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Homily: Priest Welcomes Thomas Aquinas College to New England

Posted: May 2, 2017

Note: Rev. Ryan Rooney is a graduate of the Northfield Mount Hermon school, which previously occupied the campus of Thomas Aquinas College’s planned New England campus. On Tuesday morning, prior to the signing ceremony at which the National Christian Foundation formally donated the campus to the College, Fr. Rooney offered a Mass for the College’s officials and friends at St. Patrick’s Church in Northfield. Below is the text of his homily.

“Evangelize and be a Witness to the Culture in New England”

by Rev.  Ryan Rooney
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart
Springfield, Massachusetts

Given on May 2, 2017
St Patrick’s Church
The Feast of St Athanasius

I am sure I can presume to welcome the staff and trustees of Thomas Aquinas College and everyone gathered here on behalf of Bishop Rozanski, and Fr. Tom Lisowski, pastor, and Deacon Dave Culliton of St Patrick Church, which now becomes the local parish to a wonderful new endeavor of TAC’s planned New England Campus.

I can presume, also, to say welcome home, not as an outsider in some cliché manner, but as a son of Northfield. I was baptized, received my first Holy Communion, and confirmed in this church. I also enjoyed the privilege of graduating in the Auditorium of Northfield Mount Hermon School in 2003, shortly before the close of the Northfield campus. It was there that I say I received my vocation, as a young, 14-year-old freshman — confused as to why my peers in religious studies classes concluded that there wasn’t a God — I can’t tell you how amazing it is to witness this historic event for Northfield and the mysterious unfolding of God’s plans in my life to give me the privilege of celebrating today’s Mass in this church. 

Christ is Risen, Alleluia! Truly, He is Risen, Alleluia! This is the traditional Easter greeting which we joyfully share during this Paschal season, and on this day. We also gather to commemorate one of the greatest doctors of the Church, St Athanasius. 

It is Athanasius who reminds us in the Office of Readings today that the mystery of the Incarnation is fully revealed by the Resurrection. The phrase is often used at Christmastime that baby Jesus was born to die. Athanasius completes the logic of this meditation by extending it to the Resurrection. The newborn babe was destined to Risen glory! 

In today’s first reading, we note an interesting juxtaposition of the martyrdom of Stephen: interesting, because his great feast follows Christmas as a practical living out of that original logic of the Incarnation I mentioned. We note the resistance and refusal to accept Stephen’s preaching of Jesus. As he dies, he sees and proclaims the prophecy of Jesus when He was condemned before the Sanhedrin: the Risen Christ, the Son of Man, the great I AM, coming on the clouds of heaven. 

We should take to heart this witness amidst a growing culture of resistance. We not only have political movements that espouse the word “resist,” but we have a somewhat post-Catholic/Christian culture here in Massachusetts. 

The example of Saul, consenting to Stephen’s death, is perhaps a word of prophecy as you begin this new journey in New England. Saul is a reason for hope, because we do not know which members of the resistance will become bold witnesses of the Resurrection. Let me then prophetically call you to the Church’s deepest vocation, as Bl. Pope Paul VI calls it: evangelization!

Evangelize and be a witness to the culture in New England. Do not remain closed in on the Northfield campus! Be a witness in Northfield, active participants of the growing again of a truly Catholic culture. Learn to embrace the pockets of Catholic culture that already exist here. Become friends and witnesses together with the local parishes of this deanery and diocese! 

We have to imagine Athanasius, successor to St. Mark in Alexandria, whom Dr. Brian Kelley reminds me in your latest newsletter took on that see at the age of 30, as another bold witness for our inspiration in this mission. In an age where our Holy Father promotes peace and ecumenism in Egypt, following the ISIS bombing of Coptic churches on Palm Sunday, we should invoke the intercession of Athanasius, who spoke of triumph of martyrdom in the context of the Resurrection:

“When death is played with and despised by those believing in Christ, let no one any longer doubt, nor be unbelieving, that death has been destroyed by Christ and its corruption dissolved and brought to an end.” (On the Incarnation, St Athanasius)

Of course I have to mention St. Thomas Aquinas, who tells us the Resurrection was necessary for five reasons: the commendation of divine justice, the instruction of the faith, the raising of our hope, to set in order the lives of the faithful, and to complete the work of our salvation (Summa Theologiae, III, q53, a 1).

In summary, and simply put, we cannot fear persecution because Christ is risen from the dead and promises we will too rise in Him. 

And now we come together and promise this in the divinely instituted covenant around this table. The Father gives us the true bread from heaven, His Son, so that we will never hunger of thirst. 

We accept this promise, and all that has been preached this morning, by our reception of the bread of life, the Risen Christ, and being sent forth from this small church to serve, uphold, and boldly proclaim the mysteries of the Faith. 

Rev. Ryan Rooney

Rev.  Ryan Rooney

Isabella Hsu (’18) on discussion method

“In our classroom discussions, we are responsible for our own education. We have to get our hands dirty, to figure out the material, to let it become part of us and make us better people. That is real learning.”

– Isabella Hsu (’18)

Redondo Beach, California

“Thomas Aquinas College is one of the premiere liberal arts colleges in the country and the pride and joy of the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region.”

– Most Rev. Robert E. Barron

Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles