On December 8, 1953, the building that serves as the “House of the Church” for my parish of St. Mary in Trenton, Illinois was dedicated by The Most Reverend Albert R. Zuroweste, D.D. This past Sunday, December 8, 2013 we commemorated the 60th anniversary of that important day in the life of our parish family during the regularly scheduled Sunday Eucharist. This anniversary has served as the inspiration for a few events this year and as the theme for our observance of the “Year of Faith” observed by the Roman Catholic Church. Our theme has been “Then; Dedicating Sandstones: Now, Re-dedicating Living Stones.” What follows is my homily from the Mass. The readings were those of the second Sunday of Advent, Cycle A in the Roman Catholic Lectionary.
Remember the day you moved into your new house as a newly married couple? After moving or buying or renting a new home remember the visions you had of the future that would unfold in that house. Someday, there would be children around the dinner table. Perhaps there would be Christmas mornings opening gifts bought with love. One day children raised under that house’s roof would be going out into the world to begin their own new lives.
This is the 60th anniversary of our church building – our house of the parish family. The people who built this building in the early 1950’s moved into this “house of the church” sixty years ago this very day with hopes and dreams, too. They dreamed that for many generations to come the children of God would gather at the table of the Eucharist. Here the family of God would gather to celebrate significant days in the life of the church family; weddings and baptisms. At each of those events God’s gift of Jesus’ love would be revealed in the human love that was so powerfully evident in those who would gather to celebrate. Here, the family of the parish has sent the children of God off into that new world, that next stage of life promised by Jesus, eternal life.
It’s nice to look back and celebrate anniversaries. Married couples do it all the time. The celebration of anniversary is a time to remember the joys and struggles of a relationship and of a family. Wedding anniversaries are a time to marvel at the family that has grown from the coming together of two people. Anniversary parties gather friends for a time to celebrate what has been accomplished. In marriages, sixty years is considered quite an accomplishment. Often the husband will be asked, “How did you make it so many years?” Many the husband who has replied, “By always doing what whatever she said!”
In a way, for a church building, sixty years is just a beginning. Built solidly and with good maintenance this building could last for another 60, 80, or hundred years more. In fact our building is the youngest Catholic church building in Clinton County. In comparison, it’s still a young adult so to speak.
Like any anniversary celebration we could spend our time looking back, marveling at all ritual moments that have taken place in this house of the church. I was tempted to ask our parish secretary to count up so many weddings, baptisms and funerals! That probably would have been interesting but that’s not the point of the celebration this weekend. While it’s good to give thanks to God for what God has done in our midst in this house of the church the scriptures of today remind us that we are not about recalling the rituals celebrated in here or even re-dedicating a building for the glory of God. The readings point us toward a different kind of rededication; a rededication of the people who gather here regularly Sunday after Sunday.
John the Baptist, in the Gospel, gets upset with the Pharisees and Sadducees who show up at his baptism ritual in the desert. Some might say he should just be glad these people show up. John is upset because he believes the Pharisees and Sadducees are participating in the ritual without the corresponding change of life the washing in the Jordan symbolizes. For John and his disciples, their baptism is washing away an old life where God wasn’t at the center of daily life. The people John baptized were expected to embrace a new way of living where they committed themselves to living a different way. In this “new way” God is charge instead of the rules and dictates of a corrupted religious leadership. The religious folks are going through the motions without committing themselves to living what the ritual bath says is happening, change of life. So John calls them out and compares them to a brood of snakes! Remember how Satan appeared to Adam and Eve and lead them astray? As a snake!
John’s message is the same to us. Don’t just do ritual in your building. Let your ritual, every time you celebrate it, set you anew on the path of Jesus who saves! Let your celebrating Mass and baptism and confessions and weddings and funerals in this room be a turning back to the way of Jesus and a commitment to being Jesus in the world, his Body of Christ. Our anniversary is an occasion to remember that sandstones were dedicated sixty years ago to God’s glory, but now God will be given the glory if the living stones that are the church, you and me, live lives of daily conversion of heart. We are to live in the reign of God while in the midst of the world. Let this anniversary be the time we rededicate ourselves to living every day proclaiming the love of Jesus in our deeds and words lest we hear the words of John rebuking us for doing ritual without corresponding actions.
Apparently John didn’t blend into the his time’s culture. He stood out in his camel-hair clothes with his odd diet. But people were attracted to him. People sought out John because there was something different about him. That’s what the church made of living people stones should be; a group of people different that stand out from the culture, that proclaims the truth that is different but appealing. A church of living stones, as Pope Francis reminded us in his recent apostolic exhortation to the church, The Joy of the Gospel, the church (including its parishes), must be a people excited about the mercy of God offered in Jesus where people are welcomed to encounter the joy of this “Good News.” It’s like the first reading from Isaiah said, the mountain of the Lord, His “dwelling,” would be sought out by all sorts of people tired of a human existence without meaning, full of war and sadness. There are people looking for something more than empty rituals. People in our world, in our midst are looking for something that will sustain them on their journey through life. As your pastor I must cry out with John. I believe Jesus’ word to us on this sixtieth anniversary is a challenge to you and me to be a church of living stones, a people who stand out from the crowd and draw people to Jesus. May Jesus not just be someone we worship in this building. Let our hearts be daily converted to his kingdom. Let him be worshiped by our being a church that stands out in the midst of our community and world drawing all people to himself who offers a life richer than can be imaged by any human built building or imagined by any human wisdom.
As we have been praying in our parish mission prayer and through out this year of faith preparing for this day, “Then we dedicated stones. Now, today, we must rededicate ourselves as living stones.”
This is the prayer our parish has been using for our parish mission week in November and occasionally throughout our 10 month observance (which began on our parish patronal feast day, The Presentation of Jesus and Purification of Mary in the Temple, February 2, 2013)
Prayer in honor of
the 60th Anniversary of the
Dedication of St. Mary Church, Trenton
Sixty years ago, O Lord,
our parish dedicated to your glory
a building of stone
to be our house in which to
offer you fitting worship.
Now, as we rededicate ourselves
to being the living stones of
the household of Christ,
make us stones that shout
His Good News
with words and deeds
beyond the walls of our building
to Trenton and all people.
May your Holy Spirit to make us
increasingly more faithful to our
mission of fire with the
love of Christ, your Son,
Through whom we pray,
who lives and reigns forever.