Mass of Dedication: Chapel of the Immaculate Conception – October 31, 2008
My friends, it is an honor to be with you in this sacred, historic Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.
Archbishop Myers, I thank you for presiding here as the father of our University and for dedicating this new altar which will be for us and for generations of future Setonians a symbol of the living Christ in our midst.
Seton Hall’s history has been marked by some memorable days; occasions that celebrated transitions and anniversaries and championships; programs and schools initiated; campaigns completed; new buildings dedicated. We have come to the Chapel in the happiest of times, like weddings and graduations, and in the most difficult of times, as we did on the evening of the Boland Hall fire. But through it all, one sacred place has stood witness to our timeless faith amid the passage of the years and personalities that make up Seton Hall’s history.
In the scriptures tonight (from the first and last books of the Bible), a dream and then a vision set the tone for our reflection.
In Genesis, as the sun was setting, Jacob the patriarch falls asleep. He had a very strange dream of a stairway connecting heaven and earth. And angels, ministers of the Most High, ascending and descending.
“And there, standing next to him – was the Lord.” Not in the sky. But at his side, on human ground. So, Jacob names that place Beth El – house of God, saying, “How awesome is this shrine. It is nothing but the abode of God and gateway to heaven.”
Every church is Beth El, a place of revelation, where heaven and earth, time and eternity are joined and where the Lord stands at our side. And such is this Chapel.
The Book of Revelation tonight, closes with a breathtaking vision of the world to come. “I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” With all the saints whom we celebrate tonight, we await the new Jerusalem. Amidst our journey through the trials of time and history, we await the new Jerusalem where there will be no more death or no more weeping. As we will again repeat in tonight’s Creed: we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. The liturgy that is celebrated here in this holy place anticipates the descent of that holy city down from heaven. The earthly Jerusalem was built and protected at the cost of immense human effort. Each time Jesus, Mary and Joseph made a pilgrimage up to Jerusalem, it was brutally fatiguing. Tonight’s vision is not of going up to Jerusalem but of a New Jerusalem – a Jerusalem of grace, freely coming down, and meeting us in this holy place. Looking up at the Chapel’s blue, star-filled ceiling, we can sense ourselves already experiencing the gift of God’s holy new city descending into our lives now. The promise is true tonight: “Behold I am making all things new.”
This Chapel means many things to many people. I remember, as a freshman 45-years ago, coming here and being assigned, in the Divinity School, the center seat in the second row aisle side. Every Setonian has Chapel memories. Yes, this place is a threshold linking our daily campus life with the eternal plan of God. With all our worries and fears, our hopes and dreams, here we have confident assurance that Christ, the stairway between heaven and earth, is always with us until the end of time. It is here in this Chapel that we have always expressed, what G. K. Chesterton called, our “easy intimacy with mystery” that marks our Catholic faith.
When Seton Hall’s founder, Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, decided to build a chapel, his college was some seven years old. He decided to build it at a difficult time. This Chapel’s cornerstone was laid during the summer of the Battle of Gettysburg, a moment of wrenching difficulty for our young nation. And, of course, with the Civil War, came the ensuing financial and enrollment crises. These did not hold Bayley back. His fledgling college would survive and it would have a chapel. And a Chapel he built. Elegant in design and superior in its materials, a testimony to those who believed that Catholics could stake out a claim to higher education in this new America.
All Saints is an appropriate feast to dedicate this altar and to celebrate the Chapel’s renewal. Look around at the walls and windows. We are not alone in our Catholic faith but part of a transcendent, universal community of faithful throughout the world and beyond this world, living and deceased, some canonized and most not. A long procession of men and women have gone before us at Seton Hall. Some remembered, the majority not. But they are a part of that immense “cloud of witnesses,” God’s holy ones. Their generosity has helped to give this campus its unique and enduring spirit.
On the rear wall of the sanctuary is the original depiction of our Blessed Mother. She walks with this University in a special way. Both in her Immaculate Conception and in her Assumption, Mary embodies the story of the mystery of God’s election and God’s grace. Chosen before birth for a purpose that God knew beforehand, this is the story of Israel, and of Mary. It is the story of all saints, and it is the story of each one of us. We live by God’s grace. Each day we sing the gratitude and praise that is Mary’s: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord: the Almighty has done great things for me.”
How do we thank people for making the dream, the vision of this restoration a reality?
I look around the Chapel tonight and I see so much goodness and generosity. In the name of Seton Hall, I thank each of you who played a role, large or small, in making this night possible.
May all of us tonight repeat King David’s words at the dedication of the first temple in Jerusalem: “Who am I, Lord, and who are my people that we should have the means to contribute so freely. For everything is from you and we give to you only what we have received from your hand.”
I extend a very special word of gratitude to Mrs. Lucia Palestroni and to the Palestroni Foundation for being the major benefactors of this restoration. I thank our priests, whose ministry on this campus and in this Chapel has made our community here “living stones” where the faith becomes real and lived in the minds, hearts, and souls
of our Setonians.
Let us now begin the rite of dedication of this new altar. A Greek cross with equal arms seals the front of the coralline marble altar. (A similar cross set in the center of the sanctuary floor was discovered during the restoration process.) The cross is enclosed in a circle symbolizing the rule of Christ’s sacrifice and love over all the world and yes over all this campus.
Tonight, let us rededicate ourselves to living lives worthy of what has been given us. For the generations before us—our predecessors, our parents—passed on their faith with great generosity, at great cost. May this Chapel, may this University and our lives – bear witness to the grace and love that makes all this possible. In this sacred place, in Spirit and in Truth, may we give the glory to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.