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Here, we do holy things

Archbishop Wenski's homily at dedication of Our Lady of Belen Chapel

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily while dedicating Our Lady of Belen Chapel on the grounds of Belen Jesuit Prep in Miami, May 1, 2022.

Today, with the dedication of this chapel to Our Lady of Belen, you bring to a happy conclusion a significant project for Belen Jesuit Preparatory School. We will soon consecrate this altar and will bless the tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament will be reserved.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski pours oil of chrism on the altar of Our Lady of Belen Chapel during the blessing and dedication Mass, May 1, 2022. The 600-seat chapel is located on the grounds of Belen Jesuit Prep in Miami. Behind him is Father Richard Vigoa, pastor of St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center in Coral Gables and director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship.

Photographer: COURTESY

Archbishop Thomas Wenski pours oil of chrism on the altar of Our Lady of Belen Chapel during the blessing and dedication Mass, May 1, 2022. The 600-seat chapel is located on the grounds of Belen Jesuit Prep in Miami. Behind him is Father Richard Vigoa, pastor of St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center in Coral Gables and director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship.

In consecrating this altar, we set aside a work made by human hands for a sacred purpose. I will anoint the altar with the same Chrism with which we were anointed at our baptisms and confirmations – for as members of Christ’s Body we too have been set aside for a sacred purpose. That purpose is alluded to in your school motto: “men for others.”

Also, in a solemn way, the altar will be enveloped by the smoke of incense. The sweet smell of the incense permeates this entire building, reminding us that here God dwells with his people. And as smokes drift heavenward, so will the fervent prayers prayed here by students, faculty and their parents also rise to God.

(And I suspect that at exam times, there will be a lot of prayers offered here. But prayer is an expression of hope and not the last recourse of the desperate; it is not an excuse for presumption. As the proverb says: Quien madruga, Dios le ayuda.)

On this altar and in this chapel, the sacrifice of the New Covenant will be offered; here we celebrate Jesus’ pass-over from death to life and in Jesus Christ, we are to “pass over” from the mundane to the sacred, from the worldly to the heavenly. When Christ was sacrificed on Calvary, sin was defeated. On this altar, that same sacrifice will be made present to us each day, so that his victory over sin, death and the evil one, will also be ours. 

Here, in this Eucharistic sacrifice, we meet God who opens to us the gates of heaven. 

As we dedicate this altar and set it apart for God’s service, let us also rededicate ourselves – as members of Christ’s faithful – to work together for God’s kingdom.

Worship pleasing to God can be offered in any place – if our hearts are truly “lifted up to the Lord.” 

Cardinal Van Thuan, when, as Archbishop of Saigon, was arrested after the fall of South Viet Nam and put in solitary confinement for 13 years in a damp and dirty cell. Friends smuggled to him some bread and some wine – and he would offer the holy Mass using the palm of his hand as an altar. And that hand was a worthy altar because he brought his offering to the Lord with no resentment, with no rancor or hatred towards those who imprisoned him, toward those who persecuted him. Like St. Paul, he ended up converting a few of his jailers.

Among the great Jesuit missionaries, there are Saint Isaac Jogues and his companions. They braved the harsh conditions of the North American wilderness to bring the Gospel to first peoples of this continent. While evangelizing among the Hurons, Isaac was captured by the Iroquois who tortured him, biting off several of his fingers. They weren’t just any fingers either: his thumb and index finger on both hands were either missing or mutilated. At the time a priest could only hold the host with those fingers – and to be able to continue to celebrate Mass he needed a special dispensation from the pope which the pope gave because as he said, those hands mutilated for Christ were certainly worthy of holding Christ’s Body. He returned to the mission field of North America where he and his other companions, the North American martyrs, gave their lives for the Gospel. Men for others!

At this altar, we come to the font of grace that gave those martyrs strength to shed their blood. As we come to the altar today, Christ asks us not to shed our blood. (Please God we would if he did.) But today Christ asks us – at this altar – to be “men for others” by shedding any resentments, and bad feelings, any anger we might harbor in our hearts.

Today Christ asks us – at this altar – to be “men for others” by witnessing to the faith without fear or shame in a culture that is increasingly hostile to faith, and so, to be “men for others” demands that we do not capitulate to the culture on issues regarding the sanctity of human life – from conception till natural death. A “man for others” does not approve or adopt behavior that denies or contradicts the truth about marriage and family.

Opening our hearts to others and their needs – recognizing Jesus in the person of the prisoner, the migrant, the hungry – is an opportunity for each one to be a “man for others.” When Peter professes his love of Jesus, Jesus commissions him to care for the flock, to feed the sheep. Loving the Lord is always a charge to care for others, to be “men for others.”

Here, we stand on holy ground and this holy ground is the common ground where we Catholics stand as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Here, we do holy things – we read the Scriptures, we worship and adore Christ present in his Most Blessed Sacrament, we celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass and the other sacraments.

We do these holy things – so that we can become holy ourselves. 

As Catholics we believe that God made all things – visible and invisible. He made all things good. And therefore, all creation, all the material things God has given us, can serve as means to help us encounter him. The Son of God became incarnate so that he might more easily bring us to his Father. Because of the incarnation, material things can be used to communicate grace. We believe that the sacraments communicate God’s grace, God’s life to us. What grace is doing is made more comprehensible through the sacramental forms: Water, oil, bread and wine, all help communicate the mysteries they symbolize and make present to us.

In this way, all the accessories, all the appointments in this chapel – the ambo, the altar, the candles – they all help communicate to us the great mystery we celebrate here. 

To conclude, allow me to quote from your website – words of your principal, Jose Roca, and words of your president, Father Willie Garcia-Tuñon.

First, from your principal: “We believe that the education of each student centers on the formation of the whole person – the academic, spiritual, physical and social components.” That’s what makes Catholic education great: We address the whole person – and you can do that at Belen because here we speak about God, and we speak to God every day. 

And second, from your president, Father Willie, in speaking of this project, said: “Be assured, the chapel is not simply an echo of our past but a loud and crisp statement of an extraordinary future.”

So, may we – and the students and future students of Belen – always listen to the voice of the Lord in this chapel. He asks us as he asked Simon Peter: Do you love me? If we can answer “yes”, then Jesus will invite us into that extraordinary future by saying to each one of us as he once bid Peter and the Apostles: “Follow me.”