Bishop Jeffrey R. Haines
Homily – St. Anthony Church Milwaukee – 150th Anniversary
What a privilege to celebrate this Mass in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the dedication of St. Anthony Church!
I always have loved this Church. It is immensely beautiful! The altars and works of religious art are spectacular, and the atmosphere truly has a spirit of reverence. One can feel that the spirit of God dwells here.
How fitting, then, that we sang the Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 84 with the lovely refrain, “Blessed are they who dwell in Your House, O Lord.” This truly is a House of God – a place to bask in His presence.
Yet, even as we cherish this gift, we must not forget that this sacred dwelling is not just a place to escape from the world. Yes, it provides a helpful and necessary respite of holiness. But, as we know, God’s gifts are never meant just to be a personal possession. God’s gifts always are meant to be shared.
So, we must not simply shelter ourselves in the sanctity of this church. We must take this holy spirit with us into the world. In a sense, we need to become a personal representative of the Lord’s presence in the local community outside us.
And, thankfully, this is one of the things we are celebrating on this anniversary weekend. This always has been a church – a parish – which has uniquely ministered to the needs of the community. Consistently and over many, many years, you have responded to the changing needs of the neighborhoods around you as the many waves of immigrant peoples have come to live here. Beginning, of course, with the Germans and following with the Polish, Irish, Italian, Hmong, Vietnamese, and Hispanic population. You have shared a caring spirit – offering a Gospel of welcoming and hospitality.
Another feature of this church and parish which we are celebrating this anniversary weekend is the way you have shared the foundation of faith. You have provided an anchor – or a bedrock – which has grounded people and given them something stable upon which to build their lives.
That element of your parish and school ministry is featured in the Second Reading we heard today from the First Letter of St Peter. He begins by quoting the famous passage from verse 2 of Psalm 118 and highlighting our Lord Jesus as the cornerstone of the great building which is the Church. He writes that the stone which the builders rejected (i.e., in rejecting Christ in His crucifixion) HAS become the cornerstone. And, God the Father in raising up His Son has made Him the foundation in building the edifice of the People of God.
Of course, St Peter points out that the stones which the Father is using are living stones. They represent us and all who believe. And, one by one, we are inserted upon the foundation of Christ the cornerstone, ultimately becoming a place in which spiritual sacrifices can be offered in honor of the Master Builder.
And, yet, it is important to point out the special role which a cornerstone plays in such a building. St Peter emphasizes that the cornerstone is not simply a foundation, or just a heavy base of support. Oh, yes, it is that, but more. Because, a cornerstone in constructing a building is not just a solid base. It sets the design and direction into which the other stones are inserted in the proper placement. In the case of our Church made of living stones, this means that we are aligned properly according the design and direction of Jesus Christ. We are placed in the pattern of the life of faith He set for us. When we are firmly set in that pattern, then we can incorporate others into the building of the Church – other living stones which create a lasting House of God, a bulwark of strength, a source of refuge, a place where life can flourish.
This is another component of the pastoral care which St. Anthony parish and school faithfully has passed along the to the living stones of the community which you have built. I think of the education which has been shared in your Catholic school, religious education programs and adult education programs. I think of the core values which have been emphasized in your teaching and ministry: faith, life-long learning, effective communication / evangelization and the call to become responsible members of the community.
Of course, creating a foundation of faith does not just “happen.” It takes the willingness of people to think beyond themselves – to commit to the greater good of God and to the greater good of serving His People – and not simply just think of themselves. That focus is illustrated by the example of St. Peter the Apostle in the Gospel today – Matthew, chapter 16. It is St. Peter who steps outside himself, moving beyond the confines of this world to the realm of the Eternal. For, when Jesus asks the Apostles “Who do you say I am?” Unlike the other Apostles who simply repeat the common opinions of others, St. Peter rises above such common thoughts and seeks to think in the realm of faith, becoming, as Jesus says, someone who speaks the wisdom of God. Guided by such Heavenly wisdom, then, Peter exclaims to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” It is that proclamation which inspires Jesus to name the former fisherman Simon Son of Jonah the leader of His Church, and it is this faith which will become the strength, the Rock of His Church.
Of course, through the 150 years of St. Anthony Church there have been others who have followed the example of St. Peter the Apostle and become messengers of the same faith. I think of all the many people who have served in ministry here. We can trace the line from your current pastor Fr. Hugo and your current associate pastors Fr. Jaime and Fr. Erick, your permanent deacons Deacon Rogelio and Deacon Henry and their current pastoral staff and the faculty of your school. You can imagine all of the priests, religious and lay ministers – those servants who came before – including the members of School Sisters of Notre Dame, the School Sisters of St. Francis, the Dominicans and the School Sisters of St Joseph. All of them combined to BE the Rock of faith – in the spirit of the Apostle Peter – who helped make this such a strong and vibrant church.
And, so here we are, inheritors of that legacy, as we gather to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the dedication of St. Anthony Church. In some ways, we probably feel a bit like King Solomon did in the First Reading today from the First Book of Kings, chapter 8. As you heard, he was preparing to dedicate the new Temple. This is the Temple which had been the dream of his father David and the hope of his people. As you heard in that reading, King Solomon is overcome by the momentous occasion. He is preparing a sacred place which will house the Holy of Holies, the place where the glory of God will be made manifest.
The word “glory” in Hebrew, the language of our ancestors in faith the Jewish people, is “kabod.” This word literally means “weight. ” It is meant to convey a “felt presence” of God – something palpable, tangible, real – not just some idea in our head.
Now, when King Solomon thinks of that awesome reality. That he is blessing a place where God really and truly will be present, he gets a bit overwhelmed. He feels a bit anxious, concerned, worried. He thinks, “Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you…If the heavens and highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this Temple which I have built?”
We probably wonder like that sometimes. Our Savior Jesus Christ is so great. He is Lord of the Universe. He is Glorious. As beautiful as this church of St. Anthony is, how can we claim that it is sufficient to house the Almighty?
As you heard, the answer which comes to King Solomon – and the answer which renews his spirit and fills his heart with grace – that answer is: There is nothing we can do to merit the manifestation of the glory of God in our midst. We cannot manufacture the manifestation of His sacred presence. Only our Lord and God can do that. We simply, humbly, contritely must ask Him to do so.
As you heard, King Solomon offers prayers of petition, cries of supplication and prayers offered as a humble servant. It is that act of adoration of the Lord which brings the outpouring of His glory, His “kabod,” His holiest of holy presence.
And, that is why we gather in prayer today. Not just to think about the past – though there is nothing wrong with doing that, because recalling that history makes us grateful for God’s kindness and blessings. No, the reason we gather today is to think about the future. And to simply, humbly, contritely, faithfully – with all of our hearts – beg the Lord to pour out His glory, His “kabod,” His holiest of holy presence upon us once again. And, not just for us, but for all who will follow us as members of St. Anthony church!