Archbishop Lori’s Homily: Feast of Pope St. Leo the Great; USCCB Institute on the Catechism

Feast of Pope St. Leo the Great
USCCB Institute on the Catechism

Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
November 10, 2022


“Behold, the Kingdom of God is among you”, words which Jesus speaks to us in today’s Gospel. He first spoke those words to the Pharisees in an atmosphere of “messianic fever”, an overwrought religious fervor prone to believe all kinds of rumors that God was about to deliver Israel from its oppressors and establish his kingdom once-for-all on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem.

Jesus acknowledges the perfervid expectations. After all, more than a few hoped that he would be the one who would establish a kingdom ‘mostly of this world’, so to speak. But the Lord urges his audience not to be taken in by such “enthusiasms”. Instead, he announces with the simplicity and beauty of truth: “Behold, the Kingdom of God is among you”.

Ever thereafter, these words of Jesus have been at the heart of the Church’s ardent proclamation of the Gospel, the kerygma. The proclamation of the Good News of our salvation in Christ Jesus is therefore not reducible to signs and portents, nor to a moral code, nor to a set of ideas, nor still less to any political or ideological agenda. No, the Kingdom of God, which has already come – and is yet to come in its fullness – is the Person of Christ, the Son of God made man, from whom all blessings flow.


In his exhortation entitled “The Word of the Lord” (Verbum Domini), Pope Benedict urges us to grasp what so many ancient authors understood so well, namely, “that the proclamation of the word has as its content the Kingdom of God which, in the memorable phrase of Origen is the very person of Jesus (autobasiliea).”[1]

Commenting on today’s Gospel, Benedict further explains: “…the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, yet unobserved, it is among those to whom [Jesus] is speaking. It stands among them in his own Person…”

In other words, he is himself the Kingdom of God, just as he is wisdom itself, and righteousness itself, and truth itself.”[2]

Similarly, St. John Paul II wrote that “Christ not only proclaimed the Kingdom of God, but in himself the kingdom became present and was fulfilled.” He added that, “The Kingdom of God is not a concept, a doctrine, or a program … but is above all else a person with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God.”[3]

And as both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have taught, “Being Christian is not the result of a lofty choice or an ethical ideal, but an encounter with an event, a person, Jesus Christ, who gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”[4]

Crises of Culture and Christology

Enter the saint of the day, Pope St. Leo the Great. He lived in times very different from our own, yet not without similarities. For as Pope, he faced, as do we, twin crises of culture and Christology. In the mid-fifth century, the Roman Empire of the West was crumbling. Invaders were swooping down from the north, sacking Rome, and leaving many to wonder what the future would hold. Leo famously stood in the breach as he confronted Atilla, yet there was no mistaking that he presided over the Church not only ‘in an era of change but in the change of an era’ – to use Pope Francis’ apt description of the times in which we live and minister. Perhaps, as we go about our ministries, we feel the earth move under our feet. The tectonic plates of culture are shifting, presenting not only challenges but also opportunities as we proclaim and bear witness to the Kingdom of God in a rapidly changing world. Only because our mission is anchored in Christ is it permanently valid.

Which brings us to the other reason why Pope St. Leo is so important for us. The mid-fifth century was marked by ongoing Christological controversies. The answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do people say that I am?” – had become increasingly complex as a series of heretical opinions challenged the Church’s faith and a series of conciliar definitions sought to clarify how the Church would definitively express her faith in the One who is her Lord and Savior, the content of her proclamation, the source of her strength and the hope of the world.

As a teacher of the faith, Pope St. Leo was both clear and pastoral. He was not a speculative theologian but he knew how to draw from the sources to clarify the Church’s faith. In his Tome to Flavian, (the Archbishop of Constantinople), Pope Leo clearly articulated the distinction between “person” and “nature” – thereby bequeathing to us the formula that Christ is one divine person with two natures, divine and human. Leo also clearly described how the two natures relate to one another in Christ as “principles of operation”, so to speak. In so doing, he did not settle every question, but he won the day at the Council of Chalcedon and brought peace to the Church. This is all the more remarkable when we remember that the clarifications in his Tome to Flavian were largely drawn, not from learned treatises, but from his homilies. Accuracy, clarity, and completeness count, especially in these times when there is much confusion about who Jesus really is and about what the Church actually teaches across the spectrum of faith and morals.

Evangelizing Catechesis

As we focus on the evangelizing catechesis at the heart of the new Directory, surely our mind, heart, and spirit must be fixed on Christ, our Redeemer. To proclaim Christ convincingly, we must first have encountered Christ in prayer, in Scripture, in liturgy, in great assemblies and in small groups. His word and his presence must resonate in our mind, our hearts, our way of life… never forgetting that before he was a stellar leader, St. Leo the Great was a holy man, a disciple of the Lord, and therefore, a convincing witness to his truth and love. Evangelizing catechesis demands of us those same qualities of mind and heart.

Let us also remember that Leo was attentive to the signs of his times as we must be attentive to the signs of our times – not to water down our proclamation but rather to contribute to its effectiveness. And like Leo, we must be teachers who are at once clear and pastoral, teachers who strive to hand on the Church’s faith, whole and intact, not because we are rigid or doctrinaire, but because we have encountered him and we have experienced his love for us, a love like no other, a love that makes us a living part of that Kingdom where he lives and reigns with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever! Amen!

[1] Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, no. 93.
[2] Pablo Gadenz, The Gospel of Luke, p. 298.
[3] Ibid.
[4]Pope Benedict XVI, Inaugural Homily 2005; Deus Caritas Est.

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori was installed as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore May 16, 2012.

Prior to his appointment to Baltimore, Archbishop Lori served as Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., from 2001 to 2012 and as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington from 1995 to 2001.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Lori holds a bachelor's degree from the Seminary of St. Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., a master's degree from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg and a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977.

In addition to his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori serves as Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and is the former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.