In today’s gospel, Jesus tells Zacchaeus: “Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Today, we dedicate this church building in memory of St. Phillip and the other martyrs of Vietnam. God will live with his people here in this house, in this Domus Dei, this house of God. Here, in this temple, the Word of God will be proclaimed and the Sacraments will be celebrated. In this way, Holy Spirit, whose gifts made the Holy Martyrs of Vietnam worthy witnesses of Christ, will continue to build up his people, the Church, making us through those same gifts a living Body, the Body of Christ.
As we dedicate this church building to God, we must also ask the Lord to renew in each one of us those gifts of the Holy Spirit that we received in Baptism and Confirmation so that we may produce in our lives the fruits of the Holy Spirit and thus be witnesses of the Good News of our redemption in Christ Jesus.
For even as we set this building apart and make it a sacred place, let us remember that we too have been set apart. As these walls will be anointed with Chrism, to remind us that God dwells here with his people, we must remember that we also were anointed – and as God dwells here as in his temple, we too are his temples, temples of the Holy Spirit.
Here, we do holy things – we read the Scriptures, we worship and adore Christ present in his Most Blessed Sacrament, we celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass and the other Sacraments. We do these holy things – so that we can become holy ourselves.
God really does not need this temple – the earth and all that it contains is his temple. As today’s first reading makes clear, God didn’t need this church. You did. The Vietnamese Catholic Community needed this temple which because it is the Father’s House is also your home. And here you are at home – because here is spoken your mother’s tongue.
But why did you felt that you needed it? So that you could worship in your own place, at the times of your choosing, in ways the reflect and express your language and your culture. Yes, of course – all that; but, more importantly, you needed to build this House of God so that you yourselves through your sacrifices – and those sacrifices are not only in the past but also lie in the future as you will struggle to pay for this beautiful building – but you needed to build this House of God so that through these sacrifices you might become more perfectly the Body of Christ you already are because of the Spirit dwelling in you.
Building this church building, just recently renovated for your use, is also about rebuilding the church community. Asking the Spirit to dwell here is also about inviting the Spirit into our lives, into the lives of our families – so that we might truly be God’s Holy People.
In the Creed, we say that we believe in one, holy, Catholic Church. And if we are to be faithful Catholics, we must believe that – but, we don’t believe that the Church is one, because we are. No, our divisions are too obvious for us to believe that; nor do we believe that the Church is holy – because we are. No, our sins are always before us – and if anyone of us says that he has not sinned, he is, as Scriptures say, a liar. But the Church is one, the Church is holy: not because of us, but because of the Holy Spirit.
This new temple will give glory to God if we remember why we are here, and what we are about, when we are here. This temple will give glory to God, if through our participation in the “holy things” celebrated here, we ourselves strive to grow in holiness, which is the fundamental vocation of every Baptized Christian.
The holiness to which we are called is not to be misunderstood as some kind of extraordinary existence, possible for only a few “uncommon heroes” of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual, but all are called to be holy – and here through Word and Sacrament we find the means to become holy.
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.
At this altar, we come to the font of grace that gave St. Phillip and those martyrs of Vietnam the 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. Through his suffering, death and Resurrection, Christ reconciled a fallen humanity with his Father. This is “holy ground” where we Catholics stand as brothers and sisters in Christ. On this “holy ground” may we always be reconciled to God – and to all our brothers and sisters. As St. Phillip and martyrs have taught us by their example, may be always be willing to pray for our persecutors.
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.
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. Like he told Zaccheus in Jericho, Jesus tells us: “Today, I must stay at your house.