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22nd Sunday; Blessing of the Altar; St. Agnes Parish

St. Agnes Parish

I. Introduction

A. It is a real pleasure for me to return to St. Agnes Parish, and on this occasion, to dedicate the altar to be used for the celebration of Holy Mass. I congratulate this parish community on the beauty of the newly renovated sanctuary and, with you, I express our deepest gratitude to Father Michael Foppiano, for his leadership and for devoted service to St. Agnes Parish, day in and day out.

B. Let me also thank you, the parish community of St. Agnes, for your leadership and participation in this important project, a project that goes to the very heart of our faith: fitting worship of our gracious God. Thank you for your involvement, hard work, and generosity; and above all, for your dedication to the mission of St. Agnes as a community of faith, worship, and service.

II. Hebrews 12:18-19; 22-24a

A. In today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the author portrays for us the great and glorious liturgy of heaven. There we see, not ‘sound and fury’ but rather the merciful Triune God in all the glory and majesty of his self-giving love. And in that place beyond all imaging, where Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand, we shall be surrounded not by violence, selfishness, and pride but by “countless angels in festal gathering”. and by “the spirits of the just made perfect”. United in Christ, who has redeemed us by the blood of his Cross, we shall enter that bright portal of heaven, there to witness and partake in a scene of light, peace, and joy – that surpasses everything for which we now hope.

B. “How lovely is your dwelling place,” the psalmist cries out to the Lord, yet, as we begin to glimpse the glory of God’s house we already share by way of foretaste in the great liturgy of heaven. For, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ has lavished his Word upon us and has poured forth his redeeming love through the Mass and the Sacraments. so that, even now, in this vale of tears, we might begin to share in that vision of God’s glory which alone satisfies the deepest desires of our hearts.

III. Reflecting God’s Glory

A. For that reason, from the very beginnings of our faith, artisans have employed their talents and skills in creating earthly images of divine realities and in fashioning beautiful furnishings for divine worship. The beauty of objects which we see with our eyes lifts our minds and hearts to the beauty of the God we cannot see. In this way we more readily give God glory by entering into places of worship that in some way reflect his glory.

B. This is what brings us together this afternoon: we are here to dedicate a new altar constructed from the altar-rail gates of St. Peter’s Pro-Cathedral in Baltimore, the first church used by Archbishop John Carroll as his cathedral while the Basilica of the Assumption was under construction in the early 1800’s. So too the altar upon which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved was located in the original St. Agnes Parish church in the 1850’s and the tabernacle is the prototype for the tabernacle in the undercroft of the Basilica of the Assumption – all of these have been retrieved, restored, and reclaimed together with new sanctuary furnishings to create a fitting place of worship.

C. Of course, not even the most sublime artistry can capture the glory of God and the beauty of heaven – but surely, as we walk into St. Agnes Church, we will be more deeply aware that we have come to the threshold of heaven, the house of our heavenly Father.

IV. Humility and Re-dedication

A. Yet, none of us just “walks in” to a church and still less do we merely stroll into heaven! You and I must be made holy so as to enter the Presence of the One who is all-holy; we must become perfect in love to enter the Presence of the God who is love.

B. But how, in fact, do we become holy and perfect in love? In both our first reading from the Book of Sirach and the Gospel-reading from St. Luke, the Word of God gives us the key to holiness and perfect charity. It is humility: ‘poverty of spirit’ and ‘meekness of heart’. Humility is that virtue whereby we seek not our own glory and prominence but rather we aspire to a childlike trust in God’s mercy to forgive our sins, even as we “defer to one another out of reverence for Christ”. So it is that we humble ourselves in the sight of God, asking for the grace to see ourselves as God see us. So it is that we take the lowest place not the highest, never boasting about ourselves and about our goodness but rather begging the Lord to purify our hearts and to lift us to a higher place. In humbling ourselves, we are – to use the words of Bl. Mother Teresa – we are “giving God permission” to enter our hearts, and there to “renew our inmost being” after the pattern of his own self-giving love. Humility, then, is the key that unlocks the door of our hearts so that we can approach this earthly sanctuary with a holiness which more and more befits the heavenly sanctuary.

C. So, just as we dedicate a new altar, so too we humbly ask for the grace to re-dedicate ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the mission of the Church. Let us ask for the grace to open our hearts to him as never before. In this way our hearts will be beautiful sanctuaries of his Presence – so that when we speak of Christ to family members, friends, and co-workers who no longer practice the faith or who are searching for truth and love – it will be Christ who will be speaking in and through us. Thus do we become what Pope Francis calls “missionary disciples”.

D. Even as we joyfully rededicate the sanctuary of St. Agnes Parish, we ask that the entire parish community may rededicate itself to its mission of going into the highways and byways to proclaim Christ seeking to welcome everyone to the banquet of Christ sacrifice, including the poor and the vulnerable – thus does the parish undergo what Pope Francis calls a “missionary conversion”. So let the re-dedication of this sanctuary signal a new dedication of each of us and a new dedication on the part of the entire parish to the pursuit of holiness, the mission of evangelization, the ministry of hospitality, and the ministry of serving those who are in need – those in our midst and those who are beyond our boundaries. In this way, we deepen our identity as community of faith, worship, and service and with God’s grace we become, in the famous words of Malcom Muggeridge, “something beautiful for God! … May God bless us and keep us always in his love!