaque which commemorates the history of this Church. And since then Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew have worshiped and have spoken here. We gather in a place where the virtues and attitudes preached by the Apostle Paul have been affirmed so many times. It is also a place where, especially through preaching and through pastoral letters and through a famous catechism commissioned here, witness has been given to what the gospel reminds us of "such wisdom and miraculous powers" as Jesus showed in his day. In succeeding years, the wisdom of the gospel, the nearly miraculous growth of service to the gospel works of mercy and charity, of justice and peace, and the proclamation of the good news to the poor have touched many hearts across our land. The flowering of faith and the works of faith have not come at discount prices. John Carroll and his cousin Charles Carroll of Carrollton risked much personally for their Catholic Faith and for the foundations of freedom in the infant United States. And so have succeeding generations. There are challenges today we cannot blink away—horrendous challenges to God’s precious gift of life. There are enormous challenges for parents who want to rear their children in a living faith and find themselves penalized for seeking to educate them in the Catholic schools which, as the Holy Father has said, teach the very virtues American democracy needs in its citizens. We pray for the light and strength to face these challenges and move forward. We so pray, mindful that from this holy place came forth, again and again, the call to walk in the way of the beatitudes, Jesus’ way of prayerfulness, holiness, and hope. Two-and-a-half years ago when Pope John Paul II was here to bless and dedicate the plaque which lists the councils here, he first prayed silently before the Blessed Sacrament and the lovely Madonna of Czestochowa, which he had venerated here years earlier as a cardinal. May his quiet, reverent time before the altar then inspire our own recollected prayer and participation in the Eucharist, the great prayer of Jesus our High Priest, this afternoon and in days to come.