Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 20, 2018
Dedication of Altar – Saint Peter’s Cathedral
I suspect that I speak for all of you in saying that it’s good to be back home – back in our Cathedral church – after a long, four-month hiatus. What began several years ago with a conversation about changing light fixtures to accommodate LED bulbs quickly evolved into a more complicated project. In addition to new lighting fixtures, a state-of-the-art sound system was installed, along with a handicapped accessible bathroom and entranceway into the sanctuary and new and lighter vestibule doors. In commemoration of the Diocese of Scranton’s 150th anniversary and in keeping with more recent liturgical norms – new sanctuary furnishings – the altar, tabernacle, ambo, cathedra or bishop’s chair and baptistery – were created to reflect more appropriately the style of the one original altar that remained from the 1884 renovation of the Cathedral, that we refer to as the Saint Joseph altar, adjacent to the sacristy door. Finally, believe it or not, apart from the processional cross, we did not have a crucifix in the Cathedral for the last fifty years. Now, a magnificent crucifix – the central symbol of our Christian faith – hangs over the altar that represents Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
How blessed we are, through the kindness of so many of you who are with us today, to be able to worship and pray in such a noble and sacred space. But for as much as we revel in the splendor of this historic and pristine mother church of the Diocese of Scranton, this moment during this particular Sunday celebration calls us to something else. It bids us to reflect upon the primary reason for gathering as a people of God; namely, to open our hearts to God’s power and presence – to engage the living Word of God as it comes to us in the sacred scriptures – and to receive the very life of Jesus in the Eucharist.
In the Gospel reading four weeks ago, Jesus admonished his disciples for their pointless argument among themselves as to who was the most important. … In today’s Gospel account, James and John – who, with Peter, make up Jesus’ inner circle – obviously still failed to understand their Master as they asked for the places of honor and influence when Jesus begins his reign.
Most of us share the other disciples’ indignation at the incredible nerve of James and John to make such a request. Jesus then called the disciples together to try again to make them understand that they achieve greatness in God’s plan through service. Jesus’ admonition is almost a pleading: If you really understand me and if you truly want to be my disciple, then you must see the world differently and respond to its challenges with a very different set of values. The world may try to justify vengeance rather than forgiveness and to glorify self-interest over selflessness – but it cannot be that way with you!
In short, the Gospel reminds us that to be authentic disciples of Jesus means that we must put ourselves in the humble, demanding role of servant to others, to intentionally seek the happiness and fulfillment of those we love regardless of the cost to ourselves. And that reality puts us squarely at the foot of the cross.
In just a few moments, we will celebrate the dedication of this new altar. During his tenure as leader of the Church, Pope Benedict XVI reflected upon this central symbol for Catholic Christians, “Every altar is a symbol of Jesus Christ, present in the midst of his Church as priest, altar and victim. … In the Church’s liturgy, and above all in the sacrifice of the Mass consummated on the altars of the world, Jesus invites us, the members of his mystical Body, to share in his self-offering. He calls us, as the priestly people of the new and eternal covenant, to offer, in union with him, our own daily sacrifices for the salvation of the world.”
And so, from this altar, we will encounter in the Eucharist the very mystery of faith – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. We are invited to unite our struggles, our suffering and pain with the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus – assured always through the triumph of the cross that death is never the end of the story for the faithful follower of Christ, but always gives way to life and peace.
Some have probably wondered, in the midst of the tragedy of abuse that we are facing as a Church, why we undertook such a vast and complicated project when there are so many other vital needs to be addressed in the lives of God’s people. This project began long before a Grand Jury was convened or subpoenas were issued. Yet, I have no doubt that in the wisdom and providence of God, there is a lesson for us in this moment.
Just as this church building was in need of refurbishment and restoration, so are we, the living stones that make up the Church of Jesus – the Body of Christ. We become worn and broken. We constantly have need for renewal and conversion in our lives. And today’s gospel reminds us of just how far all of us and particularly leaders among us – like James and John, two of Jesus’ closest disciples – can stray from the heart of the message and mission of Jesus.
Yet, today’s gospel and this celebration also remind us that as unfinished as we may be, as worn and broken as we are at times, every one of us – as we are – is still called to do Christ’s work – to embrace his cross – to love selflessly – to give our lives in service of one another – and in so doing, to find life and salvation.
I hope you noticed something as you walked into the Cathedral this afternoon. If not, be attentive to this the next time you come into this sacred space. Walk down the middle aisle. Bless yourself with holy water from the baptistery as a reminder of your initiation into the life of Jesus and your commitment to live as his disciple. … As you continue your journey into the church, look at the altar ahead of you from which you are nourished by the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus, born from his selfless, sacrifice on the cross. … Then look up a bit and see the cross of Christ. But see in that cross not only a moment in Jesus’ life. See in that cross your life, with all of its suffering and pain, its betrayal, loneliness and grief. “Rejoice that we have been made sharers in Christ’s passion.” … Finally, raise your eyes above that cross and see the image of the transfigured Jesus in the painting that adorns our sanctuary – an image of Jesus that points to his final victory in the resurrection – a victory that is your hope and mine. … That’s the journey of every Christian. Reflect on it often – especially when you visit our Cathedral – and so find your peace.
My brothers and sisters, the source of our lives of faith and our hope is rooted in the Eucharist that was born on the cross of Jesus and that will soon be celebrated on this altar. As the great Saint Augustine reminds us, “Become what you receive from this altar.” … May we receive Christ in the Eucharist and then become Christ – building a people – working for justice – forgiving – feeding – serving generously – and loving selflessly as Jesus gives us example. In so doing, the Church of Jesus will shine far more brightly and beautifully in the eyes of the Lord than even this splendid space in which we worship today.