By the Most Rev. José H. Gomez
Archbishop of Los Angeles
Thomas Aquinas College
April 15, 2014
Note: Below is a transcript of the homily that Archbishop Gomez delivered at the Mass for the Blessing of the Chapel Benefactor Plaques, on the fifth anniversary of the death of Thomas Aquinas College President Thomas E. Dillon.
We give thanks for your benefactors and for all of those who helped to build this beautiful chapel. In a special way, we give thanks for the life of Dr. Thomas Dillon. We are honored to have his family with us today. As we all know, his vision and dedication were a guiding force for this chapel and for this great school. It is a great legacy he gave to the Church and to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. So we give thanks to God for Dr. Dillon and for all the kind and generous people who have built this school.
We gather this morning at the beginning of the holiest week of our Church year, the week of our redemption. During Holy Week, as we all know, we enter into the drama of Our Lord’s last days among us on the earth. Our Gospel passage for today is dark (Jn. 13:21-33, 36-38). It is challenging. The final hour is beginning, the hour of Our Lord’s betrayal. Our Gospel today takes place in the upper room, where Jesus and His apostles are eating the Last Supper. We hear this tense dialogue between Jesus and Judas; then we hear the conversation between Jesus and St. Peter. In this final hour both will turn away from Jesus and deny Him, but only St. Peter will return to Him. Peter is confident in his faith. He thinks his love is stronger than his fear of dying. He thinks that he is ready to die for Jesus, but Jesus knows him better than he knows himself.
It is interesting to reflect on what St. Thomas Aquinas said about this Gospel passage. (I knew that I was going to be around good Thomists, so I made sure to check St. Thomas Aquinas’s commentary for my homily on this passage of the Gospel. I want to get a good grade!) St. Thomas tells us that Jesus was testing St. Peter to get him ready to lead His Church. St. Thomas said Our Lord allowed Peter to be tempted and to fall so that, when he became head of the Church, he would have an unpretentious opinion of himself and have compassion for his subjects when they sin.
My brothers and sisters, I think St. Thomas has given us a wonderfully pastoral interpretation of this Gospel passage. We can see that Jesus is teaching St. Peter a hard lesson, a hard lesson about human weakness and about the mercy of God and the mercy of the Church. It’s a lesson that Jesus knew Peter had to learn before he could become the Church’s pope. And this is a lesson that our popes have been teaching us in the Church ever since then. The Church’s mission is always a mission of mercy, because mercy is the face of God and the heart of the Gospel.
Of course, we all know that this is what our Holy Father Pope Francis has been telling us in this exciting first year of his papacy. It is the same message that Jesus entrusted to St. Peter, the message that God’s salvation is the work of His mercy, and the Church must be the place where His mercy is freely given.
And mercy, my dear brothers and sisters, is our responsibility, each of us, in our own ways, in the circumstances of our lives. Mercy is our work, our daily task, to be merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful.
Mercy is also the message of Holy Week, isn’t it? The drama we relive this week, the drama of the upper room, the agony in the garden, the Cross on Good Friday. All of these events that we relive in Holy Week reveal this simple, beautiful truth of God’s mercy. He loves us, each one of us, in a personal way — you and me. In His mercy, He forgives our weakness, our sin. He loves us so much that He gives His life for us. And he asks us to give our life to Him.
Jesus challenges St. Peter in our Gospel today: Will you lay down your life for Me? This is the same challenge that Jesus puts to all of us. Jesus has died for us. And He challenges us to lay down our lives so that we can live for Him.
So this Holy Week, let us especially reflect on our Lord’s challenge to each one of us, the challenge of being missionaries of mercy, the challenge of saying ‘yes’ to his question, giving our lives for Him. In our weakness, and in our simplicity of life, knowing that we all are sinners, with the conviction that we want to correspond with generosity to the question and the example of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
May we all grow in holiness and generosity in these days of our redemption. I pray that our Blessed Mother Mary will help us to always follow Jesus more closely as we journey with Him along the road that leads to the Resurrection. I wish all of you and your families a blessed Easter. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
“We are studying to find the truth in each of the liberal arts, to see the truth in all of God’s creation. It helps you understand why we are here as rational human beings.”
– Thomas Lawlor (’13)