By Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor
On the apse wall of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is a 3,600-square-feet mosaic of Christ seated in Judgment, flames appearing above his furrowed brows.
On the wall opposite rests a 780-square-feet marble image portraying people of various ethnicities, stages and walks of life being drawn toward the Holy Spirit.
In between sit God’s people, called to holiness.
That was one of the poignant messages heard by the Diocese of Trenton’s 2,000 faithful as the biennial pilgrimage to the nation’s capital culminated the afternoon of Nov. 4 with Mass celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and concelebrated by 29 of the Diocese’s priests.
“If you all will turn around, you see a sculptured wall entitled the ‘Universal Call to Holiness,’” the Bishop said in his homily from the basilica’s raised ornate pulpit engraved in gold letters, directing people to look behind them. “If you look forward, behind me, you will see a giant mosaic of the ‘Christ of Judgment.’ … Between that wall, the ‘Universal Call to Holiness,’ and that mosaic, the ‘Christ of Judgment,’ we are. … We sit in this sacred place.
“The call to holiness, that universal call, is given to each and every one of us,” the Bishop continued. “We are called to be holy, and we are called to be saints, and there is only one way to it – to look forward, to look ahead, to look at Christ and love what he loved, to love the people he loved, and to make a difference in our world.”
The Bishop’s words, echoing throughout the Great Upper Church, came after a day of pilgrimage and prayer enjoyed by young and old alike. Gathering at 3 p.m., the Diocese’s faithful crowded into rows of pews as Bishop celebrated Mass, where he was joined by 13 deacons – four of whom are expected to be ordained priests next year – five seminarians and 10 altar servers. The Diocesan Festival Choir, under the direction of Shawn Mack, led the congregation in the singing of Immaculate Mary for the procession, and faithful from different parishes such as St. Joseph Parish, Trenton, had the privilege to participate as readers in Spanish and English. Faithful from St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville; St. Rose Parish, Belmar, and Christ the Redeemer Parish, Mount Holly, participated in the Presentation of the Gifts.
In speaking of the lives of the holy, Bishop O’Connell used much of his homily to preach on the 16th-century saint Charles Borromeo. On this feast day, the Bishop explained that St. Charles Borromeo was one of six children born to a wealthy and noble Italian family. Drawn to prayer and service, he was only 12 when his uncle gave him a large sum of money. He only kept what was necessary; the rest he gave to the poor.
Reflecting on the day’s Gospel Reading, Luke 14 and the parable of Jesus visiting the house of a prominent Pharisee, Bishop O’Connell spoke of humility.
“In that parable, Jesus encouraged his followers not to seek such seats [of prominence] but rather to humble themselves, to take the lowest place and to allow the host to call them up higher if he wanted to. ...Charles Borromeo heard Jesus’ call to humility and he lived that message,” the Bishop said.
“Charles’ noble family background made the case for him to seek a higher place. He did not,” the Bishop continued. “ ...The spirit of today’s Gospel guided the whole of his life’s work. It provides a lesson for each and every one of us in our lives. Humility is putting God and others first, and you know when we do that, it changes the way that we look at the world, it changes the way that we look at other people, it changes the way that we live.”
Speaking on the diverse cultures at this year’s pilgrimage that represented different languages, families, backgrounds and needs, Bishop O’Connell called on the faithful to be united in their similarities.
“We carry in our hearts sorrows, and we carry in our hearts joys and we bring them together untied in Christ. ...That’s the beauty of this pilgrimage. That’s the beauty of the saints. That’s what they offer us, that vision, that image, that sense. What did Jesus love. That’s what I’ll love. Whom did Jesus love. That’s whom I’ll love, and what a difference can that make in our world.”
Before the end of Mass and words of thanks from Msgr. Walter R. Rossi, Basilica rector, Bishop O’Connell officially lit the seven torches dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Each parish captain reverently brought his/her torch before the Bishop before standing proudly alongside the others, the torches adorned in parish ribbons. The flames are now traveling the four counties of the Diocese in anticipation of the “Antorchas Guadalupanas” pilgrimage Dec. 2 in Trenton.
Bishop O’Connell and this brother priests, seminarians and deacons then recessed out of the basilica not only with the Guadalupe torches, but to the mariachi music of Pascua Juvenil of St. Rose of Lima, Freehold.