Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Dedication of Saint Jude’s Church, Mountaintop
September 17, 2017
What a glorious day that we are privileged to experience in praise of God and with gratitude for all that God has done in our lives and in this wonderful parish community of Saint Jude. This magnificent dwelling place for God is a tribute to all of you who, in so many and different ways, have served to build not merely this church – but the Church – the People of God.
While I could never begin to sufficiently single out and thank the countless numbers of parishioners, building professionals, civic officials, clergy, religious, neighbors and friends who have helped to bring this day to pass, I must acknowledge one person who has worked tirelessly for many years to make this moment a reality: your local shepherd and pastor, Father Joe Evanko.
This liturgy of dedication, while familiar in its shape and substance, is unique in many ways. It doesn’t happen that often. In fact, it’s the first time that I’ve ever experienced it as a priest for 34 years, much less celebrated it as a bishop for almost 8 years. I hope you will watch and listen and soak in the richness of this powerful moment of prayer and praise.
So first, let’s reflect upon the Word of God. While numerous scripture passages may be chosen for the liturgy of a church dedication, the first reading from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah is always required. In so many respects, it’s a passage that is foundational to what this day and this moment in the life of your parish is all about.
In the reading from Nehemiah, Ezra the priest gathered the people of Israel together and proclaimed the Word of God. But that gathering was not just an ordinary moment in which the people joined together in worship and praise. It was the first time that the people of Israel had come together after almost 50 years of the Babylonia exile – an exile that began with the destruction of their lives and the eventual destruction of the magnificent temple to God built by King Solomon.
Finally, after a half century of suffering, the people of Israel were allowed to return to their homes. And Ezra reminded them through his proclamation of the Torah that while the temple had been destroyed, God was in the midst of his people bringing them back to life!
Indeed, that moment reminded the people of Israel that for so much of their history following upon God establishing a relationship – a covenant of love – with them, Yahweh – God – didn’t dwell apart from his people in a house made of gold and silver and precious stones. No – he dwelt in a tent in the midst of his people. He was one with them – supporting and sustaining them – and forming them into a people unique unto himself.
Look at yourselves, my friends. Look at the journey of that you’ve experienced as a parish on this blessed mountaintop for 63 years. … Many of you have said to me today and in recent months, “Finally, our dream of a church is realized.” And it has been realized and it’s beautiful to behold, isn’t it? … But, my brothers and sisters, this dream is a reality today only because from your earliest days, you have first been deeply committed to building CHURCH – the people that God has called you to be!
In today’s gospel passage, we hear familiar words of Jesus spoken to one of his closest disciples, “You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church!” The word translated as “church” comes from the Greek ekklesia which means “an assembly.” Through Peter’s leadership, Jesus would establish not a building or temple but a people – a people who embraced the call to missionary discipleship – a people who proclaimed the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – a people who lived their faith in Jesus in word, worship, community and service.
And that’s what you have done in this parish for all of your years together as the People of God. You have celebrated life and called one another to a profound respect for this sublime gift of God. You have taught people to read and write and sing about our faith. You have fed families and clothed the poor. You have healed bodies and spirits, consoled, buried and converted hearts to the Lord. … You have acknowledged God’s presence in your hearts and have served so well the lives of the people God has woven into your midst. … You have first done Christ’s work – a work that, more than anything else, has created the rock solid foundation upon which this house of God now rests.
Our late Holy Father, Saint John Paul II, stated this reality best with these words that he shared early on in his pontificate. “The parish is not principally a structure, a territory or a building, but rather ‘the family of God, a fellowship afire with a unifying spirit,’ ‘a familial and welcoming home,’ the ‘community of the faithful,’ … the place where the very ‘mystery’ of the Church is present and at work.”
And so, because you have been faithful, we come to this moment of great joy in the life your parish community. This rich ceremony that we undertake as we dedicate this structure for the worship and praise of God and the building up of his people reminds us of who we are as children of God – of all that we are called to do and to be – and of the heart of our faith and hope in Jesus.
In just a few moments, we will celebrate four rites that are unique to this dedication ritual: the anointing the altar and walls of the church, the incensation of the altar and church, and the covering and lighting of the altar and church. Each of these rites expresses in a visible way the work that Jesus accomplishes in and through his Church whenever we celebrate the mysteries of our faith, especially the Eucharist. Watch and pray along with me as these rites unfold.
All of these unique rituals will culminate in something very familiar: the celebration of the Holy Eucharist – the end for which this church was built – the living presence of God in our midst – enlivening us for mission and service.
Pope Francis reminds us often – and so well – that our lives as Christians, while strengthened by the Eucharist, can never lose touch with our responsibility as the baptized to engage the mission of Jesus and to serve generously and selflessly, following his example. “If Catholics do not proclaim Jesus with their lives,” the Holy Father notes, “then the Church is less than what it should be. … But when believers share their faith … embrace the power of their baptism … and serve with love … there is life.”
What a joyful day – a day to celebrate our life as Christians and to give thanks for all that God has accomplished in and through this blessed community of believers – yet, a day that also reminds us that the journey of faith is by no means over with the dedication of this church. No, it continues for us all! … While we have much for which to be grateful this day, this church building will only shine forth as a vibrant sign of love and hope to all if you, who have given it life, continue to live your faith in service of the Gospel of Jesus.
So, my brothers and sisters – give thanks – go forth in love – and continue to build CHURCH – the People God has called us to be!