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Tolton Mass of Thanksgiving

Salt of the earth, light of the world

October 14, 2019


The church of Chicago celebrated Pope Francis’ declaration of Father Augustus Tolton as “venerable” with a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Philip Neri. The following is the full video recording of the Mass and a transcript of the homily given by Father David Jones.

You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.

Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.

Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

Matthew 5:13-16 (New American Bible, revised edition)

Jesus is talking to his disciples

Talking to those who have decided to follow Jesus

Talking to the baptized, those who have been dipped in and wiped down with holy water

There is a televangelist who will sell you miracle water. He’s making money, some say he is a prophet, I say he knows how to profit.

But Jesus is talking to those who are not confused, not disturbed, not distracted, not dismayed

He is talking to those who know who they are and whose they are

And he is saying

You, the Lord be with you, are the salt of the earth

You, and with your spirit, are the light of the world

Turn to your neighbor and say

Jesus is talking to you.

Because he is talking to church folk

You are the salt of the earth

You are the light of the world

You add something to the earth

You bring something to the world

When you rep your God, as the young folks say.

When you stand in the need of prayer, as the old folk stay

You are prepared to take it to the Lord in prayer

And when he leads you from prayer.

You will follow his lead and when you do that church work

This old building and this old world get another blessing.

He is not talking to those who have it their way

He is not talking to those who want to do it like they use to do it

He is not talking to those who are talking loud and saying nothing

He is talking to the hearers of the Word and the doers of the Will.

You do some Godly good on this earth, he commands.

Jesus is talking to disciples

When we, the baptized do things in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

When we say things in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

When we forgive in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

When we free in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

When we serve in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

When we teach, preach and sometimes screech

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

We do this in remembrance of Jesus

And his church works.

Jesus emphasizes his call to discipleship by pointing out

We are the salt of the earth

We are the light of the world

We are not small

We are not dull

We are not poor

We serve a mighty awesome God

Right now, Mama Tolton would say

Ya’ll are stepping in high cotton

Ya’ll are cooking with hot grease!

This wisdom calls forth a bold church

A rich church

A refulgent church

That is letting the Lord lead and guide her.

Church, softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling

And he is saying we cannot be a little bit church

We cannot be a silent church

We cannot be a church in the shadow

We cannot be a church on the sideline

Jesus is calling for big, bold and beautiful catholics.

A people who have a testimony on the way to their destiny

A community of disciples who are more than not afraid,

They are fearless when it comes to doing the work of the Lord

Who don’t feel no ways tired and who feel like going on

Who have come this far by faith, not by sight.

Jesus is calling us to the fullness of church.

I hear a lot of people saying I’m too old, I’m too tired, I’m too done.

Jesus is saying this is not the old folk home

And it most certainly is not the funeral home.

Jesus is telling James Brown to sing Get up off of that thing

Because we need to be about the work of God in here.

Don’t ever worry about who is sitting in your seat in church

Because Jesus is calling for members in good standing, not in good sitting.

Today, when the rest of the country is celebrating Christopher Columbus

We are still celebrating Jesus. We are a church whose mind is stayed on Jesus.

Christopher Columbus, a devout Catholic, became a sailor at the age of 14.

Augustus Tolton, a devout Catholic, claimed his freedom at the age of 7.

Somebody in Chicago got it right from the beginning!

This question prompted by the Cause for Canonization is what it always was

Is this a church that can look at a seven-year-old American black boy and see him as a priest, a bishop, a cardinal, a pope, a saint?

Can we see him in that number when the saints go marching in?

That is what is at stake and of question here.

Are we a church whose eyes are watching God?

Or are we just watching the nightly news for the body count?

Or are we looking like the Chicago Police Department?

Looking like the Chicago Public School?

Are we the people building prisons?

Are we the people building walls?

Are we the people putting out fires?

Or the people whose hearts have been set on fire by the love of God so that there can be glory to God in the highest

And on earth peace to people of goodwill.

Are we the people whose eyes have seen the glory of the Lord?

Are we the people who keep so busy praising my master, that I ain’t got time to die?

It is important to tell the story of Fr. Tolton

And to realize that the sin of racism yet hides the light of the church. His work is not done, and neither is ours.

There are still people who believe your complexion, is not right for the protection of the collection, more than they believe in God. This battle is not over. And everybody in church knows it

And Black people still have to sing nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, but Jesus.

But tonight is about a church following Jesus

Shining a light on a venerable servant of God so that others may see all the good deeds that come from the Southside and give God the glory, give God the praise.

So what do we need to do?

We need to read and see the story of Augustus Tolton

And not see him as a victim

Not see him as a slave

He was never that

He was a person, imbued by God with human dignity

When they went low, he didn’t go high, he just went around.

He held on to the faith of his mother

Held on to his God given dignity

Held on to his God given call.

And let us be clear

He did not do it for a check

He did not do it for a title

He did not do it for a medal or a ribbon

He stayed the course with Jesus

And he did it because he wanted us to be holy and free to serve God.

This is amazing grace

You and I know that spirit

That compels you to keep your head up

Take your time

Speak your peace

Tell the truth and shame the devil

And dress up on Sunday

Because when Jesus comes we are not going to be looking all beat down and worn out.

We are going to be Sunday best or casket sharp, but we are going back to God and say Lord, they tried to beat it out of me,

But said you can have all of this old world just give me Jesus.

100 years from now, somebody might look back at us and say they must have had a mighty good God to get through all of that in tack.

Tolton didn’t fight the racist

He didn’t engage the haters

He didn’t suffer the ignorant

He didn’t knock nobody out

He didn’t lose his mind

He didn’t lose his cool

He didn’t hate the player, but he really hated the game.

He served his God.

That is the celebration today

He served God.

When the other regrouped

And redefined hatred

And came after him again and again and again

He remained steadfast and unmovable

He served God

So the question moves tonight

We how dare we, with all of our history and all of our baggage, ask whether or not Fr. Tolton is and was holy.

The real and true question that is on the table is

Can we see his holiness?

Can we finally receive this gift from God?

That is the question of the hour.

The church does not make saints,

That is God all by himself and he doesn’t need help being God.

But with the help of God, the church can recognize saints.

And it is for this reason that God makes saints and appears as a little Jewish boy lying in a manger

So that we will see him and better know our God

We will see in our midst and in our history

Holy men and women

And get inspired by what God is trying to pull forth from each one of us in communion.

The question is

Are we the church of Chicago or just a church in Chicago?

Are we the salt of this City?

Is our Cathedral the mountain top?

Are we letting this little light that Jesus gave shine?

And our omniscient God has already answered

Yes, you are.

Yes, you can

And Yes, you must.

We must pray that in this history

Right here in our local church

That we are looking for and capable of seeing the holy.

Because God knows what he is doing

If he can get us to see holy

He can get us to be holy.

And that sums up the life of every priest ordained by God.

Pray for the holy

And pray for the ability to see them

And you will have a good night

And see God better in the morning.

I hope Fr. Tolton with a sense of humor and a profound appreciation of his faith would sing this one verse

Holy, holy, holy

Though the darkness hide thee

Though the eye of sinful man

Thy glory may not see

Only Thou art holy,

There is none beside Thee

perfect in power, in love and purity.

“Holy, Holy, Holy!” by Reginald Heber

And we will let God have the last word.

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