Homily at the Dedication Weekend Mass for the Alumni of Thomas Aquinas College
March 8, 2009
Note: The Most Rev. Salvatore J. Cordileone, then the Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego, was the principal celebrant and homilist at the Dedication Weekend Mass for the Alumni of Thomas Aquinas College in Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel on March 8, 2009. On March 23, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Cordileone the new Bishop of Oakland.
I believe the account of Jesus' Transfiguration, which we just heard proclaimed (Mark 9: 2-10), is familiar to all of us. After all, we hear it not only on the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, but every year on this second Sunday of Lent in one of the synoptic accounts of this story.
As usual, and appropriately enough, Peter is the one to speak up for all of the disciples. I think what he said on their behalf, then and there, he can equally say for us, here and now: "Master, it is good that we are here." They did not want to leave that mountain, that moment of glory, and I think that reflects our own feelings as we behold the beauty of this place, this House of God. We do not want to leave. I think we could just stay forever here and enjoy it. I believe, like the disciples beholding the Lord's glory, so we behold the glory of this structure.
What Peter, James, and John beheld there on Mt. Tabor was a glimpse into Christ's glory, that glory by which He was to fulfill the law and the prophets, represented by Moses and Elijah. There that glory is His and our final destination, the eternal dwelling place of heaven. The disciples were still in this world. They had a glimpse of heaven, but they still had a lot of work to do. That's why they had to come down from that mountain and move on.
Still, to keep moving on, it does help us to have little glimpses into the glory of that eternal dwelling place. That is what this chapel does for us. This chapel is indicative of a certain sacramental quality that a church building has, or at least should have. The church building has a sacramental quality which it effectively conveys by its beauty and symbolism.
This is reminiscent of what our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI teaches us in his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, when he says that beauty is evangelizing; beauty raises the mind and heart, raises the soul to God, to help us contemplate the lofty mysteries of heaven. I wish to take this opportunity, then, to congratulate you, the entire Thomas Aquinas College community, on the construction of such a beautiful dwelling place for the Lord that can do exactly that for us. What a tremendous accomplishment!
The Other Side of Contemplation
Adoring the Lord in His glory, though, is only one side of contemplation. That is reflected in the declaration from the cloud. The cloud obviously is God's presence, as the cloud guided the ancient people of Israel in the Sinai Desert for those 40 years. So that voice of God from heaven proclaims, "This is my beloved Son." The disciples enjoyed beholding the glory of that vision, but beholding or adoring is just one side of contemplation. The other side is reflected in the rest of this declaration: "Listen to Him."
Listen to Him. That was the point of the disciples' coming down the mountain after their encounter with Christ in His glory. They still had a lot of work to do to get there, to listen. That virtue of listening to the Lord goes back all the way to our first father in the Faith. The story we heard proclaimed in our first reading is one also very familiar to us, the sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham's son (Gen. 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18).
I think we're all aware of the meaning of this story on so many different levels. On the level of personal faith, it was God testing Abraham's faith. We also know the typological meaning of this story, of how this account of the sacrifice of Isaac prefigures Christ's own crucifixion, the path to the glory that was foreseen by the disciples on Mt. Tabor. There is yet another level of meaning to this story, one I suppose we could call a meaning on the level of social consciousness. This was to put an end to the pagan practice of child sacrifice. The first light of revelation enters into the world to break the world away from those pagan practices.
We see references all throughout the Old Testament of how the ancient people of Israel at certain times were so influenced by the pagan culture around them, so pressured that at times they succumbed to their practices - and yes, surprisingly enough, even to the common pagan practice of child sacrifice. They had deviated from the true Faith of their father Abraham, the first one to hear and respond to the call of the one true God.
There is always that temptation in every age, always the pull back to those ancient practices. Scripture bears witness to what happens when we do - and do not - listen to the Lord. I think we all are concerned and alarmed at how we see pagan practices creeping back into our own society here thousands of years later, even the pagan practice of child sacrifice. That is just one example. These practices repeat themselves, just in a different guise.
We need to listen to the Lord. Listening to the Lord and serving Him takes place above all in the particular vocation that God has designed for each of us. Just as it was true for Peter, James, and John walking down that mountain - they had a vocation to fulfill, which is why they had to move on - so it is true for us. St. Augustine, in his homily on this text, reflects on what we could call the vocation of Peter at this moment in his life. St. Augustine says, "Go down, Peter: You long to remain in the peace of the mountain; go down, preach the word, dwelling upon it continually, welcome or unwelcome; bring home wrong-doing, confirm the waverer, rebuke the sinner, with all patience and doctrine. Struggle, labor hard, suffer what torments may come, so that through the brightness and beauty of holy labors, fulfilled through charity, you may come to possess what is signified by the shining garments of the Lord."
That was Peter's vocation. Every vocation really is to serve the Church, and obviously for Peter in a singular and a preeminent way. But for each of us, God calls us to worship and contemplate Him by adoring and listening, and then to serve Him by responding to the vocation to which He calls us.
The Need for Communion
Perhaps the situation we are in today might seem similar to what Peter and the other apostles faced in their time, the forces they were up against, as we are living in this increasingly pagan world. Peter's companion, Paul, gives us cause for hope in the second reading for today's Mass (Rom. 8:31b-34). "If God is for us, who can be against us?" God is for us. He has accomplished the victory in Christ. Our part is to adore, listen, and respond. We cannot truly do so except in the communion of the Church, in communion with Peter.
That communion is so poignantly signified by the cornerstone of this building, blessed by our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, signifying that ecclesial communion with the successor of Peter and, through him, the whole Church. It is a communion signified even more profoundly by the translation of the relics in today's Mass, signifying as well our communion with the saints, those who have gone before us in faith in every generation.
The great virtue of Thomas Aquinas College is that it forms young people in the Faith in all of its dimensions - intellectual, spiritual, and cultural - such that young people learn to listen to the Lord, and so they can successfully discern that voice and respond to God's call in their life, according to their own, particular, personal vocation. Whatever that vocation is, it is the path of the Cross, because it is the Cross that leads us to the glory of Christ, that glory beheld by Peter, James, and John in that experience of the Transfiguration. I suppose we could say, then, that the great virtue of Thomas Aquinas College is that it helps young people become contemplatives.
As we contemplate the glory of the Lord in this beautiful dwelling place of His that so lifts our minds and hearts to Him, let us ask Him for the grace to listen and respond to His call in our life - for the sake of our own salvation and for that of the whole world.