Since Sunday, more than 500 Catholics leaders have gathered in Washington, DC at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering to pray, study and celebrate the Eucharist together. This morning I gave the concluding homily and blessed these leaders as they travel to Capitol Hill to visit legislators and share a vision of society grounded in justice, fairness, respect for the human person, and solidarity. Here is the homily:
Last month at the Right to Life March, I was asked why I was there. Quickly I replied: “Because it is the right thing to do and because I love being around young people… it makes me feel young!” Thank you, young people and young at heart. We need you more than ever. Pope Francis, who will be with us in the United States this September, told me in private audience on October 4th that our faith in Christ is more powerful than the forces of a “throw away” society… a society that sadly ignores seeing the person first.
Today, my theme is three-old: the paradox, the encounter, the momentum.
First, the PARADOX: Google defines a paradox as “…a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.”
Here is today’s paradox: Go to the edge, and you reach the heart! Pope Francis calls us to get out of our homes and churches and schools and go to the frontier. And when we reach that frontier…that neglected edge of our society, lo and behold, we find ourselves in the center … the heart.
In his apostolic exhortation of 2013, The Joy of the Gospel, §272, Pope Francis says: “When we live out a spirituality drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened wide to the Lord’s greatest and most beautiful gifts.” We go to the frontier, and we find the heart of the Lord Jesus. It is the heart of Jesus that we find in the forgotten, the voiceless, and the vulnerable.
This year is the 50th anniversary (Dec 7, 1965) of Vatican II’s Document on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. It opens with these famous words: “The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor and afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.” (§ 1)
The pharisees of the Gospels missed the heart of Christ because they saw the law as a series of loopholes for their own benefit. You come yearning to find the heart of Christ, and you will do so by forgetting your own welfare and by speaking for those with no voice.
Gaudium et Spes speaks of finding the heart of Jesus as our highest calling. It states: “Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.” (§22)
So this paradox uncovers an ENCOUNTER. You and I are not only about facts and figures, about programs and policies (though you are properly armed to make a case!) but you are people who have met someone, and this has changed your life. You are likely here because of that someone. All work for justice in this world has a “face,” a “someone.” I come today with three faces in my mind and heart:
- I picture my brother George, who was born 5 years before me with Down syndrome. Growing up with Georgie gave a face to those who are sometimes set aside. I am passionate for the right to life and the horrible way in which society wants to forget and ignore. My parents did not need to be ignored but needed to be helped and accompanied. Thank God they received that support, because in my family Georgie was not just our joy but my great teacher. He taught me what is truly important in life.
- I picture a young father that I met in Haiti last month when we were dedicating a newly rebuilt hospital. He was a maintenance man and knew a little English. I asked him why he was working there. He replied without any hesitation in French mixed with some English: “Because I love my family who I support, I love those who come here to be healed, and I love Jesus.” WOW!
- I picture the Little Sisters of the Poor, who care for the frail elderly in Louisville. They are suing the government simply because they want to be free to serve … to serve those forgotten and to serve in a way that is consistent with their calling as women religious. I stand up for the Little Sisters of the Poor and their quest to preserve what is truly religious freedom: the freedom to serve others with integrity.
You, too, ought to recall the faces – the pictures you will carry in your mind and heart as you make your visits on “the Hill.” You will advocate for just immigration policies; for a budget that does not forget those who are poor; for efforts in the Middle East – in the land which Jesus walked; for a lasting peace. Take a vivid picture with you.
When we say that God created the heavens and the seas, the fish and the birds, man and woman in His very image and likeness, we know that this dignity is a gift we are born with and also a gift that is a task to be accomplished. When my mom did not like something I did, she would say, “Now you just acted beneath your dignity!” See, dignity is a gift but also a task. Today, you will act in a way that “… brings to light your most high calling!” (Gaudium Et Spes, no. 22)
These two powerful insights: that at the edge you find the heart of Christ – and – that you are not simply taking on tasks but encountering a person: these give you MOMENTUM. We are called to go forth. This is the task of the saints of God. All through the centuries men and women of faith have been raised up by Christ to give authentic and bold witness – like St. Scholastica, the 6th century sister of St. Benedict, the one who gives us examples of prayer that overflows into action, we are called.
I like to say that we are armed in the effort to go forth with the 4 Cs: we are to be courageous, compassionate, civil and calm. Today is a day of grace: Christ will act through you.
- There is the paradox: the farther you go to seek the forgotten, the closer you will be to the heart of Christ.
- There is the encounter: be specific and vivid. Let your efforts have a “face” so you speak for that person.
- There is great momentum: With God who is with us, who can be against us. Be courageous, be compassionate, be civil, stay calm. Do not fear. GO FORTH.