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By the Most Rev. William D. Byrne
Bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts
Homily at Alumni & Parent Day Mass
Thomas Aquinas College, New England
September 11, 2021
On this 9-11, it is odd to think that so many here in this chapel were not even born at the time that this tragic event took place. I am sure those among you who weren’t born have seen photos and videos, so much that you probably feel like you remember it. The moment, for those of us who watched it live on television, when the two towers collapsed, is seared into our national memory.
In the aftermath, there was a great sense of national unity. We were proud to be Americans; we were going to go and bring the good fight out. But as we can see, 20 years later, our national unity was an illusion. It was a knee-jerk reaction, it seems, to a horrible event. And as our national discourse continues to devolve into partisan acrimony, we are no longer working for the common good, but rather, it seems, in our individualistic society, each for his own interests. This is the true tragedy. But it’s also a reminder to those of us of faith that political solutions are never the definitive answer. We need to have one king, and His name is Jesus Christ. What could have been a turning point was just, sadly, a missed opportunity.
Turning points are what we see in today’s Gospel. Jesus is at a turning point in His earthly life; he’s at the far reaches in Caesarea of Philippi, where His ministry has taken Him. And when He asks His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Peter’s definitive response: “You are the Christ: the Mashiach; the Messiah; The Anointed One.” His mission is now really not a kingdom mission but a Messiah mission. And so the turning point in St. Mark’s Gospel is when Jesus heads then towards Jerusalem and ultimately to Calvary.
However, as we see from St. Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ declaration that the Son of Man must suffer and die, we realize that there was a great misunderstanding about what His role as a messiah would be. The confrontation — once and for all, with evil and sin and ultimately even death itself — happens not in a victorious battle on a field of war, where Jesus the Messiah will cleanse the Temple and vanquish the Herodians and even ultimately the Roman Empire. It is on the Cross, where Jesus confronts the ancient enemy. His victory — and all victories — are won by self-giving love.
This year we celebrate. We celebrate the 50th anniversary of Thomas Aquinas College. More particularly, here in New England we rejoice at a community being whole: freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, with a new class set to graduate this year, the first one from this New England campus. As I told the lads in the sacristy: I think this first class should be called “the pioneers.” It has sort of a rugged New England feel to it, but it speaks about their coming here and being the first to walk away a Thomas Aquinas graduate. Our pioneers.
The genius and grace of Thomas Aquinas College is seen not only in the excellence of its education but most importantly in its fidelity to the teachings of Christ and His church. It is here, I pray, that every man and woman who attends this college will leave to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah. Your education at Saint Thomas should be a turning point not just in your lives but in the lives of the people you encounter from here on, no longer focusing on yourselves but rather on the mission of the Messiah.
You are being prepared for careers, but you are also on a Messiah mission. In the context of today’s culture, if you really inject yourself professionally and socially into the culture itself — if you wish to be a leaven for change — it means also, like our Lord, turning our face toward Calvary.
You see, we cannot proclaim the Gospel and always expect it to be received joyfully, but rather it will be received disdainfully in a culture that has forgotten God, that has turned away from God — and many of your peers, dear students, have never heard of Him. You see, each of us must face the reality that the Messiah mission will involve an embrace of the Cross. But it must be done always with self-giving love.
To whatever profession you are called, you will be witnesses to the world of faith, hope, and love. St. Paul acknowledges that love is the greatest of these, but in this age we must be messengers also of hope. When we say in the Mass, “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until You come again,” there is an inherent eschatological proclamation. “Until You come again!” Our eyes are set on the return of the Lord, His presence not just here, but the ultimate return of the second coming of Our Lord. “Until you come” — as we gaze upon our Eucharistic Lord, there is an acknowledgment of His real presence among us, until the end of time. And our faith and our hope and our love are based on that truth, and the promise that He will come again, but that He will be with us until the end of the age.
To a world that feels no hope, filled with anxiety and depression, medicating itself in so many ways, you and I are called to be beacons of light. In the climactic moment of Holy Mass, when we receive Holy Communion, we make an act of reverence and then we say the simple, “Amen.” That “amen” is not just an acknowledgment of Jesus truly present in the Eucharist, body, blood, soul, and divinity. That “amen” is a commitment to bringing Christ to the world. That ‘amen’ echoes in Our Lady’s fiat, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” as she tells the angel.
And so we say to Our Lord in that moment, “Yes, I believe You are present, and I commit myself to bringing You out to the world.” The power of an education at Thomas Aquinas — that your life is rooted in the Eucharist — praise God. May it be united also with Our Lady’s fiat. It is not only a privileged experience that I pray you cherish, however; it is a sacred commitment to the Messiah mission to which we are all called. Praised be Jesus Christ.
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