The Worldwide Catholic Church

Readings: Ez. 47.1-12; Ps. 46; 1 Cor. 3.9-17; Jn. 2.13-22.

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran at Rome. Besides its 200+ churches Rome has four major basilicas: St. Peter's, St. Paul's Outside the Walls, St. John, and St. Mary Major. The three first basilicas were built at the orders of Emperor Constantine, and the fourth was built one generation later. You will remember that since 64 AD, the Christians had suffered onten major persecutions over 250 years, and up to 100,000 Christians had suffered martyrdom. Christians had been forced to worship in secret, and in fear of death. But now, the new emperor decreed in 313 AD, that Christians could practice their religion openly, without fear, without persecution. Ten years later, St. John Lateran was opened to the public. This church has a capacity of 23,000 people. Imagine the joy and pride of these 4th century Christians. Their faith and hope had borne fruit. They could now worship freely in public.

We here at St. Joseph Church have joy and pride in our church. We could talk about the faith of our ancestors in Maryland. Although Maryland initially was one of the few colonies which allowed Catholics to practice their religion, religious freedom came to an end here in 1688, when England imposed a new round of anti-Catholic persecutions. We Emmitsburgians have joy and pride in that our Catholic ancestors fled downstate Maryland in 1728, and carried the Catholic faith here to Emmitsburg. Elder's Station was the home of William and Ann Elder; half of their house was reserved as a chapel for Mass to be said there by circuit-riding Jesuit missionaries. Since that time, we delight that for eight generations, sons and daughters of the founding families of this parish have kept the faith. Today, we take joy and pride in our church here. We profess our faith openly inside and outside of our church, in our local community and beyond our local community. We do our best to put our faith into action.

We at St. Joseph Church belong to the worldwide Catholic Church. The Church is holy because its founder Jesus Christ is holy. In today's gospel, Jesus reveals to us that he is "the new temple". On Pentecost Sunday, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to dwell within and guide the Church. Among the world's 6 billion people, we count 1 billion Catholics and another 1 billion non-Catholic Christians. Please God, all Christians may continue to grow in mutual respect, prayer, assistance, and greater unity. Our common bonds are based in Jesus, the Scriptures, and the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion. We share a common vision in developing the "kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven."

Please don't take for granted our faith and freedom to practice our religion. Not all people are free to practice their religion. Persecution continues to this day. In China, we have 10 million Catholics in the underground church, and another 10 million in the above-ground government-backed church. Clergy and laity are arrested and imprisoned regularly. In India, since January of this year, Christians, who are mostly Catholics, have been suffering mob violence. Hindus have gone on rampages, burning to the ground Christians' churches and homes. Dozens of Christians, Catholics and Protestants, have been killed on account of their faith. Thirty thousand Christians have been forced to seek refuge in forests. In Russia, last week, two priests were shot to death. In many of the Moslem lands, oppression and persecution against Christians is standard operating procedure. Please don't take for granted our faith and freedom to practice our religion. Instead, take pride and joy in our faith, and in our families as we pass on the faith.

One aspect of church I wish to focus on is sacred space. This is God's house. As Jesus says, "this is not a marketplace." We are blessed to have inherited this church in which we worship. Architecturally, when people come through the front door of any Catholic Church, their eyes should be drawn up the center aisle to see, first of all, the altar of sacrifice; and secondly, Jesus on the crucifix.

The atmosphere of the church is to be one of reverence: before, during, and after church services. We speak respectfully. We dress modestly and neatly. There is a time for praying privately, and a time for praying publicly. There is a rhythm in our services: standing, sitting, kneeling; and at times singing, or speaking the congregational responses, or praying quietly. The church provides sacred space. In the noisy and busy world of work and play, I encourage you to savor the peacefulness of this church building, where we individually and communally develop our relationship with God. The church is lots of things: it is a building, a worldwide institution, a Spirit-led leaven for the kingdom of God. The church is also us. Look at the people in the pews beside you; we are the living church. St. Paul says to the Corinthians: "You are God's building. you are God's temple." Thank God for our faith and freedom to practice our religion. Let our faith shine. In the process, let's express public joy and pride in our Catholic Christian faith.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley