From ‘Ugly Duckling’ to ‘Beautiful Swan’

Bishop Blesses New Chapel

On Sept. 7, Bishop Raica celebrated Mass at St. Ignatius Chapel in Huntsville, blessing the newly renovated chapel’s altar. The chapel will primarily serve college students, especially those attending the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). The complete text of the bishop’s homily follows herein.

Dear friends, thank you for the invitation to be here tonight to bless St. Ignatius Chapel for use in Catholic ministry to the collegians here at UAH and for collegians throughout the greater Huntsville area. Thank you, Father Bryan Lowe and your creative team here who transformed this ugly duckling into a beautiful swan! Welcome Father Antony, Father Joe, Deacon Greg, and others who are part of the campus ministry team here. When I came here a year ago, we blessed the Center and afterward took a walk through the back yard to “this old house.” It sounds like this fixer-upper would have made a good episode on HGTV! Those who have a vivid imagination and creativity were able to dream about what it could become. What, for some, seemed tired, old, useless, and lacking hope, others saw as an opportunity for it to be resurrected to new life. They saw potential and what could be. Through their hard work, they spruced it up into a dignified and worthy place. Now a new chapter begins for students, pastoral leaders, and friends to gather for prayer, for Mass, to encounter Christ, exploring questions about faith and the purpose of life. It is a moment to share our faith stories and encourage one another as fellow pilgrims on the way. It is an attractive, inviting place of hospitality. It is the fulfillment of a dream.

Our lives are a lot like that. What we considered irredeemable, the Lord, through His embrace and mercy, can transform into value and dignity. While we may give up on old buildings, God never gives up on us!

So, today, we celebrate the next phase of the buildout of campus ministry here in Huntsville. It is one more important ministry that galvanizes the human spirit to a deeper and more purpose-driven life. This journey begins with an experience! In fact, our Catholic faith is based on an experience of the fact of Christ that provokes us deeply. It can be suppressed or even ignored, but the reality of it cannot. A significant purpose of university life is academic achievement and preparation to face future challenges. It is a noble purpose – it’s brain-focused and depends on one’s capacity to reason and pass tests. Buildings of classrooms with the latest technologies, laboratories for science, fields and gymnasiums for physical development, theaters and art centers to capture the human genius and creativity, all forming a student community help round out the collegiate experience. Yet, the original idea of university also focuses on theology and philosophy. It fed not only the mind and body, but it also fed the soul as it did in Paris and Bologna. It was a reality that could not be ignored, an essential factor in life and society. Here, we reflect that Christ – and by extension, Christianity - is a passion for humanity, a passion for life, for freedom, for one’s destiny. This Catholic campus ministry center helps to bring that into clear focus. For that reason, we set it aside, we bless it, for a noble purpose.

Our readings today speak about the past, present, and future in both exhortative and poetic form.  Worried that the end of the world was near, St. Paul exhorts his listeners to stay the course. If you’re not married, stay that way. If you are married, stay put because it was viewed that the “world in its present form is passing away.”

In other words, focus on yourself and your relationship with God. Get right with God while you have a chance and stay that way!

The Responsorial Psalm instructs us that the king desires your beauty – and you must worship him. The king’s daughter, radiant in splendor, will enter with gladness and joy! 

The Gospel from St. Luke, similarly, recounts another version of the Sermon on the Mount. In St. Luke’s Gospel, however, it is referred to as the Sermon on the Plain. It is filled with “blesseds” and “woes.” It is a sure guide to help those who are seeking guidance in their relationship with God – away from the hungers, hurts, and hates to the blessings of wholeness and happiness that await us.

One thing for sure, here all that comes together in campus ministry. There’s an urgency to understand what God wants of us – how we are to live – and that our life, too, will come to an end when most of what we do and fret about here on earth will no longer mean anything, except the relationship we have with God.  

I pray that those who are open to the promptings of the Spirit, may readily embrace the plan of God - the dream of God which gives hope to the hopeless - for themselves to live the fullness of life and love in the experience of Christ. May God bless you all!