My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,1
So it’s a great joy to gather for this celebration. Isn’t it the third — fourth annual grand procession and Mass to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels.
What a great way of celebrating the birth of our great city! It is just wonderful to gather together to celebrate our Christian roots. To remember the mighty works that Our Lord has done for us.
As you all know, the Franciscans first came here in the summer of 1769, more than a decade before Los Angeles was formally founded. And I wanted to especially mention that, as we know, they came from Mexico by way of San Diego — led by Blessed Junípero Serra and Father Juan Crespí.
And tonight, thinking of that in a special way, we want to remember our brother and friend, Bishop Cirilo Flores of San Diego. He was a holy priest and a holy bishop. He passed away last week and his funeral will be held this coming Wednesday in San Diego. So let us keep Bishop Flores and the people of the diocese of San Diego in our prayers tonight.
As we remember the first missionaries came to our city by way of San Diego, which was the birthplace of the Church’s mission here in California.
Padre Serra and Padre Crespí came up from San Diego and when they got here they saw the great river and the beautiful land. And they named this river — and the whole area all around it — for the Queen of Heaven, the Queen of the Angels.
I was reading the other day of a description by Father Crespi of what is now downtown Los Angeles.
He was looking at the area that today is near First Street and Grand Street, not far from here. Just a few blocks from here. And, obviously, it was all wild and rural back then. He wrote, “looked from afar like nothing so much as large cornfields.”2 A little different from now.
But I was thinking and I think I was really amazed — thinking that these great missionaries were, a little more than two hundred years ago, right here, working and praying in this neighborhood. Maybe they were even walking on the ground where this great Cathedral is built today.
So, my brothers and sisters, Los Angeles is holy ground! Made holy by the prayers and sacrifices of the missionaries. Sanctified by the Holy Eucharist they celebrated.
These missionaries came to Los Angeles and California to proclaim the good news — that a new creation begins when we meet Jesus Christ. They came to announce a New World born under the mercy of God, under the sign of the Cross.3
And as I said before, today the Church is asking us to celebrate the vigil Mass for the Feast of the Exualtation of the Holy Cross. This is an ancient devotion that dates back to the earliest days in the Church. And it is fitting that we celebrate this feast tonight as we recall the founding of this City of the Angels. Because the Cross is the great sign of hope. The great sign of the New World of faith.
And the readings that we heard tonight from Sacred Scripture remind us — that in God’s divine plan of love, the Cross stands at the center of human history, and at the center of every human life.
The Cross reveals the mystery of our God — who so loved the world that he gave his only Son, as we heard in today’s passage of the Gospel.
And St. Paul tells us, in the second reading of today’s Mass, that the Cross shows us that God has come down from heaven and emptied himself. To draw near to us and to be our friend.
It is a beautiful mystery! God humbled himself to become a slave and to suffer for our sins. He is lifted up for us — so that we can find healing and mercy. He dies for us so we can live.
My brothers and sisters, we live our Christian lives under the sign of the Cross, which gives us our identity and mission.
There can be no Christianity without the Cross. And there is no such a thing as a Christian who does not take up his or her cross and follow Jesus.4
So tonight let us especially ask for the grace and courage to walk with Jesus. To follow him on the way of the Cross and to proclaim his Cross to our brothers and sisters.
We can’t let the Cross become an empty symbol in our culture or in our lives. The Cross is the power of God. And each one of us, you and I, we have this special duty to proclaim God’s power in our city. God is calling each one of us to continue the mission to Los Angeles. To continue the work of Padre Serra and Padre Crespi, building the New World of faith. That’s our missionary call. That’s what gives meaning to our lives.
The mercy that we know in our lives, we are called to share with others.
They need to heard the good news that God is real. That we are all precious to him. And that he never stops loving us. Never gets tired of forgiving us.
This is the hope of the Cross — the New World of faith.
Our faith, the beautiful mystery of Jesus giving his life on the Cross that brings salvation to humanity — is the New World of faith. It’s what makes the difference in our lives and in the lives of other people.
So, my brothers and sisters, let us ask for the grace to lift up the Cross. Let us lift it high above the city. The Cross, that sits on top of this Cathedral, is seen by thousands of people passing by every day. The beautiful message of the love and mercy of God. Jesus, again, who gives his life for each one of us, that we can have real life.
Blessed Junipero and the first missionaries used to make the sign of the Cross on people’s foreheads and teach them to say, ¡Amar a Dios! Love God!
So let us make our lives a sign of the Cross. A sign of God’s mercy and love, a sign of humility and service. And let us carry that simple and beautiful message of those first missionaries to the people of our city. Amar a Dios. To love God.
And let me finish with these beautiful words, José Maria Escriva that have been an inspiration to me on this beautiful Feast day of the Exualtation of the Holy Cross, and as you all know, Monday is the feast of Sorrows of Mary, our Blessed Mother.
So Saint José Maria Escriva wrote:
Marvel at Mary’s courage at the foot of the Cross, with the greatest of human sorrows — there is no sorrow like her sorrow — filled with fortitude. And ask her for that same strength, so that you can remain beside the Cross. You are not alone. Neither you nor I can ever find ourselves alone. And even less, if we go to Jesus through Mary, for she is a Mother who will never abandon us.”
So may our Blessed Mother Mary, Mother of God and our Mother — the Queen of the Angels — keep us close to the fruit of Jesus’ Cross, so we may know the power of his Resurrection.
1. Readings (Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross): Num. 21:4-9; Ps. 78:1-2, 34-38; Phil. 2:6-11; John 3:13-17.
2. Gregory Orfalea, Journey to the Sund: Junípero Serra's Dream and the Founding of California (Scribner, 2014), 200-204.
3. Matt. 19:28; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15.
4. Matt. 16:24.