Today this parish community completes the beautiful work of renovation of this church building with the solemn consecration of a new altar. Following the Mass, we will also reserve the Blessed Sacrament in a new tabernacle. Your participation in the Holy Sacrifice, here, at this altar, should also lead you there, to that tabernacle, to pray in adoration. And, that prayer of adoration will always lead you back here to the altar.
Adoring Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament can only make us hunger the more to receive him in the communion of his Body and Blood, offered for us in sacrifice, on this altar, the source and summit of our Christian lives.
I congratulate your pastor in bringing this work to completion. And I also congratulate all of you, parishioners of Holy Redeemer. I appreciate the difficulty of the task that you all undertook. It was not made any easier by the difficulties Mother Nature put in your way with the hurricanes this summer. And it certainly was not made any easier by the difficulties human nature also put in your way.
God has blessed the human race with great diversity. We have distinctive tastes. We have differing preferences for one style or another. Because of our human nature is fallen, it is difficult for us to come together to agree on any one common thing.
It happens in the best of families. Many times married couples can’t agree on color schemes or fabrics chosen for their homes. And certainly, husbands and wives often have to negotiate among themselves over many things. But for their mutual wellbeing and because of the love that binds them together they compromise, they accommodate one to another.
When people care deeply about things, they usually are not shy about expressing themselves. And here at Holy Redeemer I know that many of you have not been shy about making your opinions known. And if we care, why should we be shy? And, why shouldn’t we care, if we are talking about something so dear to us as our Catholic faith, the faith for which the martyrs gladly shed their blood.
Listen carefully to the words of Jesus in today’s gospel. “If when bringing your gift to the altar you remember your brother has something against you, go first and be reconcile and then bring your gift.”
At this altar, we come to the font of grace that gave those martyrs strength to shed their blood. As we come to the altar today, Christ asks us not to shed our blood. (Please God we would if he did.) But today Christ asks us – at this altar – to shed our resentments, our bad feelings, any anger we might still harbor in our hearts. For here we stand on holy ground and this holy ground is the common ground where – in spite of differences of taste and style, of spiritualities and theologies, we Catholics stand as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Today, we consecrate this altar. We set aside a work made by human hands for a sacred purpose. The sacrifice of the New Covenant will be offered here. Here God dwells with his people. This altar is like the threshold of a door. The door is Christ. Through this threshold we “pass over” from the mundane to the sacred, from the worldly to the heavenly. Here we meet God who opens to us the gates of heaven.
The wood of this altar recalls the wood of the cross. The wood of the cross hewn from a tree brings to mind the tree of Eden: there Adam and Eve ate of the tree and they died. Christ offers himself on the tree of the Cross – and that sacrifice re-presented on this altar gives us the fruit of everlasting life.
This altar is also a table. And we gather around this table in anticipation, in our hope to share one day in the never ending banquet that awaits us in heaven where God will seat us at table with him.
As Catholics we believe that God made all things –visible and invisible. He made all things good. And therefore, all creation, all the material things God has given us, can serve as means to help us encounter him. The Son of God became incarnate so that he might more easily bring us to his Father. Because of the incarnation, material things can be used to communicate grace. We believe that the Sacraments communicate God’s grace, God’s life to us. What grace is doing is made more comprehensible through the sacramental forms: water, oil, bread and wine, all help communicate the mysteries they symbolize and make present to us. In this way, all the accessories, all the appointments in this church – the ambo, the altar, the candles, the baptistery, stations – they all help communicate to us the great mystery we celebrate here.
So, this evening, I pray that this church building in all its features will help communicate to you the great Mystery of our Salvation which will be celebrated here every day.
But again, let us return to the gospel reading. This beautiful setting can help set the mood for worship. A renovated church can lead us to a more worthy celebration of the sacraments. However, just as we renovated this church, we also must renovate ourselves and our hearts. Without a renovated heart, we might worship in the most beautiful cathedral in the world but it would sound a dissonant note in God’s ears – it would be merely like the noisy clanging of a gong.
Worship pleasing to God can be offered any place – if the heart is renovated. Cardinal Van Thuan, after the fall of Viet Nam was arrested and put in solitary confinement for 13 years in a damp and dirty cell. Friends smuggled to him some bread and some wine – and he would offer the holy Mass using the palm of his hand as an altar. And that hand was a worthy altar because he brought his offering to the Lord with no resentment, with no rancor or hatred towards those who imprisoned him, toward those who persecuted him. Like St. Paul, he ended up converting a few of his jailers.
As we dedicate this altar and set it apart for God’s service, let us also rededicate ourselves – as individuals and as a Catholic parish community – to work together for God’s kingdom. What unites us on this common ground is Jesus Christ – and he is greater than anything or anyone that would divide us. When Christ was sacrificed on Calvary, sin was defeated. On this altar, that same sacrifice is made present to us each day, so that his victory over sin, death and the evil one, will also be ours.