Note: The Very Rev. Fr. John M. Berg, F.S.S.P. ('93), the Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, was the celebrant and homilist at the Dedication Weekend Mass for the Students and Alumni of Thomas Aquinas College in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel on March 8, 2009.
On behalf of many, many graduates of Thomas Aquinas College, I would like to thank the College and to congratulate it on this great day, when the head, or the crown jewel, of the campus has been placed with this magnificent church. I know that I speak for many graduates in saying that if it weren't for the College, it would be difficult to know where we would be even with regard to our own faith. And so we owe the College a great debt. We are very thankful to the many who have made great sacrifices — our own parents and many others, many benefactors, and especially the founders and all the tutors here — to make all this possible.
I can remember about 20 years ago driving up to this campus with my father after having visited UCLA. We saw parked all over the grass these mobile homes, which were supposed to be a school. My father said to me, "I wonder if they put wheels on the bottom and change the location every six months or so." So it's wonderful to see the permanence of the buildings and the grandeur of the campus, especially with this church.
The Transfiguration as Consolation
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
"And Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord it is good for us to be here. If Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles.'"
Your Excellency, reverend fathers, dear faithful, and friends of Thomas Aquinas College, yesterday, at the Dedication Mass, this chapel was filled with organ, flowers, and song. Today, however, we return to the sobriety of Lent. The organ has ceased to speak out. The flowers have been taken away. The priests now wear violet vestments. The penitential season of Lent has returned.
Yet, at the same time, this second Sunday of Lent with its gospel, the Transfiguration of Our Lord (Matt. 17: 1-9), is fitting for the dedication of this church.
The Church placed this gospel, the Transfiguration of Our Lord, as a certain consolation to the faithful, just as Our Lord gave it to Peter, James, and John. The Church Fathers tell us that He chose this specific moment directly before His passion, knowing that they would be scandalized by the suffering that He would undergo, by the fact that it would seem that all would be lost. So He gave them this one brief moment upon Mt. Tabor to show His divinity, to let it shine through His Body.
St. Thomas tells us that, at the Transfiguration, Our Lord showed for the first time the natural state of His Body. It wasn't a momentary miracle to make His Body appear white or translucent, but it was the natural effect of His being joined to the divinity of the hypostatic union. For that one moment, Peter, James, and John saw Our Lord for what He really was, at least as far as it was possible here upon earth.
The Role of the Liturgy
Within these church walls we also have an opportunity to lift up the veil — which we cannot entirely lift here on earth — to have a glimpse of the divine, a glimpse of the celestial liturgy. We pray within the Mass that this offering might be taken from this altar to the altar which is in heaven; that the sacrifice where the angels never cease to sing Sanctus might also be sung here below. It is, indeed, a glimpse of the heavens, a glimpse of Our Lord.
It is also fitting how translucent this church is. We are mindful of Our Lord on this day in which his vestments became as white as snow, and we see the purity and the fact of His divinity. We certainly live in a day and age in which this is something which is most necessary.
Dr. Dillon said yesterday that one of the College's missions can be stated simply as "faith seeking understanding." Certainly this is something which is done within the classroom, where we constantly look at and try to defend the Faith, where we seek to obtain a deeper understanding of those things which are given to us by the deposit of faith. But liturgy, architecture, and beauty have a similar task. Pope Pius XII, for example, reiterates the phrase that the law of praying is the law of belief. The way in which we pray will affect the way in which we believe. If we pray in an incorrect manner, it will undermine our faith. And if we pray in a correct manner, it will support our faith. This is the beauty of the Church's liturgy. It is not simply our own prayer, but the prayer of the Church to which we add our voices.
This idea of the liturgy and its importance is very dear to our own pope, Pope Benedict XVI. In his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, he says something very striking, namely, that if we are to have a society which functions well and functions correctly, we must, too, have a liturgy and an adoration of God which functions well and functions correctly.
Pope Benedict XVI says that every relation in this world is built first upon an idea of our relationship with God. If man has an incorrect idea of how he relates to God, he will no longer understand how he relates to his fellow man. So it is not surprising that if society forgets how it relates to God, soon we will misunderstand all other relations in this world. We will no longer understand what marriage is - that it is for life, that it is between a man and a woman. Father and son will no longer understand their relationship - that they're not two buddies or two best friends, but that there is really a relationship between father and son. It is essential that we first have a right understanding of God, and how we relate to Him, and the humility and adoration that we ought to have before Him.
But Pope Benedict XVI takes this notion a second step. He says that more than even from learning, this idea of how we relate to God comes from the liturgy. It comes from the manner in which we worship. This is the way in which man naturally expresses how he relates to God.
Giving All Back to God
I'll never forget studying the Summa here at the College and speaking about how sacrifice is a natural part of religion; that all men feel this need to offer sacrifice to God; they want to offer something back to He who has given them all things. This is something which we see within the liturgy, this idea of giving all back to God, insofar as we can, through the sacrifice upon the altar.
It is perhaps not all too naive, then, on the part of St. Peter in today's gospel that he says to Our Lord, "Let us not go back down the mountain." Why head off to Jerusalem to have that suffering? Why not remain here, in all of the splendor and all of the glory?
In his sermon for this passage of the Gospel, Cardinal Newman says that each and every one of us has to have that sentiment, "Lord, it is good for us to be here." That even if we can't make it to daily Mass, for example, that we have to, as Catholics, at least have the sentiment that this is our home, that this is where we belong, that it is good for us to be here, and that if we could set up a tent, we would remain here within it.
But St. Peter is naive in his demand at the same time. Our Lord reminds him rather abruptly that they have a duty to carry out, and that this is the place for him to be consoled, to be strengthened for what he needs to do within the world.
May this church, this glorious and grand church here at Thomas Aquinas College, be that same source as Mt. Tabor. May it be a consolation for the students who are here, to remember what is the ultimate goal of their studies: the adoration of the One and Triune God. And may they recall their duty to not only remain here but to bring the truth about Our Lord Jesus Christ to all the rest of the word.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
“We’re aiming for the truth in all we learn here, and developing the skills to apply that truth. This formation will keep me strong for life.”
– Aileen McCarthy (’14)
“I am most grateful for Thomas Aquinas College’s resolute fidelity to the Church and her teachings. The young people whom you serve certainly are being formed to think with the Church and to defend the Faith with courage and charity.”
– The Most Rev. William E. Lori
Archbishop of Baltimore
Chair of the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty