About: Homily



Monday, September 2, 2002
10:00 AM

His Eminence
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony
Archbishop of Los Angeles



Nehemiah 8: 1-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19: 8, 9, 10, 15
1 Peter 2: 4-9
Luke 19: 1-10


        It is truly fitting that we begin today’s celebration at a site alongside the El Camino Real. The 18th century Spanish Franciscans trod, up and down that fabled road, as California’s first evangelizers. They inaugurated God’s active plan of salvation for all who, ultimately, came North and West to make their home in this golden State. Today we are writing an important chapter—not, assuredly, the last—to that unfolding story of God’s saving intentions for the people of California. We celebrate the Liturgical Dedication of the Altar and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in our State’s most diverse and decidedly most global city.

        Today, we offer our praise to God for this new Cathedral Church. Yet we do not gather here simply to celebrate its architectural and artistic achievements. These give homage to God and, together, we speak our thanks for the inspiration and artistry engraved in this soaring edifice. But we gather here mainly to reflect more deeply on the significance of this Cathedral Church.

        We have just heard Scriptures which invite us to understand the Cathedral, not primarily in the context of the sweeping Los Angeles skyline, but more profoundly, within the rich faith tradition paved, as a layered memory, in the El Camino Real. That tradition impels us to consider three points:
• How our new Cathedral Church can make us more aware of God’s presence in our everyday lives;
• How hearing God’s transforming Word might truly change our lives and send us forth to live out that Word;
• What it means for us as a people to be built up, stone by stone, into that spiritual house, the living temple of the Lord.



        In today’s first reading, Nehemiah and the people finish restoring the city’s devastated ancient walls and gates, destroyed by Israel’s enemies. Once desolate and demoralized, they now realize once more God’s presence with them, and allow that presence to be more deeply rooted in their lives. Nehemiah convokes them; invites them to listen afresh to God’s Word; reminds them that God journeys alongside them in their city, in their daily treks, and in their lives.

        For the Jewish people, the visible and eternal city of Jerusalem and its temple were the bedrock for their often fragile hopes, a gleaming reminder that God’s tent was pitched in their land. These visible signs of God’s dwelling among them—holy city and temple—gave direction to their own journey through life.

        St. Luke’s Gospel recounts how Jesus responds, first, to the desire of Zacchaeus to see Him from afar, from the safety of the sycamore tree; then to Zacchaeus’ hope that Jesus might enter his house, his life, and, indeed, transform him in ways he never would have dreamed. But this smallish Zacchaeus must first find a good vantage point— a place from which he could see Jesus – a sycamore tree.

        Does not this longing in the heart of Zacchaeus evoke a similar yearning deep within our own hearts to see God, to know His gentle and enduring presence? Like the Jewish people of Nehemiah’s time, like those living in the time of Jesus, and like the pioneer evangelizers who traversed the length of California, we, too, yearn to have some visible anchor of God’s presence within our midst. Our new Cathedral is that anchor for the ages.

        Today, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels joins the storied ranks of the early Missions, the first permanent structures built across the California landscape. It sinks its foundations in the very heart of the City of Los Angeles, astride today’s El Camino Real— today’s less colorfully named Hollywood Freeway—where it will stand and soar for many centuries as a sign of God’s enduring presence in our lives and community.

        Millions of people travel the 101 Freeway each year. I expect that many will have their lives brushed by God—some profoundly changed—as they glance at the Great Cross on the east side, or the grand Campanile on the west side. The road which leads to this spot becomes a different kind of camino real, closer to the route the Friars first imagined, a road to Christ our King. Many motorists may exit the freeway allured by this towering icon of God’s dwelling with us. Within every human heart stirs some, often unnamed, thirst for its Creator. No substitute can ever quench that deep-seated thirst. In the shadow of his outpost Cathedral, the Bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine, wrote: “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

        Like Zacchaeus, we, too, long to see Jesus. Unlike Zacchaeus, however, we need not search out a fragile bough on a sycamore tree. The Cathedral is our perch. From here we glimpse our great city of many cities, the home of peoples of many races, lands, and languages. As people cast their eyes upon this perch, from their many perches in downtown office skyscrapers, or from one of the vistas along Temple or Grand, or from one of the many major freeways converging near here, hearts will catch up with where eyes have set their gaze. At long last, there is a noble Great Church at the heart of Los Angeles, radiating out toward the civic and governmental hub, the commercial, residential, and cultural focal points of our city—all astride the historic and history-laden El Camino Real.

        But this Cathedral must be much more than an optical delight for those who chance upon its beauty in the shifting shadows of the day. We might ask, with the poet John Dunne, for whom this Cathedral bell doth toll? For those who lie ill in the USC—County Hospital and other nearby hospitals and rest homes, the peal of the great bells in the Campanile will ring a sound of solace. For the elderly and lonely, dwelling within the circle of these bells’ sway, its tolling might become, in time, a familiar echo, evoking remembered joys. For those, in the too-many and over-populated jails downtown, we pray that the ringing of these Cathedral bells soften their fettered burdens and instill some sense of inner peace that no one can snatch away. For our Catholic sensibilities, the sounding of Church bells ring out a clarion message of good news: we are redeemed, even us sinners, and summoned by the bells to a close intimacy with God.

        Is all this splendor and architectural artistry enough for us? Can we rest content with the beauty arising from this spot? We must answer, an emphatic “NO”! Not as a kind of cultural treasure was the Cathedral built. As a vibrant symbol of God’s habitat in our city, this outer form must find an echo in the inner graces of a people who listen intently to God’s Word as it comes to us as challenge and consolation.



        Once they restored the walls and gates of Jerusalem, Nehemiah and Ezra gathered the people and began to read to them “ the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel.”(1) They listened as the Word of God was proclaimed and they heard it, as if for the first time. As today’s Scripture recalls: “…and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.”

        Nehemiah and Ezra not only read God’s Word but broke it open so that the people could savor its meaning and put it into practice. The people who received that Scripture with open hearts wept, as it dawned on them how frequently they had been unfaithful to that Word. But the ministers in the restored temple convinced them not to mourn. Rather, they stirred the people on to find unutterable joy in the Word which embraced them: “This day is holy to the Lord your God… the joy of the Lord is your strength.”(2)

        The Word of God is fruitful when it truly transforms us. In today’s Gospel, Zacchaeus embodies this transforming faith. Like few others, he came into a direct personal contact with Jesus the very Word— the Son of God. This encounter remarkably shook up Zacchaeus. He welcomes Jesus into his home, despite the mocking ridicule of the self-righteous who scorned him as an outsider. Zacchaeus realizes that his past life stands in sharp contradiction to the person of Jesus toward whom he is now so urgently drawn. With spontaneous gratitude, he volunteers: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”(3)

        This Cathedral exists to effect in us an extraordinary transformation like that of Zacchaeus. Only a deep personal encounter with God’s Word can bring this about. It is not enough that we merely hear the Word of God here, or take note of it as “interesting.” Rather, just as Zacchaeus, who had not set out that morning with any inkling of welcoming Jesus into his home that day, so, we too, must welcome the Word and allow ourselves to be transformed by it.

        Only when that occurs will this majestic Cathedral begin to fulfill the dream and meet the expectations which have been ours from its beginnings; only when that happens will it be worth all the effort, struggles and resources poured out to make this Cathedral a reality. Only when that happens does this structure merit the name, “Cathedral.”

        When the transforming Word of God takes root in our lives, the light of God can light up our hearts. As the psalmist so ardently prays: “ In your light, we see light.”(4) One of the most conspicuously beautiful features of this building stands forth when the sun’s beams are at play across the interior of the Cathedral, highlighting nuanced colors and patterns, refracted through the alabaster that laces this space. This evokes an awareness of the brilliant light of God’s love soaking into us and bathing us with its warmth and healing.

        No one should leave this spot untouched by God’s reshaping Word. A traveling family, tourists, truck drivers or a carpool of co-workers on the Hollywood Freeway; an isolated person or small group coming for prayer; people in the neighborhood for whom this will be their regular place of worship—as much their local church as a great Cathedral—each will feel God’s own touch and presence and be opened to the light of God touching their own deepest places, the geography of their own hearts.

        God’s Word always calls us to move beyond our fears and limitations, to take risks that will fashion us more and more into God’s image. Anyone who comes here should continue on their journey with a replenished spirit of respect for all other peoples—in a special way, rendering thanks for the gift of ethnic diversity in this great urban center. No traces of discrimination or racism are to be found in this space. God’s temple is a house for all peoples. All are invited to the banquet. No one is excluded because of race, color, gender or national origins. Nor, as Zacchaeus shows us, is this a place only for those who manage to keep each and every detail of the law.

        Be assured that the fullness of the Gospel of Life will be proclaimed here, and each human life, from its earliest moments to its eldest years, will find in this place nurture and respect. We will work together here to heal differences, be they among family members, co-workers, or sectors in the city. The great Cathedrals have been shaped by the craft and loving skills of countless artisans, many anonymous. Here we will strive to become different kinds of artisans, of peace and goodwill, forging links among diverse groups.

        Touched by God’s Word, we sense that we are inter-dependent, one people, one community. All must profit from our bounty and be empowered to share in the good things for which Los Angeles is known across the globe. God’s Word calls us to nothing less: no one can be excluded; one neighborhood must not be walled off from another. The gifts received within these walls must overflow as we leave this space.


        A Cathedral achieves its destiny when the mystery of the Church is fully lived out: in the gathering of God’s People; in the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacramental life of the Church. Every Eucharist is both a gathering and a sending, and both are only possible by the prior action of God.

        The reading from the First Letter of Peter reminds us that Jesus, the corner stone, was sent by the Father to renew all creation. Peter then urges us to allow ourselves, like living stones, to “be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.(5) God surely dwells within His people, “a temple built of living stones, founded on the apostles with Jesus Christ its corner stone.”(6)

        God continues to build up the Church, the Body of Christ, as a holy city, “enlivened by the Spirit, and cemented together by love.”(7) The 135 men, women, and children visible along the walls of the nave serve as our models. The saints and blesseds call us to be ever more faithful in our discipleship with the Lord Jesus, as we move forward with them to the fullness of the kingdom. The power to become a new spiritual house of the Lord flows from the Word of God, but just as potently, that grace emanates from the celebration of the Eucharist. The power of the Eucharist is expressed symbolically and spiritually through the concentric stone floor circles that begin at the base of the Altar and eventually envelop everyone in the Cathedral.

        As we journey out from the Cathedral, we encounter the plaza or Cathedral Square, a vitally important part of this hallowed ground. St. Thomas More, we recall, situated his Utopia, his conversation about a more humane and just city, in the Cathedral Square before the towering Cathedral in Antwerp. In our Cathedral Square, the dreams of cooperative living—even with those who never darken a Cathedral’s door—will drift across the plaza stones. Linked to Cathedral Squares throughout the ages, and throughout the world, it is from our plaza that we go forth—forging links to commerce, in the fairs and selling booths; links to politics, in the concerned voices for a more just society. The plaza is a venue for outdoor dialogue about the greatness that we, together, might achieve as a city.

        Links across social classes are also strengthened. The great Bishop, St. John Chrysostom, insisted that the poor and rich mingle in the square, expressing the unity celebrated in the Eucharist. We are linked, too, in those celebrations which remind us that God is glorified when the human family is fully, even playfully, alive: in the fiestas and religious dramas outside the Cathedral steps. Here in Los Angeles we have built a capacious plaza which demonstrates the relationship of the Cathedral to the longings of our larger city. Hearing the words “The Mass is ended, Go in peace,” we are sent forth to be a leaven and a light at the heart of this city, every city. It is the Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ, impelling us, doing more in and through us than we could ever ask or imagine.


        It is the one and same Spirit who led the 18th century Franciscans to evangelize California, carrying the Gospel message as they trod the Camino Real. It is the Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ, who has challenged and consoled generation after generation of Catholics throughout Southern California, and today has gathered us here for the dedication liturgy of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

        It is the same Spirit who is stirring now in our hearts as we ready to make the Profession of Faith for the first time in the Cathedral, our voices rising in proclamation of a living faith from the time of the apostolic church until now, at this time and in this place. Let our proclamation echo to the ends of the earth: We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. We stand amidst that blessed communion of saints, women and men, young and old, heroic and humble, sung and unsung, as we prepare to invoke their names in litany. Hallowing the altar with the relics of Saints and Blesseds we are unceasingly reminded of the faith of those who have gone before us, leading us onward, interceding for us and strengthening us in our call to holiness.

        And as we lift up our hearts in the prayer of dedication of the Cathedral altar, we enter more fully into the mystery of Christ’s Church, a Church fruitful, holy, favored, and exalted. For the Church is the very Body of Christ—member for member—a living sacrifice of praise to the glory of God the Father. Transformed by the Word, strengthened by the celebration of the Sacraments, we, the Body, become a spiritual house, a living temple of the Lord, more radiant still than the hallowed ground on which we stand, and even more resplendent than the grandeur which today we behold. From this day forward, the stones of this building will sing, echoes rolling down the ages, telling of love and justice(8) through the lives of all who come and go from this “house of prayer for all peoples.”(9)


(1) Nehemiah 8:1
(2) Nehemiah 8:9
(3) Luke 19:8
(4) Psalm 36:10
(5) 1 Peter 2:5
(6) Prayer of Dedication, Rite for the Dedication of An Altar and Church [hereafter, “Rite”]
(7) Preface, Rite.
(8) Psalm 101:1
(9) Isaiah 56:7


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