[Many have asked for a copy of this homily so it has moved from my short-hand and scribble to the blog.]
When I was at St. John’s Seminary in Boston as a faculty member, the windows of my room looked out across an inner courtyard directly at the outside of the seminary chapel. Amidst all of the ivy on the facade one could read a Latin inscription, “Quam dilecta tabernacle tua Domine virtutum,” “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts.” It is a phrase which begins Psalm 84 which goes on:
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of Hosts!
My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my body cry out to the living God.
As the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest to settle her young,
My home is by your altar, Lord of Hosts,
My king and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house, O Lord.
I often thought the line about the sparrows finding a home quite amusing because the birds had indeed found a place for their nests all along the ivy and ledges of the chapel. It was a lovely dwelling place.
I spent many hours over the years inside that chapel. It was a place where both as a student and later as priest and faculty member I was spiritually nourished both by the holy things that took place there and by the holy people who worshipped there. God dwelt in that chapel in the sacraments, devotions, and prayers offered and by the holy people gathered. It was a place in which the Church, the Body of Christ, manifested itself and became more and more the Body of Christ.
I think one could say about this new church, “Quam dilecta tabernacle tua Domine virtutum,” “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts. It is truly a lovely place in which God will begin to dwell today.
God will dwell in the community gathered, the living breathing Body of Christ.
God will dwell in the Word proclaimed.
God will dwell in the person of the priest standing “in persona Christi, ” as Christ stands before the Father with all the angels and saints offering the eternal sacrifice of praise.
God will dwell in the celebration of the Sacraments, most especially in the celebration of the Eucharist, the “summit and fount” of the Church’s activity.
God will dwell in the true Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ in the tabernacle.
As God has dwelt here in Floyd’s Knobs since 1823, God will now dwell in this holy place. Indeed, “how lovely is your dwelling place.”
I want you for a moment to look around this beautiful space. Both from the inside and from the outside it so unlike any other building we use in our day to day lives. One can stand either outside or inside of this building, gaze upon its structure and say, “Now that’s a church!” Even if one did not even know what a church is one could still say that this building is different from all the other buildings around it. It is a space in which we do something different than what we do elsewhere. Someone once described a church building as an “extraordinary space in which we do extraordinary things.” It is a space in which heaven and earth are joined, a space in which we process towards the Divine and the Divine moves towards us in theophany.
I want you to gaze at the ceiling for a moment. If you use your imagination, doesn’t the pattern of the wooden support beams that hold up the roof mimic the bottom of an upside down boat? The space in which you are seated is technically called the nave which comes from the Latin, “nave,” which means “ship.” One of the ancient symbols of the Church was that of a ship – a Church tossed on the sea of disbelief, worldliness, and persecution, but finally reaching safe harbor with its cargo of souls guided by the successor of St. Peter. See in this “nave” a ship guided by Peter, a place of safe harbor, a place of comfort and peace.
This space is also very human space, filled with all that makes up the human community. It is a place where we participate in the ceremonies and liturgies that touch the deepest edges of our lives – birth, death, marriage, nourishment, festival, initiation, sickness, sorrow, guilt, repentance, forgiveness – all of these at the hands of God in the Sacraments and life of the Church. It is as if the life of this very building will mirror the pattern of our human lives. This building has in a sense become a symbol of a living thing. It was born out of the love that you have for the Church, nourished and constructed, made to grow from infancy by generous hands, and now in its maturity, it will serve this community for years to come.
This is why today’s ritual of dedication is so much like our ritual of Baptism. At the beginning of this Mass, I sprinkled the entire building, the altar, the ambo, the sanctuary, and the people gathered with the blessed water that recalls our own baptism, that which made us a part of God’s holy people. I will soon proclaim a prayer of consecration over the new altar and smear its surface and then the walls of this church with the Oil of Chrism, the same oil with which the priest or deacon smears the head of newly baptized child with the words, “Little child, as Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as a member of his holy people, sharing everlasting.” The anointing marks us for a new use, a new holy mission in life. So this altar and this place will be marked to be useful, to be missioned and directed towards our eternal salvation. As our liturgy continues, the altar will be draped in white as with a baptismal garment, or even as if of the wrappings of the tomb in which we are dead to sin but alive to Christ. The Easter candle will then be brought forward and the altar and walls of this church will receive the light of Christ.
Today, my friends, this building, your child, is being initiated into the life of the Church to be useful to the Church’s mission and its ultimate end – salvation. You have so match to be proud of in generously giving of your time, talent, and treasure in building this holy place. This building now shines as a beacon to the entire community of Southern Indiana of holy things, godly things, and divine gifts. What will make it shine all the more is the holiness of those gathered within it each and everyday, each and even week for years to come. In the Greek Rites of the Catholic Church just before Holy Communion within the Divine Liturgy, the priest holds up the Body and Blood of Christ and says, “Holy things for holy people.” While we do not say it, we know it, we mean it, when we hear the priest say, “Behold the Lamb of God.” This church is now a holy gift for God’s holy people, a light upon the hill that shines forth to all who pass by. Fill this place with the holiness of your lives and then leave this place to spread the good news as God’s holy people. Be yourselves a holy gift for all God’s holy people!
There is an inscription that was found on a bell that hung in the tower of a church in Northern Wisconsin that read:
“To the bath and the table,
To the prayers and the Word,
I call every seeking soul.”
For many years, that bell rang out calling many a “seeking soul” to the promise of salvation. While this church has no bells – for now – this building by its very presence within the community calls every seeking soul “to the bath and the table, to the prayers and the Word,” to the celebration of holy things for God’s holy people, to the promise of salvation that God offers through the fullness and truth of the Catholic Church and that is why we can cry out with the words of the psalmist,
“How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of Hosts!
Blessed are those who dwell in your house, O Lord!”
Today you are indeed blessed.