NOVEMBER 18, 2009- DEDICATION OF AWHUM CHURCH- LUKE 19:1-10

I MEAN TO STAY AT YOUR HOUSE TODAY. SALVATION HAS COME TO THIS HOUSE. Today we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of the monastery church of Awhum, our daughter house in Nigeria. It has become an important center of prayer not only for the Diocese of Enugu, but is frequented by Catholics from the whole of the country. From the time of St. Bernard in the early 12th century, the Feast of the Dedication of the local monastic church has been celebrated with a particular fervor by Cistercians. As Bernard noted in the first of his six sermons of the dedication at Clairvaux Abbey, the real subject of this memorial is the monastic community of which the fabric of the Church is a symbol. He speaks to his monks in these familiar, simple terms and his later talks reveal how faithfully and earnestly the community responded as the years passed

Today’s feast, brothers, ought to be all the more devout as it is more personal. For other celebrations we have in common with other ecclesiastical communities, but this one is proper to us, so that if we do not celebrate it nobody will. It is ours because it concerns our church; rather ours because we ourselves are its theme. You are surprised and even embarrassed, perhaps, at celebrating a feast for yourselves. But do not be like horses and mules that have no understanding . . . . Your souls are holy because of the Spirit of God dwelling in you; your bodies are holy because of your souls and this building is holy because of your bodies. (PL 183.2: 517, 518)

When we read over the various texts that refer to the theme of today’s liturgy we are impressed with the fact that Saints Peter, John, and Paul in their writings had already employed this same imagery. "You are God’s building", St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church, and he developed this metaphor at considerable length: “Thanks to the favor God showed me I laid the foundation as a master builder might do and now someone else is building upon it . . . . No one can lay a foundation other than the one that has been laid, namely Jesus Christ . . . . Are you not aware that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? The temple of God is holy and you are that temple.”(3:9 ff)

These are awe-inspiring truths that have the most far-reaching consequences for our spiritual life, for contemplative prayer, indeed, for our very sense of personal identity. Saint Bernard appreciated this and constructed his teaching on Cistercian community around this doctrine. St. Peter was not to be outdone by Paul. He too employs this same imagery. It remains a strong message for the whole of the Catholic community throughout the world, and for each local community of faith in which the universal Church lives out the faith of the Apostles. Peter’s words are no less forceful than Paul’s: “Come to the Lord, a living stone, rejected by men but approved, nonetheless, and precious in God’s eyes. You too are living stones, built as an edifice of spirit, into a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.“ (1Peter 2:4 ff) 

St. John was not excluded from this same circle of apostles who insisted on the community of believers as forming a single City of God symbolized by the walls and temple of the heavenly Jerusalem. “And the angel took me up in spirit on a great and high mountain and showed me the Holy city Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, glowing with the glory of God. Its light was like that of a precious jewel, like crystalline jasper with extensive, high walls admitting twelve portals.” (Apocalypse 21:10-12).

And so, today as we offer this Eucharist, our faith in God’s plan for his Church and our community’s role in it is strengthened, as are our bonds with the monks of Awhum and the faithful in their country who worship God in their Church. Our firm hope is enlivened that we shall one day be reunited with those of our brothers and friends who have contributed to the building of the Awhum church to which the work of our community made a predominant contribution. By the grace of this sacramental offering may we and all those united with us continue with renewed confidence and fervent gratitude on our way to the heavenly City of God. May we, and all those united with us persevere in that charity that makes us one living body in our Risen Savior, Christ Jesus, the Lord of glory. Amen. &


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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