Homily at the Dedication Mass for Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel
Note: His Eminence Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, was the principal celebrant and homilist at the Dedication Mass for Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel on March 7, 2009.
Our Scriptures today situate us into God's plan of salvation and also in the great design God has for us as followers of Jesus Christ. There is a special bond today between this beautiful new chapel and our Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels because these are the same three Scriptures which were proclaimed some seven years ago at that dedication. This is, I think, a wonderful, providential linkage among us.
Our Old Testament reading (Neh. 8:1-4a, 5-6, 8-10) is from the Book of Nehemiah, a fascinating book. At that time the Jewish people were in forced exile. Nehemiah had grown in favor with the king, and word had reached Nehemiah that the city of Jerusalem lay in very sad condition. The doors, the gates had all been broken down and burned; the temple was in desolation; everything was really bad. Nehemiah was able to convince the king to give him a leave of absence to go to Jerusalem with Ezra to summon the people and have them rebuild Jerusalem. The king was favorable to Nehemiah and actually helped provide all of the lumber and timber necessary to do it.
When Nehemiah arrives at the ransacked Jerusalem in the temple area, he is so distraught that he sits in ashes, mourning. Then, filled with the Spirit, he begins the task of rebuilding all of the city gates and rebuilding the temple. As the temple is completed, we have our Scripture today in Chapter 8. He summons the people and has them be attentive, to listen anew to God's word, the God who had saved them, and the God who had walked with them even into exile.
So the people are all there, and Ezra begins reading some of the books of the law. And the prophet points out that the people were prostrate, and they were tearful and crying because they were hearing the word of God, but they were also wondering how they would have the strength to live that out. So Nehemiah addresses them: Do not be weeping. Rejoice in listening to God's word, because God's word is life-giving. It brings joy to the heart because it is the truth of God being proclaimed in our midst.
And so the word of God is proclaimed to the people, and their newly reconstructed temple area is once more a holy and sacred place for them.
The Word Made Flesh
If we move to the Gospel reading, we see this great passage in Luke's Gospel, which appears in no other Gospel, the story of Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10). Here we have Zaccheus of short stature, who cannot see Jesus because of the crowds, and so he climbs a sycamore tree so that he can see Jesus as Jesus passes by. And we hear what happens. Jesus spots Zaccheus in the tree: "Come down, Zaccheus, I must stay with you today in your home." Zaccheus hurries down and goes to his house to welcome Jesus.
But notice now what is different between this encounter and the encounter with Nehemiah and the people. Nehemiah read from a book the word of God. In the Gospel, the Word of God stands in their midst. Zaccheus has the great joy and honor of not listening to a book being read, but of having God's Son, the Word of God, present to him in his house. Jesus is quoted as saying nothing once he gets to the house, and yet, because He is the Word of God, that transforming grace and spirit of God enters into Zaccheus. Without invitation by Jesus, Zaccheus says, "I will give half of all of my money and wealth for the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone, I will repay that person four times."
This encounter with the real, living Word of God brings about this dramatic transformation. And as we celebrate the dedication of this altar and this chapel today, the future of this sacred space will actually do both of these things. That is, it will provide an opportunity to listen to God's written word, inspired, from the ambo. But it also will enable all of those who come here to meet in person, in the Eucharist, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Word of God. And so you will have both here.
Proclamation and Celebration
That is why there is the emphasis throughout the liturgy today on the altar, and on the word of God, and on the people who come here, so that we might realize that in the new covenant we are not constrained just by words in a book. We have present on the altar the real Word of God, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.
This sacred space is going to be greatly enhanced with the proclamation of God's word and the celebration of the Eucharist, making present God's plan and promises, His assurances that He walks and journeys with us, yet also that living presence, that Eucharistic presence of Jesus, Word of God. Those two elements combine, then, to bring us together, as Paul describes so well in our second reading today from his letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 2:19-22). Because having heard the word of God, having been nourished by the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, we are then formed into that one Body of Christ, the Church.
Paul reminds us that Jesus remains the capstone of the Church, that Jesus is the head of the structure that is the community of believers baptized into the Lord, so that we become, in Paul's wonderful expression, "living stones," with Christ building up that great structure which is the community of the faithful. The result, then, of listening to God's Word and celebrating the Eucharist is to inspire, to inflame us in our discipleship with Jesus Christ.
All of the students who will come here, especially over the coming years, all those young men and women, will be inspired by listening to God's word, but not needing to weep at hearing it. Because they also have the presence of the living Jesus, the Word of God who takes away our tears and our fears with His sacrifice on the altar of the Cross, renewed upon the altar each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. That transforming effect of Jesus in our lives, especially through the Eucharist, will be carried on here and handed on — generation after generation of students, faculty, parents, all who come here. All will benefit in that wonderful and joyous Body of Christ.
So, my friends, today we thank God for this beautiful, sacred space which has been built to honor God — to give Him glory and praise — but also to remember the story of our salvation, to remind ourselves of God's word, and to celebrate the living Jesus Christ present in this sacred space. Just as Nehemiah encouraged the people to not be afraid, but to rejoice and be joyous as they hear God's word, so today we rejoice as we listen to that word. We rejoice, as did Zaccheus, with the living presence of Jesus.
As we continue the beautiful Rite of Dedication, let us listen to the wonderful prayers that help unite us to that one Body of Christ, Who serves as the cornerstone and the capstone, and we as humble members of the structure of His Church.
“If you come to the College with any spark of faith at all, it’s fanned into flames. That’s certainly what happened to me.”
– Dr. Jean Rioux (’82)
Chair of the Department of Philosophy, Benedictine College