Yesterday morning His Excellency the Most Reverend John R. Gaydos, Bishop of Jefferson City, preached an excellent homily at the start of the Tolton Pilgrimage in St. Peter church in Brush Creek, Missouri.
Father Tolton was baptized at St. Peter church, but not in the building presently standing at the site.
The text of Bishop Gaydos' homily follows:
Your Eminence, my brother bishops, priests, religious sisters,friends of Father Tolton:
Welcome to Brush Creek.
I am grateful to be able to be with you and to come with you on this holy pilgrimage. This truly is where it all began: where Father Tolton was born, where he was baptized.
While the State of Missouri remained in the Union, it had areas, of course, that abided by that institution of slavery. In fact, in this part of Missouri still bears the moniker, “Little Dixie.”
It’s been almost four hundred years since the first slaves were brought to the Virginia colony, beginning that dreadful service of trade in sugar, rum and human beings.
But we come here, and we stand on holy ground. But it is not made holy - obviously - by what we human beings do; it is made holy by God’s grace. The history of how it all began for Augustus Tolton is important especially now as we introduce his Cause to be recognized for veneration throughout the Universal Church.
Blessed Pope John XXIII called the family, “the cradle of priestly and religious vocations.” And this - with God’s grace - we see that at work, and we want to learn more and more - as we can - about that mystery taking place, taking place here.
When you look at it, as I said, it is a work of God. God has to remove whatever we may look at as insurmountable obstacles. We see that in the first reading.
This pilgrimage is taking place in the midst of the Lenten pilgrimage of the Universal Church. And you know, the pasch of Jesus, it echoes the pasch of Israel and we seek each year, especially in this holy season, to more make it our own pasch.
Over the years, the hymns and preachings of the divines of the African-American community forged in, I guess what you could call the lectio divina of their enslaved forebears, have identified very closely with this paschal drama that highly resonates with Israel enslaved and God’s power and might - that drama reached across the centuries, it buoyed up a people with no other reason to hope, nowhere else to turn. When you look at it, the true human condition of all of us, just very write large.
As we ponder the mystery of God’s grace, manifested in the heroic virtue of the life of Father Augustus Tolton, we are very fortunate, I think, to have these Scripture readings leading us to Jesus and Moses today.
When you think about it, this place was the beginning of Augustus Tolton’s exodus. So, in a way, I can also say to you: Welcome to Egypt.
What a wise, brave example we have in Moses. Here in this reading we just heard from the Book of Exodus, these people have just broken the Covenant with God. They made this molten image and worshipped. The Commandments, so newly given, they specifically forbid this action. This event could be the whole end of the story.
The Sinai Covenant, you see, where Moses got the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, it is a conditional Covenant. God says, if you keep my Covenant, you will be my people. And the Covenant is now shattered. They haven’t even left Sinai!
But Moses, as the 106th Psalm says, Moses stands in the breach. God proposes starting all over, but this courageous leader, uses three arguments to change God’s mind.
First, he reminds God how much effort he took to get that people out of Egypt. Second, he says to God, “What will the Egyptians say? They’ll ruin your reputation.” Finally, he invokes that unconditional Covenant God made with Abraham to make his descendants as numerous as the stars. And then the most amazing thing happens: God relents; God changes the divine mind; God renews the Covenant.
Here we find the first new Covenant. Remember, the people are still at Sinai. Whatever happens here it becomes the model for what we can expect in the future. This hope had to play a powerful role in the life of Father Tolton, from his early years in servitude; his flight from servitude; the desert experience of so many obstacles and adversaries; the daily struggle with the human condition manifested himself and all those he was called to serve in his holy priestly vocation.
Mindful of the example and, yes, the concern, and intercession, that we can expect from Father Tolton on our behalf this very day, in this our day, we, too, must ask ourselves: What will happen when the people break, when we break, the covenant with God in the future? We expect God to renew it again. We expect - and hope - for the liberating power of his grace manifested in his outstretched arm.
I believe this can be a special part of our intercession for the assistance of Father Tolton as we seek more and more to probe his heroic life. And today, with this Eucharistic celebration of the New Covenant, may we be filled with lively gratitude to our merciful God for all this grace, for the great Communion of Saints that surrounds us and assists us, especially for the great gift that God has given us in the person of Augustus Tolton. Once again: Welcome to Egypt.
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