The Parish: A Trinitarian Community

The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on June 11, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, for the 100th Anniversary of St. Elizabeth Church in Colonial Beach.

Pope John Paul II described the parish in this way: the parish is where the Church locally finds its most immediate and visible expression. In other words, where is the presence of Christ to be found? Where are the life and love of Jesus to be celebrated and touched? Where is the truth of Jesus to be proclaimed and lived and passed on? Where are the mercy and compassion of Jesus to be felt and experienced? Where? Here! In this parish that makes the Church — the Body of Christ — real and concrete and visible.

The home of this Parish of St. Elizabeth of Hungary is this church building. It is God's holy temple, the dwelling place of the Lord and His Holy People. Here in this parish home, in this church building, people are brought to life by water and the Holy Spirit in Baptism and strengthened for the work of Christian witness in the world in Confirmation. Here in this parish home, in this church building, people are nourished with Christ's Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist and forgiven their sins in Penance. Here in this parish home, in this church building, people are made one in Matrimony and given a faith-filled farewell at the Funeral Mass. Here, in this temple of the Lord, people come to be with the Eucharistic Christ, truly present in the tabernacle. Yes, in this parish home, in this church building, people are transformed into ever clearer images of God. Yes here, God's people — you who form this parish — are brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 810).

As we reflect more deeply on the meaning of parish and the home of the parish, this church building, we rejoice in the 100th anniversary of the first Church of St. Elizabeth built in 1906. Essentially, this parish became the mother church of the first parish developed in the Northern Neck. From this parish there were born other parish communities: St. Anthony Mission in King George, St. Paul in The Hague, St. Francis de Sales in Kilmarnock, St. Timothy in Tappahannock, and the Naval Chapel in Dahlgren. The Jesuits first cared for the pastoral needs of the people here. Priests from the Richmond Diocese assisted until 1943 when the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity assumed pastoral responsibility. Father Francis T. Donohue and Father Basil Ruane were the first priests to serve here when their community undertook ministry in the Northern Neck. How wonderful to have with us today Father Robert Shay, a Trinitarian, who served here as your pastor in the 1980s, and is representing all the Trinitarians, who labored here so faithfully. When the Diocese of Arlington was created in 1974, this parish found itself within the boundaries of the new diocese. In 1993 when the Trinitarians moved away, the diocesan clergy of Arlington became the source of present and future pastoral care. Father John Cregan was the first pastor from the ranks of the diocesan clergy of Arlington.

At this centenary celebration, we rejoice and give thanks for the generosity and sacrifice of those who built the first church. Their successors have followed in their footsteps, enabling this parish community to become an ever clearer sign of Christ's presence. We recall that when the first church became too small, a new church was built — this one. Bishop John Russell of Richmond dedicated this present church on May 14, 1963. The striking stained glass window over the main altar was transferred from the original church as was the Lamb of God on the front of the altar. The bell from the first church is on display near the present church building. We rejoice and give thanks on this Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, and how fitting it is that we do so. Yes, of course, for 50 years, from 1943 to 1993, the pastoral care was provided by the Trinitarians.

Moreover, the parish is the most immediate and visible expression of the Church, and the Church herself is seen to be "a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Ibid.). Therefore, the parish — this parish — is the visible expression of the love which clearly describes the Triune God. "Love is the reason why God creates. Love is the reason why Jesus saved us. Love is the reason why the Holy Spirit has chosen to live in our hearts and to mold us into the image of Christ. And love is the reason why God will never give up on us" (The Word Among Us, p. 30). The Catechism echoes this so beautifully. "God's very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret. God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange" (No. 221).

Dear parishioners, for the next 100 years as it has been these past 100 years, you are to love with the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; to love with love transformed through prayer and sacramental celebrations, especially the Most Holy Eucharist; to love with love rooted in Church teaching; to love with love revealed in Christian service; to love with love reaching out to invite everyone to come to Jesus, the One Savior of the world. Christ's mandate is being given to you once again: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." His promise to you is being renewed: "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

With thankful praise and deepening trust, let us recommit ourselves to being ever more clearly the Church in its most immediate and visible expression. Through your fidelity to prayer, Church teaching, and Christian witness, may you be the people the Lord had chosen to be His own. Yes, may you be a Trinitarian people, revealing love in your faith-filled prayer and through your self-giving service, to the praise and glory of the Most Holy Trinity and for the salvation of souls.

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