31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Monsignor Valenzano Award Mass
Basilica of the Assumption
Nov. 3, 2019
As was said at the beginning of this Mass, this afternoon we are blessed by the presence of nearly 60 recipients of the Msgr. Valenzano award, an award that is given to young women who have demonstrated extraordinary love for the liturgy by serving Mass, proclaiming the Scriptures, leading congregations in song, participating in choirs, and many other forms of service. Two of the recipients are young professionals and the others are students from our local high schools. We are very proud of these young women and we look forward to all the ways you will serve God’s People in the future! Warmest congratulations!
It so happens that we gather for this special celebration just prior to the 230th anniversary of the founding of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. On November 6th, 1789, Pope Pius VI formally established Baltimore as the first Roman Catholic diocese in the newly established United States of America. It was a pivotal moment in the history of the Church in the United States when the Church in America received its first bishop, John Carroll, and when the Church began to organize itself in the new republic. In the process, clergy, religious, and laity worked together to create, in God’s grace, a strong local church, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, a local church which today included Baltimore and nine counties of Maryland. It could be said that they laid the foundations for God’s household in our midst.
Those who receive the Msgr. Valenzano award are continuing that work of building up, repairing, and expanding God’s household in our midst by their service to the Church’s life of worship. In every generation it is necessary for the Church to recruit and form those who will give of themselves generously to this work, the Lord’s work – those who will serve as lay leaders, as religious women and men, and clergy, to be the Lord’s co-workers in building up the local church as ‘an edifice of spirit’. I am happy to lend encouragement to these young women who, in turn, encourage us all to do our part in building up God’s household in our midst.
A Household of Mercy
The word “household” may seem a little quaint these days but the idea is that God gathers us into his Church not as a mere collection of strangers sitting side by side in wooden pews. No, in founding the Church, Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, created a family of faith and made his Church to be a house of faith, worship, and service, an orderly house, a household of faith, where we find redemption from sin, where we grow in knowledge of the faith, in virtue, holiness, and zeal, and from which we might bring the Gospel into the world.
Further light is shed on the nature of the Church in today’s Scripture readings which speak to us of the Lord’s tender mercy and forgiveness. If it is true that we always experience God’s love for us as mercy, then it must be true that every parish and every diocese must be a house of mercy, a place where we confidently experience the forgiveness of our sins, a place where we are restored to our dignity as God’s sons and daughters, a place where, to reiterate, are formed in holiness, virtue, and missionary zeal. Let us see how the Scripture readings for today reveal the Church as a house of mercy.
Every house needs a foundation and we find that foundation in today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom where we read how God created the world out the fullness of his love and how he continues to watch over and protect all that he has made, most especially we human beings, who are the pinnacle of his creation. Wisdom reveals God as “the lover of our souls”, the God who is patient and kind, the God who calls us back to himself no matter how gravely we may have sinned. In a word, God’s mercy is the foundation of God’s household, the Church. It is founded to be “a house of mercy”.
If mercy is the foundation, what is the superstructure of God’s household? Looking about this beautiful basilica, America’s First Cathedral, we may be tempted to see the Church’s superstructure as just a matter of stone and brick and plaster artfully arranged. To be sure, beautiful structure such as this proclaims the praises and mercies of God but in fact the real superstructure of the Church is yourselves, the People of God. St. Paul says as much in today’s reading from his 1st Letter to the Thessalonians when he prays that every member of the Church will be made worthy of God’s calling, and that the Name of the Lord Jesus might be glorified in every one of them.
How readily St. Paul’s words apply to us today as we honor our young co-workers. But his words are also a challenge to each of us, myself included, to be men and women of prayer who open our hearts to the truth of our faith, strive to live the truth in love in our daily work of heart and hand, and seek to contribute our talents and gifts to building up of the Church, not only when things seem to be going well but especially now, when the Church faces so many challenges from within and without. As St. John Neumann – who was ordained a bishop here in Baltimore – wrote: “God needs every one of us. He has an end for each of us, we are equal in his sight.” Or as the newly canonized St. John Henry Newman put it, “God created me for some definite service which he has not committed to another.”
A Dwelling Place for Mercy Incarnate
But as in God’s grace we strive to build up God’s household, this edifice of spirit, let us never lose sight of who is at the center this household, namely, the Lord. Just as long ago Jesus came to dine at the house of a repentant Zacchaeus, a man who had extorted money from his own countrymen, so too, in this and every church throughout the Archdiocese the Lord also comes to dine. Indeed, Zacchaeus’ house may symbolize our individual souls set free from sin by God’s mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or it may stand as a symbol of the Church itself, a place where we are welcomed, where no one is bereft of mercy, a place where we can be truly converted from our sins and a sinful way of life, a place where the Lord speaks to us words of mercy in his Scripture, a place where the Lord deigns to dwell with us and to share with us a meal, but no ordinary meal, rather his own Body broken for our salvation and his Blood poured out for our redemption.
Finally, every house where Christ dwells is a house where Mary also dwells. Whenever we pray, especially at the Eucharist, Mary prays with us and for us, as our spiritual mother and indeed as the Mother of Mercy. With her encouragement and help, let us find the courage to seek God’s mercy and also to take up the work the Lord has entrusted to each of us in building up the household of the faith, the house of mercy, and may God bless us and keep us always in his love!