150th Anniversary Mass of the Diocese of Providence Homily of Bishop Thomas J. Tobin


Brothers and Sisters,

In preparing for my homily today, I’ve been thinking about an observation that was made by one of the great philosophers, one of the astute commentators of our time – that would be Quarterback Tom Brady, formerly of the New England Patriots.

A few years back, after the Patriots had played a really tough schedule, and they had lost a few games, and they were considered underdogs throughout the playoffs, at the Super Bowl pep rally at Gillette Stadium, Tom Brady fired-up the crowd with a passionate speech, gloating in the fact that they had overcome all the obstacles they had faced, and he concluded by chanting: WE’RE STILL HERE, WE’RE STILL HERE, as he threw the mike and walked off the stage. 

WE’RE STILL HERE. That’s been my personal theme in preparing for our Anniversary Mass today. Consider what this Diocese has witnessed since its founding in 1872.

We were born in the immediate wake of the 1st Vatican Council and in the last 60 years we’ve been guided by the teachings of the 2nd Vatican Council. We began our mission just a few years after our nation’s Civil War and we’ve lived through two other World Wars, the long and perilous cold war, and several other military conflicts. We’ve been here during the leadership of 12 Popes and 29 American Presidents.

How much we have seen! We’ve been through the great depression, the great recession, the hurricane of 1938, the blizzard of 1978, periods of civil unrest, the steep decline of religious practice, the erosion of traditional moral values, church scandals, and now two pandemics.

We’ve witnessed amazing medical and scientific breakthroughs, the very beginning of flight, the exploration of outer space, the invention of the radio, television and telephone, and the birth of technology that has forever changed the way we navigate the world.

Eight diocesan bishops, seven auxiliary bishops, hundreds of priests and deacons, consecrated women and men, and hundreds-of-thousands of faithful members of the laity have been part of our diocesan family.

In short, we’ve been through an awful lot together, but as we gather today for this Holy Mass, we can say, proudly, we’re still here.

Of course our history is a lot older than 150 years. We belong to the Church that was founded by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And we are built on the rock-solid foundation of the Apostles, especially our patrons, SS. Peter and Paul, whom we honor today. As the Preface of the Mass today providentially says: “Lord, by your providence the blessed Apostles bring us joy – Peter, foremost in confessing the faith, and Paul, its outstanding preacher.”

Like St. Paul we can boast that we have “competed well, we have finished the race, we have kept the faith.” And like St. Peter we have been clear and consistent in professing our faith in “Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

So, what we celebrate today is not just a quantity of years, but, rather, the quality of our faith. From the very beginning, we have been a strong and faithful Church, and we have fulfilled our mission. Here I think of something very beautiful that Pope Francis said about the Church, a passage I quote often. Our Holy Father said:

The Church is God’s great family, which brings Christ to us. Our faith is not an abstract doctrine or philosophy, but a vital  and full relationship with a person: Jesus Christ. It is the Church which says today: “Behold the Lamb of God.” The Church, in giving us Jesus, offers us the fullness of the Lord’s blessing.

For 150 years we have been “God’s great family,” and in proclaiming the word, celebrating the sacraments, and serving the needs of others, we have made Jesus present to the world, as we have pointed to Jesus and said: “Behold the Lamb of God!”

Indeed, this anniversary is an opportunity for us to remember and celebrate all the blessings the Lord has given to our Diocese over the years and how he has used the Church as his instrument to serve and bless the community in which we live.

Like a lighthouse standing strong in the Ocean State, the Church has inspired, educated, healed, sanctified and served countless souls, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, all in the name of Christ. Is it any wonder, then, that throughout our anniversary year, we have proclaimed that “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy!” (Ps 126:3)

Yes, there’s much to celebrate about the past, but what of the future? For this anniversary, like every anniversary, is an intersection of the past and future.

The challenge, of course, is that the future is hidden from our eyes. We can never predict the future, and we really have no idea what the world, our nation, our Church or our Diocese will be like in the days and years to come. So much of the future is beyond our control. As St. Oscar Romero said so well: “We are workers, not master builders; we are ministers, not messiahs; we are prophets of a future that is not our own.”

That means, then, that as we embrace the future we need always to be alert to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and where the Spirit will lead us. But we should never lose sight of the foundation of our mission and the core of our message. In his wonderful letter written for the advent of the New Millennium, Novo Millennio Ineunte, St. John Paul II showed us how to handle the future. The Holy Father said:

We shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance that he gives us: I am with you! It is not therefore, a matter of inventing a “new program.” The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the Living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its center in Christ himself who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a better summary of the Christian life . . .

And so, dear brothers and sisters, today, as we celebrate the past, and embrace the challenges of the future with confidence, let us “persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Leader and Perfecter of our faith.” (Heb 12:1-2)

And we are comforted knowing that in our journey we will always be accompanied by our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Providence, whom Jesus gave to us as our mother, protector and guide. In anticipating the future, we can be peaceful and secure if we but imitate the faith, the trust and the prayerfulness of our Blessed Mother, for, “Never was it known that anyone who fled to her protection, implored her help, or sought her intercession was left unaided.”  

In our liturgy today we are very blessed by the wonderful music that lifts our hearts and minds to God, and for that we want to acknowledge and thank Monsignor Anthony Mancini, Mr. Phil Faraone, and the very talented choir and musicians who are with us.

But of all the glorious music we will hear today, I think the one hymn that inspires me the most is perhaps the simplest; the hymn entitled, “You Are All We Have,” which we will sing at Communion time. The beautiful refrain says, “You are all we have, you give us what we need, our lives are in your hands, O Lord, our lives are in your hands.”

And isn’t it true? In the end, when all is said and done, and you and I have done our very best to serve the Lord, when we’ve given all that we have to give, we will be able to say to God, with resignation and acceptance, only that: “Lord, you are all we have, you give us what we need, our lives are in your hands, O Lord, our lives are in your hands.”       

Dear brothers and sisters, as we gather today in solemn prayer and thanksgiving, it is my dream, my hope and my prayer, that someday, perhaps even fifty years from now when this Diocese celebrates its 200th Anniversary, that another veteran bishop will stand in this pulpit, in this glorious cathedral, and because of God’s unfailing grace, and the beautiful faith of this holy Church, that bishop will be able to say, boldly and with pride: “We’re still here!”