From St. Mary Cathedral, the Mother Church in Trenton, north to St. Joseph Parish in Keyport, south to St. Theresa Parish in Little Egg Harbor, west to St. George Parish in Titusville along the Delaware River, east to the parishes along the Jersey shore, the Diocese of Trenton rejoices in the elevation of St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Freehold to the dignity of a Co-Cathedral for our Diocese!
Your Eminence Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin; your Excellency Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States and personal representative of our Holy Father Pope Francis; brother Bishops; clergy, religious and faithful of the Diocese of Trenton.
Today is a great and historic day in the Diocese of Trenton. The Word of God in our first reading from the Book of Leviticus reminds us of the Lord’s ancient command to Moses and the Israelite community: “Be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” The Gospel of St. Mark goes further when the Lord Jesus says: “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Holiness. Perfection. These are tall orders for the People of God, challenging indeed — but not impossible, at least in the design and plan of God for us. He does not ask us to do the impossible. We say the words yet we struggle to understand the claims they make on us as believers, the claims they make on our everyday human lives.
The English poet Robert Browning wrote “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for (Browning, “Andrea del Sarto”)?” I think that poetic phrase says it well. Holiness and perfection, unaided and ungraced, do exceed our grasp. But we continue reaching, striving. That’s why we are here today. That’s what we gather to celebrate: our reaching out for God, for holiness, for perfection, for heaven. A Church, a Cathedral or Co-Cathedral symbolize our reaching: in carefully designed brick and mortar; in stained glass and sacred images; in a community of faith, with all our imperfections and, yet, our desire and intention to be better today than yesterday; in whispered prayers and voices lifted in song; in sacraments and rituals. We reach! We strive! “What’s a heaven for?”
St. Paul explains in our second reading, his First Letter to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Holy Spirit dwells in you.” Holiness and perfection are “out there,” things to reach for, to strive for. But they are “in here” as well, inside the temples we build, inside the temples we are. We must reach deep within ourselves.
St. Robert Bellarmine, the scholar, the Cardinal, the devoted servant of God for whom this Co-Cathedral is named, wrote some 500 years ago: “If you are wise, then, know that you are created for the glory of God and your own eternal salvation. This is your goal; this is the center of your life; this is the treasure of your heart (Bellarmine, On the Ascent of the Mind of God).” Is there a better description of our purpose as a temple of God? Is there a better description of this temple, this Co-Cathedral? “All belong to you and you to Christ, and Christ to God (1 Corinthians 3: 23).”
As you reach, as you strive for holiness and perfection, especially in the upcoming Season of Lent, Christ builds the temple within you: turn your cheek — and don’t strike back; give your coat — and share with those in need; go the extra mile — and keep going; love your enemies — and love your spouses, your families, your neighbors and the stranger in our midst; pray for those who persecute you — and pray with those who don’t. These are the claims that following Christ makes on you. These are the Gospel. These are the glory of God. These are your salvation. These are the reasons for this Co-Cathedral.
Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Bishop of Trenton