December 18th, 2023

I would like to begin this evening with gratitude. Gratitude to all of you, the parishioners of St.
Ann, for cooperating with the grace of God to restore our dignified church in honor of the Lord. I
know that our founding pastor, Fr. Keily, is smiling down on us as we celebrate the dedication of
this place 135 years later. I would also like to thank Bishop Johnston for joining us today and for
bringing the crozier that Bishop Hogan used, my brother priests, our servers, our choir under the
direction of Amie Friedl and Heather Pickett for providing the music, and for Keith Hansen and
Dino Durando for providing our food. Immediately following Mass, I ask people to exit and go to
the hall for a program and appreciation ceremony. The clergy, servers and the bishop will gather
at the sanctuary for a quick photo.


135 years ago today, in the presence of Bishop Hogan and Fr. Keily, on a cold and
crisp December day, our ancestors in Faith gathered down the street from this
very building. The clergy appeared from what was described as a dingy wooden
shack and the procession meandered down Maple street to come through the
portico where you all just entered. Awesome is this place, it is no other than the
house of God and the gate of Heaven, the introit rang out and the priest who
preached the Mass, Fr. Thomas Downey, the first priest of our parish, reminded
the congregation of the glory of the Temple in Jerusalem and the heart of
worship—the Holy Mass. The majesty of God had arrived in this place, in their
time, in the midst of His People.
It is no mistake in the providence of God that this church was dedicated during
the Advent season one week before Christmas. The ornament and artwork that
would soon accompany our stately English Gothic building in rural Plattsburg
would make visible in art the greatest story ever told—the Incarnation, death and
resurrection of the Lord in our midst. Peace comes from order in worship. God
brings order from chaos, from nothingness and He raised up these stones from an
empty lot. And today, he would raise up the glory of his Temple once again. The
story of salvation history is multi-layered; it is like a prism of light that is displayed
once and refracted over and over again to those who dare to peer into Mount
Sinai, Mount Tabor, the Mount of Olives, Bethany, the empty tomb or the crib
which holds the Divine Infant Himself. And I daresay, the tabernacle containing
the Lord’s Eucharistic Presence among us.
Throughout all of the work we have done together in God’s Providence over the
last few years, it has been amazing to me that what was forgotten, wiped away
from our institutional memory and never to be found again, was not only in our
midst, but simply and almost effortlessly came together once we dared to look. If
I would’ve told you five years ago that this is where we would be sitting, I don’t
think any of us would’ve ever believed it. From the photo that was discovered in
the newspaper to the seemingly random generosity of people, God’s hand has
been directly involved in restoring this Temple.
Old Testament

In the book of Nehemiah, after the destruction of the Temple and the return from
their exile in Babylon, the Israelites did one thing. They first wept about what they
found—ruins, loss of memory of what to do and where to start, and then, they
relied upon Almighty God and not themselves. They rebuilt the Temple, they
began the sacrificial cult again as God had designed, and lastly, they opened up
the scroll of the Law which showed them how to live. Weeping at what they had
missed, and what could be once again, they all acclaimed Amen. Amen. In the
restoration of our Church, what was no longer known anymore, what was
forgotten by time, what wasn’t even in the institutional memory of anyone living
has been found again. Each photo, each newspaper clipping, each discovery, was
much like that day when Ezra unfirlled the scroll. We have re-discovered sacred
music, sacred language, God-centered worship, a posture that befits receiving the
King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And much like the Israelites of old, it is our duty
and privilege to guard and protect what we have re-discovered. Babylon is never
far away. It takes but a few moments to destroy the Temple, and but a lifetime of
effort to rebuild it. It takes one choice to commit a mortal sin, a lifetime of virtue
to arrive at Heaven. We arrive at Jerusalem by Faith, and at Babylon by following
our impulses. We should not forget that once they discovered their identity as
Jews again that they had forgotten, that they changed their lives to conform to
what they learned. Today is not the end, but only the beginning of living what we
have uncovered.

Our Challenge Today

Perhaps the greatest challenge we face in living what we know to be true is our
very selves. If we make our faith about ourselves, it will die with our generation.
Churches like our own are a threat to the prevailing narcissism of our time
because this building ultimately is not about our particular lives, desires, wants,
dislikes, likes. The artwork, history and meaning of the building are outside of us
and that is the hardest thing for us moderns to understand. Our Faith is a Faith for
all times, not just for the moment. What we have accomplished together by the
grace of God has an objective meaning of its own because the Incarnation and
death and resurrection of the Lord has salvific power in itself. The restoration of
St. Ann Church is not about our quest for fulfillment in selfishness, but is rather a
shrine to almighty God who shows Himself in the term “Thanksgiving” or the
Eucharist. He shows Himself when He makes of Himself an oblation for us and
when He destroys death by His own very death. And He asks us to live this same
mystery so that we may have life.

It is true that God doesn’t need this artwork, this building, the finely carved
altar, a golden tabernacle. We do. The anxiousness of our age caused by seeking
God through narcisstic means leads to death. It always has and always will. The
tree of good and evil caused it when Adam and Eve decided to seek God
elsewhere in their own insatiable desire to distrust God and trust themselves and
their own will. The stump of Israel’s line was shattered by kings who sought
fulfillment not in worship in the way that God had commanded, but in
personalized shrines to deities to “broker a deal” with the beyond. That is called
paganism. After all, as St. Paul says, the gods of the gentiles are demons. They
reflect our most base desires. And yet all along, God was there just as the Blessed
Trinity is in the window of our Church. Until from our broken humanity, our
broken promise, he took on flesh. Was born and laid in a pile of wood as His
Throne, and was crucified on a tree in a self-oblation to reconcile us with the
Father. For the last 100 years, God was here. And in an analogous way, makes
known His story of our salvation by visible means in this place. We need not
search for fulfillment in the gods of our time which typically are projections of our
own sinfulness, but in the God of the Universe who makes Himself present and
gives us a foretaste of our reconciliation with Himself. We must be offered, we
must make an oblation of ourselves, and we must be broken, crucified, and
accept death in union with Christ. When we do that, the cross becomes glorious.
We can see these truths clearly on our very ceiling.

Babylon and Jerusalem

What is the difference between Babylon and Jerusalem? While we have largely
forgotten Jerusalem in our churches, Jerusalem is what we indeed long for. It’s
what fulfills us and if we really dig deep down into our baptized hearts, it is what
we know to be true—her worship, her language, her song, her Law. Babylon is
cold, imposed. It is not home. Babylon, however, is never far from Jerusalem in
our hearts. So many times, we have lost the sacramental and incarnational
worldview that is paramount to traditional Christianity and searched on the series
of hills as Saul and Jeroboam built for meaning. They built these hills of worship to
please their wives, by the way, in other words to please “the world.” Jerusalem is
other-worldly. Jerusalem doesn’t pay any attention to the world, because it is
foretaste of Heaven. The Babylon of our age is the prevailing opinion is that we
can find God in programs, prayer groups, and other means in the same way as
Holy Mass. Mass is a really nice extra. The sacrality of the Temple is superfluous. It
is a communion machine, a means to an end in which we fulfill a desire instead of
a sacrificial offering unto God that we are called to live. When the sacraments
become a function to gain something for our own ends, they become disposable.
And then, people become disposable. And then churches and communities
become disposable. Make God an object to be obtained for our own use, a button
to be pushed and not a person with whom to have a spiritual and physical
relationship and nothing is lasting, nothing has a meaning past our own thoughts,
desires or wants. That is Babylon. Life becomes heavy, burdensome when we
cannot see beyond ourselves.
Anti-incarnational belief stagnates the Church. It makes what should be a
normative human contact with Divine through our senses something to be
ashamed of or even something that is “nice to have,” but not necessary. It is a
denial of the body and a denial of human nature. While it is true that God doesn’t
need artwork or beautiful buildings, we do, lest we will not intellectually
understand the Faith or it will be obscured. The words of the Gospel of St. John
emblazoned above our very altar from His Prologue, The Word was made Flesh,
are a constant reminder of true religion heralded by Jesus Christ and the New
covenant. Jerusalem requires a physical sacrifice on our part, it requires
something more than words because Jerusalem is consequent with reality. The
place of worship must be consequent with what we profess in the Creed, lest the
creed becomes cerebral and then superfluous to our lives. The way in which we
worship is not a matter of taste, preference or even one that is based on
authority of man, but rather flows through time like a clear stream which shapes
us, molds us, to be like Christ. Jerusalem’s cult had one Temple. One Sacrifice.
One Lord. Not a series of hills where we seek our own desires. The restoration of
our Church building is about that—we can see, taste, feel, and experience the
story of our redemption. The receiver receives according to the mode of the
receiver—and we are both body and soul. The Word was made Flesh so that we
can experience the Invisible in things visible as the Preface of Christmas teaches

The restoration of this church tells more than a story, it shows the truth of
where we came from, how we are redeemed, and where we are going, but are
not there, yet. This building makes clear to anyone who enters not only what we
believe, but the truth of who we are and how we are to have ultimate union with
God. If we live the story, we become like Christ crucified and risen. Let it be a
lesson that we remember from this day forward--without sacred tradition,
without our past, the only thing we have is ourselves which produces no fruit for
tomorrow. Our ancestors in the Faith through the grace of God, have given us an
overwhelmingly precious gift. Identity must be something more than the
experiential or the here and now. It must span time and place. Identity for us
Christians is found in the Person who spans time and place—the Word made
Flesh. When we desire to search for the truth, we must just follow the star, and it
will show us where He is.
As your pastor, I will be forever grateful to you and edified by witnessing you
living the Christian mystery by your generosity. You have taught me a valuable
lesson and one in which all of us can learn from—none of what we have done
depends upon us, but God Himself who has humbled Himself in the crib, on the
cross, and on the altar, to save us. Today, we follow in the footsteps of our own
ancestors of this place who walked on that cold day in December 135 years ago to
the altar of God to offer the same sacrifice and to partake of its fruits and we hear
the same melody, the same words--Truly, awesome is this place. Truly, salvation
has come to this house. It is no more than the Temple of God and the Gate of

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