14 November 2021

Homily for the Anniversary of the Dedication of the Church

Dedication of St. Augustine Church

Dear brothers and sisters,

Just as parents celebrate the births of their children each year, so Mother Church celebrates the dedications her churches. The prayers and readings we hear today are different from those of the thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time because it was on this day that, one hundred and thirty-nine years ago, this church was dedicated to the glory of God and the honor of Saint Augustine of Hippo by the Most Reverend Peter Joseph Baltes, the second Bishop of Alton. Today is, we might say, the birthday of this church, the day on which “salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).

St. Augustine Church, Ashland, Illinois
Dedication on November 14, 1882

As we celebrate this joyous anniversary of this charming little church, we cannot help but think of those who have gone before us in faith, those who, with such generous devotion, gave so much to make this dwelling place of God what it is. Nor can we forget those who have sustained and improved this sacred edifice since its dedication. We remember them with gratitude and we ask God, “who keep[s his] covenant of mercy with [his] servants who are faithful to [him] with their whole heart[s],” to pour out his loving forgiveness upon them and welcome them into his “festal gathering” (I Kings 8:23; Hebrews 12:22).

At the same time, we also remember the countless prayers offered here, lifted up to God in trust. How many people have here implored with Solomon, “…may you heed the prayer which I, your servant, offer in this place” (I Kings 8:29)? How many tears have been shed here, and how many shouts of praise have been uttered here? How many sacraments have been received here and how many souls have here been strengthened and fortified with the grace of God? We will never know, this side of heaven, yet this ignorance does not stop us from raising up joyful cries to God who has made this home his dwelling.

When he dedicated a church sometime between the years 391 and 395, our heavenly patron, Saint Augustine, said,

…just as this building has been made for us to gather in physically, so that building which we ourselves are is being constructed for God to live in spiritually. “For the temple of God,” says the apostle, “which is what you are, is holy” (I Corinthians 3:17).[1]

If you and I are still in the process of being built into the temple of God, when will we be dedicated? Saint Augustine’s answer is that we will be dedicated “when the Lord comes at the end of the age.”[2] This holy house, then, stands in testimony of the advent of God – both at Christmas and on the Last Day – and it stands as a summons to us to prepare ourselves to meet him when he comes.

On this penultimate Sunday of the liturgical year, Mother Church is urging us to prepare ourselves for the day when Christ Jesus says to us, “…today I must stay at your house” (Luke 19:5). If we wish for salvation to come to us on that day, we must be holy; we must be faithful to him with our whole hearts if we wish to enter his festal gathering. How do we become so prepared?

Before this church building was dedicated, laborers first had to cut down trees and quarry rocks. Trees had to be planed into beams and rocks hewn into shape. Everything had to be fitted together just right, having excesses taken away bit by bit. So it must be with us if we are to be fitted into the eternal dwelling of God.

While we are being built, you see, our lowliness is sighing up to him; but when we are dedicated, our glory will sing to him, because constructing a building means hard labor, while dedicating it means joy. As long as stones are being hewn from the mountains and logs from the forests, while they are being shaped and chiseled and fitted together, there is a lot of hard work and worry. But when the dedication of the completed building is celebrated, there is rejoicing and carefree satisfaction to replace the worries and the hard work. In the same way too, while people are being switched from a life of unbelief to faith, while whatever in them is twisted and not good is being pruned and cut, while tight fitting, peaceful and mutually respectful joints are being made, how many trials and temptations there are to be feared, how many tribulations to be endured!

But when the day comes for the dedication of the eternal house, when we are told, “Come, blessed by my Father, receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world” (Matthew 25:34), what exultant joy that will be, what carefree satisfaction! Glory will sing, and weakness will not be pierced. When the one who loves us and handed himself over for our sakes shows himself to us; and the one, who was manifested to humanity as what he was made in his mother, is manifested to them as God their maker which he was in the Father; when that eternal habitation himself enters his home now complete and furnished, established in unity, decked out with immortality; then he will fill all things, he will shine out in them all, “so that God may be everything for everyone” (I Corinthians 15:28).[3]

How do we, though, like those mountains and forests, become chiseled stones and cut beams to be fitted into the dwelling of God?

We can do so by following the example of Zacchaeus. “The Lord, who had already welcomed Zacchaeus in his heart, was now ready to be welcomed by [Zacchaeus] in his house… Grace is poured out, and faith starts working through love.”[4] May we, too, fully welcome Jesus into the homes of our hearts; may we respond to his grace with love. May we be so totally dedicated to him that salvation will come to us and we may be welcomed into the festal gathering of the angels and saints. Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 337, 2.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., Sermon 174.5.

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