Sunday, November 18, 2007
Sermon of Fr. Gabriel for The Dedication of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
You may wonder why this feast of the dedication of the basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul takes precedence over the Sunday and this is because every feast of a dedication of a church is considered to be a feast of Our Lord and this feast commemorates the dedication of a particular church, that is the basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Not too long ago, we had the feast of the dedication of the basilica of Our Holy Savior.
For the sermon today, I just want to reflect on some things, some thoughts that this feast brings to mind. The Church considers the dedication of a church such a special event that she commemorates that by an anniversary every year. If you’ve ever seen or read about the ceremony for when a church is consecrated, the ceremony has a lot of meaning to it. There is a lot of solemnity attached to consecrating a church. Why is this? Because the Church is the house of God. It is like what we read in the epistle, the apocalypse, St. John said: “I heard a great voice from the throne saying: behold the Tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them.” I found it very interesting or comforting to read just over a week ago when we had the feast of the dedication of the basilica of Our Holy Savior in the lessons that the priest read in the divine office that day. We read about how in the days of the Roman persecution how Mass used to be offered in people’s homes and it was talking about the wooden altar that St. Peter and his successors up to Pope St. Sylvester offered Mass upon and that was when this basilica of Our Holy Savior was dedicated, that was the altar. Since that time though, in order for a church to be consecrated, it needs an altar made out of some sort of stone such as marble.
But now in many places, we are back to offering Mass in people’s homes and we can be very comforted when we have, like we have here in the chapel, by the fact even though it doesn’t compare with the grand cathedrals and things, it is nevertheless the house of God. God has come here to dwell with us, where we can visit him, honor him, and worship him with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This is a great treasure we should value, back in the Old Testament we read about how when the temple of Salomon had been destroyed and the Jews were taken into captivity. Later on when they came back, they began to rebuild the temple, but the people began to see that the temple that they were rebuilding didn’t compare in beauty and glory with the previous temple, Salomon’s temple, and that made them very sad. So as we read in the Old Testament, the prophet Ages, comforted the people by seeing that even though this temple they were building didn’t compare with the old one in externals, nevertheless this temple would have a greater glory because the Messiah would enter into that temple, and that in fact, was the temple that Our Lord walked into and drove the money changers out. Now Our Lord went into that temple on occasion but we have a greater privilege because our Lord doesn’t just come here during the Mass, but he remains here in the tabernacle so we can visit him at other times and so it’s just like what we read in the epistle: “Behold the Tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them and they shall be his people and God himself with them be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
We have a great source of help and consolation when we come to visit Our Lord in church to put our sorrows before him, to beg for the help we need in fulfilling our duties, and we should truly prize that. When we are able to attend Mass, what an immense benefit that is! If we really understood, the value of the Mass, we would be amazed by the grace we get to attend just one Mass. One Holy man had a vision once during Mass, he saw a tree and on the tree there were beautiful blossoms. During the Mass, the blossoms fell off the tree and descended upon those who were attending Mass. The Holy man noticed that some of the blossoms, when they descended upon an individual, dried up withered and died. In other cases when the blossoms descended on individuals they gave out a very pleasing fragrance and retained their freshness. The explanation that was given to this Holy man about this vision is that the tree was the Mass and the flowers were the fruits of the Mass, which are offered to us when we attend Mass. But then those fruits, what we get out of them, will depend on our dispositions at Mass. Whether we really appreciate what the Mass is, if we tried to prepare for Mass and then after Mass if we are grateful for the many graces we are given and try to recall that benefit to our mind often through the rest of the week and try to prepare for next week’s Mass. The flowers the shriveled up were for those that came to Mass carelessly or just out of routine or because they knew it was their Sunday obligation, and after Mass they were quick to forget about what they received. The Saints, on the other hand, we know, really prized the Mass. We read about Saints who, even though had the most absorbing occupations and duties and most serious responsibilities, they found time to attend Mass, sometimes two, three, or four Masses each day. A good example is St. Louis, King of France. Obviously, he had many great duties, but he would take the time to attend at least two, and sometimes three or four Masses every day. One time his courtiers complained to him about that and he said to them: “If I wanted to take you hunting three times a day, you wouldn’t complain and in fact you wouldn’t think that we had spent enough time in doing that, but I ask you to spend just a little while to attend a couple Masses, then you complain.”
We read of St. Thomas Moore, he had the great burden of the Chancellorship in England and yet he found time to attend Mass everyday and that is where he says he got his strength and wisdom to fulfill his office. We read of the Duke Simon Demontfort, when he was fighting the Albegencian heretics in a war, he used to attend Mass everyday and the Albegencian heretics knew that so then they decided to surprise him by attacking his army while he was at Mass. Simon’s officers came to him in church and said to him: “you have to come, they’re attacking us now!” and his response was, “I will serve God first, and then I will serve men.” The officers went away and soon more of his officers came and pleaded with him saying: “They’re going to wipe us out, you have to come now!” again he says, “No, I will finish attending Mass first.” So he finished attending Mass and then he went and he completely routed the enemy, even though the enemy had a vastly superior force in terms of the number of men. Everyone knew that it was through attending the Mass, more than by military skill or strategy, that he won that victory.
I’d like to conclude with two thoughts as we think of what a wonderful thing it is to attend churches or chapels where Our Lord is dwelling. Let us remember in our own homes to make sure that they be sanctuaries for Our Lord where he knows that he will be welcome. Let’s not make it a displeasing place for him by allowing sin or occasions of sin in the home. Secondly, is to remember that our own bodies and souls are temples of the Holy Ghost, as Saint Paul tells us. Certainly there, God should be welcome, you must be very careful never to desecrate that temple, where God dwells, never to drive God our forcibly by mortal sin. But always by prayer, by good works, faithful fulfillment of our duties, by strongly living faith, to make in ourselves a temple that is very pleasing to the Blessed Trinity and often throughout the day to take the time to converse with almighty God dwelling within us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.