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Dedication of St. John's

St. John (Westminster),

To Monsignor Arthur Valenzano and all involved in this truly historic effort, I express in the name of the Archdiocese of Baltimore deepest appreciation and congratulations. The presences of Archbishop Borders, who recently marked his 90th birthday, and of the other bishops remind us of the resonance of this event within the whole local church. This day will be an important one for your memories: the church is a building that attests to yourselves and to your neighbors that you are a people of faith, ready to sacrifice for what you believe in with fervor and with strength of purpose.

We welcome the leadership of this community: the spiritual leaders of other congregations and the elected leaders, all people who have made personal commitments to the common good. Please know how welcome your presence and your friendship are to us today.

It is good to see so many present representing other places in the Archdiocese, pastors and others who rejoice with us that a new place of worship has been completed.

We continue our reflections in the light of the word of God proclaimed today. These are the special readings for the dedication of a Church, readings to be applied to the real life situation in which we gather now.

(Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10) In our first reading, from the Book of Nehemiah, we hear how Esdra "brought the law before the people." They listened attentively and rejoiced that, on their return from exile, they could thank God and praise God for deliverance and for the law given long before through Moses to guide the people, and help them to rejoice in the Covenant God had made with them.

This building will be a place where God’s law will be proclaimed - as Ted Koppel remarked a few years ago, they are not guidelines but commandments. It will also be a place where the full teaching of Jesus, who came not to destroy but to fulfill the law given through Moses, will be presented. The teaching of Jesus, with the pledge of his grace to live up to it, is marvelously summarized in his Sermon on the Mount.

That sermon included the Beatitudes, which challenge us today in our spiritual lives:

  • Blessed are the ‘poor in spirit’
  • Blessed are the ‘meek’
  • Blessed are those ‘who mourn’ sin
  • Blessed are those who ‘hunger and thirst after God’s holiness’
  • Blessed are the ‘merciful’
  • Blessed are the ‘pure of heart’
  • Blessed are the ‘peacemakers’
  • Blessed are those ‘persecuted for holiness’ sake’
  • "Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven; they persecuted the prophets before you in the very same way." (Mt 5:3-12)

(1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17) The Apostle Paul stresses a point often made by Monsignor Valenzano, "you are God’s building," we together are the Church, built indeed on the foundation of Jesus Christ, and made so by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our lives. It is a Church that will continue to grow on this very spot, as the Holy Spirit comes to your children and your children’s children in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.

(Mt. 16:13-19) The gospel reading for the Dedication of a Church reminds us that Jesus wanted his family of faith to be visible, and that its first visible head was the Apostle Peter. How clearly this is brought home to us here in the account of the Evangelist St. Matthew and also in the Gospel of St. John, where, after Peter’s threefold expression of love, Jesus entrusts him with the care of the full flock of the Lord: "Feed my lambs … tend my sheep." (John 21:15,16)

The book of the Acts of the Apostles continues to depict the Apostle Peter as the leader of the Church, the community of believers, in which preeminently he was the shepherd feeding the lambs and the sheep of the Lord. One of the signs of Pentecost is that of Peter, explaining to those assembled from every place under the sun the meaning of the extraordinary sign of the rushing wind that alerted all Jerusalem to the coming of the Holy Spirit.

It is a sign we have seen renewed in our days in the preaching of Pope John Paul II, the successor in our day of the Apostle Peter. His travels to more than a hundred countries to witness to the gospel and his ability to do so in the languages of our day and world give remarkable evidence of God’s continued providential care for the Church. How wonderful has been his appeal to young people, and how significant has been his work for greater understanding and unity in the Christian family and for solidarity among the world’s religions in causes of decency, justice and peace. How truly necessary has been his leadership in helping all to remember that the moral law is written in the human heart, and is complemented by the uplifting counsels of the Beatitudes.

These past two weeks have been landmark weeks for the faith we profess: 10 days ago the Holy Father marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of his election and last Sunday he beatified Mother Teresa of Calcutta. On Tuesday he officially gave 30 new cardinals their titles to churches in the City of Rome.

There has been much comment about this in the media. May I add a personal note: The Holy Father’s color is good and his appetite seems excellent. For him not every day is equally good, but he is keeping his schedule, and giving all the example of one who is faithful to his call from God.

Last, Sunday, at the end of the Beatification Mass for Mother Teresa, he spoke clearly and strongly in English about the lesson she taught by her faith and love of the poor, in whom she saw and served Jesus. As you may have seen in the news, he spoke strongly yesterday on the occasion of another Mass.

His secret, like Mother Teresa’s, is his nearness to God in prayer. Those of you who were at Oriole Park in Camden Yards will remember how the Pope’s sign of the cross at the beginning of the Liturgy transformed the stadium into an open-air cathedral. Later, after the parade and the luncheon at Our Daily Bread, the Holy Father stopped in the chapel in the Basilica Rectory and prayed in silence before the Eucharist. I felt as though I was the very center of the world, with all the human needs being lifted up to God by our shepherd, who walked so closely with the Lord.

May parishioners find here at St. John’s the refreshment and strength Pope John Paul finds in his daily meetings with the Lord. And now, in this Eucharist, as we give thanks for the blessing of the new Church, we also enter into the redemptive action of Jesus and open our hearts to the embrace of his saving love.