Excerpts from a sermon by Archbishop John Hughes, on the laying of the cornerstone of the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Brooklyn, NY, 1853, wherein he speaks profoundly on unity of Faith in the One Church established by Christ.
MY DEAR BRETHREN— I can have no hope that my voice will be able to reach the boundaries of an assemblage as this which I see before and around me. With silence on your part, the few words which I have to address you may be heard to a certain distance; but should there be the least disturbance, it will be impossible for you to hear me, although I should wish my voice to be trumpet-loud, so that you might know the sentiments which this auspicious occasion has awakened. Who will say henceforth that the love of God, the faith of God’s Church, the zeal for His glory, are diminished on the soil of freedom and liberty? Who will dare to say so, seeing as I see such a multitude of people as now surrounds me? And what, dear brethren, has brought you to this scene? Was it mere curiosity? No doubt some have been attracted even by curiosity to come here, but who knows whether they shall not carry away with them something more solid, something more advantageous to themselves, than the gratification of an appetite for novelty. We have just laid the coner-stone of a Church, not a temple, for the Pagans had temples, but we have none. We have a Church composed of many buildings, if you will, of many multitudes, if you will, but still only one Church, neither more nor less; and therefore this is not the laying of a new temple, or a mere temple of worship. It is that, if you will, but it is more; it is part of the universal and everlasting Church which Jesus Christ founded on earth, and which is called the Catholic Church. It is one Church; the worshippers in that one Church being of various lineage, various climates, various colors and complexions even, but still the people of one divine, universal, and eternal Church. And if there could be, by possibility, an edifice on earth capacious enough to hold them all– one single Church– they would find themselves perfectly in harmony as to every rite of worship, and a second Church would not be necessary.
Such, dearly beloved brethren, is the thought awakened in my mind by the circumstances of this occasion, in which it would seem as if everything cooperated to make it one of the most solemn, one of the most stirring instances of Catholic zeal that has been witnessed, I will not say simply in the city of Brooklyn, but I will say in the Archdiocese of New York. For though I have been present on many similar occasions – ceremonies of laying cornerstones – I confess I have seen nothing before that has approximated to the ideal of the solemnity of such a ceremony, or to be compared with what I now witness, and with what is around me. And what, dearly beloved brethren, is the meaning of this? Oh, I infer from it a glorious meaning; I infer from it that no change of skies, no transition from one place to another, can, by possibility, destroy or diminish in the heart of the Catholic the feeling of love which he has for his God, and the feeling of zeal he has for his religion. The more the religion is persecuted on earth, the dearer it becomes to him; and hence, sometimes the attempt is made to account for Catholic zeal, where Protestant governments attempt to crush and persecute our religion. But there is nothing of the kind here; we are free as all the rest – as free as the Mormons, as free as the Presbyterian, as free as the Methodist, as free as any people who call themselves by any name. And, in the absence of all persecution, why is it that such a multitude, such a sea of upturned faces, present themselves before me today? Why is it? Because of the instinct of Catholic Faith, the divine instinct communicated in its germ in baptism, and which abides in the hearts of those who have been baptized; because, although we, you and I, are but the beings of the day, still we do not separate ourselves from our ancestors in the faith for eighteen hundred years who have passed away, nor are we separated from our ancestors in the faith for eighteen hundred years to come. Who will limit the time? Through all ages of the world in which our successors may still preach the same everlasting doctrines of truth which the Son of God originally communicated to His Apostles, and through them to the whole world.
We, Catholic brethren, live in an age in which there is a tendency abroad to dispute everything, from the existence of God Himself downwards. And those who do not recognize the communion of saints have become stupid dupes of spiritual rappers, and all such things; and you must preserve the faith for them and for their posterity. You are the guardians; you are the depositories of the truth. Though they yield to these astonishing deceptions, let them see by the steadiness, the nobleness, the consistency, the order, and the mind which has influenced the Catholic faith.
Oh! that faith in the Catholic Church! Oh! that glorious faith, from the presence of which opinions shrink away like the mists of the morning before the rising sun! Oh! that faith of everlasting truth, one and the same, universal and existing through all time, because it is the Word, the declaration from the lips of God Himself, and therefore cannot be a deception. This is your faith, and this is my explanation for the reason why you have assembled here today. For what purpose? To raise a temple. I have explained the meaning of temple. Call it a wing of the one universal Catholic Church, a mere little sacristy, a portion, an outlet, an enlargement of that one edifice which constitutes the universal Church of our divine Saviour. This is the object for which we have assembled. And there is one circumstance which I will refer to as calculated to inspire still more your zeal, not only at the commencement, but till the crowning stone and the completion of this great work – an it is this. But oh! why may I not require that an angel should touch & purify my lips before I refer to it? It is, that in this country and elsewhere, the divinity of Jesus Christ is denied; and, in proportion as the enemies of the faith multiply their blasphemies against God and against His Church, in the same proportion does the Catholic Church ever stand our firmly and strongly against every approach to such apostasy. Hence it is that we know Jesus Christ to be God and man. He is God from eternity, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is man born in time, conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin, and that Virgin’s name is Mary. And the Catholic Church has ever taught, and has ever held, that Mary, being the Mother of God, though in one sense the child of Eve – Eve’s daughter – yet, as she was to be the mother of God incarnate, He had preserved her immaculate, untouched by the stain and the defilement of original sin. And hence the Church, from the beginning, has always been accustomed to regard Mary, the mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, as conceived without sin. And now, so far as I know, these rude foundations are the first that have ever been laid on this continent in attestation of the conviction, and faith, and feeling of the Catholic Church.