Sunday, September 27, 2009  St. Mary’s Church makes a beautiful statement that the families who built this church that God indeed had primacy in their lives.

Homily, Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sequicentennial Celebration

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

It is indeed a special privilege to join with you this Sunday to celebrate this special anniversary of this community and to be in what is truly one of the 8 Wonders of the Archdiocese and as recognized in Kansas, one of the 8 Wonders of Art in Kansas. This church is a most beautiful testament of faith.

We are certainly in Benedictine Country today. There can be no mistake about that as I look at these two stained glass windows with St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. And we are very privileged to have with us today – and when I say “Abbot”, everybody’s head turns: Abbot Barnabas, Abbot Owen and Abbot Ralph. And of course, we recognize your current Pastor, Fr. Ed Oen, who serves so generously here as well as Sacred Heart at Baileyville; thank you Fr. Ed.  We are very blessed with his zealous ministry here. We are honored to have with us some of the Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica who have provided years of service to this community.

Today we remember the many special blessings that have happened in this sacred space. As I read through the history of the Parish, it seems that 150 years ago, people here immediately constructed a church and very quickly realized that church was too small, so they built another church and shortly after, that church was too small. Sometime around 1890, they decided that they would build a church that would take care of this community for a long, long time. They certainly did that.

And if we remember all the special blessings that have happened in this sacred space over the many years, children were given eternal life through the waters of Baptism; the Holy Spirit was poured into the hearts of young people through the Sacrament of Confirmation; mercy was received; sorrow was consoled; vows of love celebrated and professed – less than two years ago, by Sister Janelle Olberding who professed to the Apostles of Interior Life. I remember that day well; our weather is quite different today than then as it was mid-December and there was an ice storm but it did not dampen the spirit of the celebration. Thousands of people have been nourished here by the preaching of the gospel, nourished by the Bread of Life, to live and love during the ordinary moments of your lives.

This church is a beautiful testament to the depth of the faith of those who built it. Our buildings really do reveal the priorities in a community and society. The Catholics who built this church expressed and spread the word that nothing was more important to this community than God.  The manner in which this edifice has been cared for and maintained and renovated also reflects the value this community has placed upon their relationship with God. St. Mary’s Church is a powerful statement that here in St. Benedict, Kansas, that God is truly first. The presence of the Eucharist makes this truly a temple of God. This is not just a meeting room; this is a space where God makes Himself present just as surely as the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, walked this earth.

It is important that we always strive to give God our best. And certainly I think that those who built this church had the aim to give God their very best.

The verses from today’s gospel are in some ways startling, to even disturbing. Is Jesus really serious if we are better maimed, crippled, or blind at the sin? I remember mother with young children one time told me after a passage from this gospel was read, one of the children tugged on her sleeve and asked, “Mother is this the good news or the bad news that we are hearing?”

What is the good news?  Jesus is telling us that there is something even more precious and valuable than physical health – as precious as that is. The love of Christ is something that is accessible to all of us, no matter our age, our social status, or our personal wealth or our physical strength. Jesus is always very straight-forward with His disciples. He doesn’t sugarcoat the good news. Today, He tells them the truth that they would be better off if they were to sin they would be better of if a millstone were tied around their neck and thrown into the sea.

He continues in today’s gospel that we should prefer any physical limitation or disability rather than sin. And in so doing, would separate ourselves from the love of God. In other parts of the gospel, Jesus tells His disciples that they must lost their lives in this world to find authentic life. Similarly Jesus challenges His followers that we must be willing to take up the cross in order to follow Him. Expressed another way – if we are to be disciples of Jesus, then we must be willing to follow Him even to Calvary. Ultimately, each of us must make this choice: Do we want to devote our life to acquiring money and comforts that it can provide? Do we wish to spend our life in pursuit of the praise by others, recognition or fame? Do we want to make our life full by seeking the pleasure, whether is sexual or chemically induced by drugs or alcohol as the result of our entertainment preference? Or, do we want to spend our lives following Jesus Christ in the Way of the Cross?

In our Second Reading today from the letter of St. James, we are reminded of the fleeting nature of material things. Clothes become worn and go out of style; gold and silver corrode; cars break down; houses tumble down. Even if we have enough money to buy new clothes, new cars, new homes, we eventually lose our capacity to enjoy them. When we die, all our possessions in this world immediately belong to someone else. On the other hand, someone like Mother Theresa and her disciples, the Missionaries of Charity – she continues to impact millions of people throughout the world. Christians have an obligation to take care of their physical bodies, yet we know that physical health is not everything. Recall Pope John Paul II. Even when his body was frail and feeble, he continued to inspire people, especially young people. Contrast the last days of Pope John Paul II with thousands of young people from throughout the world gathered in St. Peter’s Square praying for him to the last days to someone like Howard Hughes. Howard Hughes had everything the world had to offer; he had money; he had the companionship of some of the most beautiful women. However, he died a pathetic figure, completely isolated by the fear of illness.

Faith in Jesus Christ gives us capacity for an abundant life in this world, and eternal life forever.

That’s why the builders of this church put their relationship with God first. St. Mary’s Church makes a beautiful statement that the families who built this church that God indeed had primacy in their lives. Succeeding generations of families who have maintained and renovated with great care this beautiful temple of God have similarly proclaimed that God is first and most important in their hearts. Buildings are symbols of what we value. In my 2005 Pastoral Letter, I wrote this: “Though we truly understand all of our life is a gift from God, we appreciate the miracle of grace that the Lord permits us to touch at each celebration of the Eucharist, that we naturally want to give God our best.” It is this awareness and spirituality that has inspired some of the greatest music ever written, the most beautiful art ever created. It is for this reason that we attempt to use the most worthy vessels and build churches that reflect our desire to give God our first fruits, the very best that we can hopefully offer to Him.

I am amazed by the people who built some of the beautiful churches in our Archdiocese. Some of our most beautiful churches were built during the Great Depression or in communities of very modest means. They remain eloquent in brick and stone of the love of the Lord and the priority of faith by those who sacrificed to build them. This is a great heritage that we have here in northeastern Kansas – the great faith of our ancestors. In recent years there are those who object to the building of beautiful churches. Often they will propose the powerful oral argument that we should not spend money adorning our churches when there are so many people in our communities, our nation and world that are hungry or deprived of the necessities of life. That could be perhaps a convincing argument if we really did use our resources this ...  to feed the hungry and care for the poor. Yet in a culture that seems to celebrate waste, it seems odd that the one place that we become frugal in our time is in the buildings that we erect to honor God. Our church buildings always reflect our meager and always inept efforts to honor God. It’s not that God needs any building we erect for Him, but that God is impressed by the quality of the materials used. Rather, we erect the most beautiful churches because of our need to honor the One who has given us everything. God is impressed by the love in our hearts and the sacrifices we require of ourselves in our efforts to honor Him. Our churches also reflect our understanding of ourselves as well. We believe that we are living temples, that we carry the very life of God. We believe that our human dignity is greater than any other creature because we have been uniquely fashioned in the very image of God. Our churches are built to remind us of the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. It is our conviction that human life is of such value that the Son of God took it upon Himself our human flesh. He gave His only Son for our redemption.  

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