Mass of Reparation
Bishop Thomas Wenski
Bishop of Orlando, FL
May 3, 2009
Today’s Mass is offered in reparation for the sins and transgressions committed
against the dignity and sacredness of human life in our world today. We do this
at the initiative of Notre-Dame alumni here in Central Florida who, like many
other Catholics across the country, are confused and upset that their alma mater
would grant an honorary doctorate to President Obama despite his rather
extremist views on abortion. In granting this honorary degree, Notre-Dame chose
to defy the Bishops of the United States who have said that “the Catholic
community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance
of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or
platforms which would suggest support for their actions."
The hurt felt by many throughout the United States is real,
for Notre-Dame’s actions, despite its protests to the contrary, seem to suggest
that it wishes “to justify positions that contradict the faith and teachings of
the church; to do so, as Pope Benedict reminded Catholic educators in
Washington, DC last year “would obstruct or even betray the university’s
identity and mission.” At the very least, Notre-Dame’s actions suggest that,
unlike a beauty queen from California, it lacks the courage of its convictions.
However, our purpose here this evening is not to rail against
the insensitivity or thoughtlessness exhibited by Notre-Dame’s president and
board. As I told a reporter who asked me last week, why I am celebrating a Mass
of Reparation, “I am a bishop; and so I am not going to send upset Catholics to
storm Notre-Dame with pitchforks, I am going to tell them to pray.”
Our proper response is prayer – but our prayer should not
resemble that of the Pharisee who, in the presence of the remorseful Publican,
prayed: “Thank you, God that I am not like the rest of men. In our prayer, we
seek to make reparation not just for Notre-Dame’s regrettable decision, but more
importantly we seek to make reparations for our own complacency. Yes, we pray
for Notre-Dame – for Notre-Dame holds a unique place in the heart of most
American Catholics and not just its alumni; but we pray for ourselves as
Catholics in America.
We live in a nation where abortion laws are among the most
liberal among the Western democracies. We Catholics have become too complacent
about the legal killing of unborn children in America and elsewhere. This
complacency contributed to the climate that led Notre-Dame’s president to think
that it would be no big deal to defy the bishops in granting this honorary
degree to President Obama. And, as the world’s lone superpower, with President
Obama’s setting aside the Mexico City policy, we as a nation are once again
using our wealth and influence to export abortion to nation’s weaker and poorer
than ourselves. Before the completion of his first 100 days in office, President
Obama has already expanded federal funding for abortion, directed tax payer
funded support for embryonic stem cell research which requires the destruction
of living human beings, and has challenged conscience protection provisions that
allow health care workers and institutions to refuse to participate in abortions
and other procedures that violate their ethical or religious views.
Soon after the election, the Bishops promised their prayers
and support to the then newly elected president. Cardinal George, president of
the USCCB, pledged our cooperation in working with the new administration to
advance the common good. And we do hope to work with the President and his team
on any number of important issues. We do this because we are Catholics and
Americans; and as Catholics and Americans we can and must engage and work with
people of good will, even those with whom we might disagree to promote the
common good. But, at the same time, as Catholic journalist, John L. Allen
observed, “how to engage public figures who hold pro-choice views without
seeming to endorse, or wink at, those views is critically important”. We must
always insist that the common good is never served by making wrongs –like
abortion- into rights. That President Obama speaks at Notre-Dame is not the
issue – and certainly, the President takes the dignity of his Office with him to
Notre-Dame. The issue is that giving him an honor is understood by many to
indicate approbation – and thus undermines the efforts of bishops and others who
want to offer a Catholic perspective to the shaping of public policy.
But, let’s return to the issue of our complacency. We have
become complacent, because we have become comfortable – too accommodated and too
uncritical of the larger culture in which we live. Perhaps, as Catholics, we
have become victims of our own success. For much of American history, the
Catholic Church and Catholics were viewed with great suspicion by our fellow
Americans. In fact, we still are –Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable
prejudice in American life. The US government established diplomatic relations
with Red China long before it did with the Vatican. It would be considered
impolite and politically incorrect to make jokes about Muslims, Jews, gays or
African Americans – but, it is still open season on Catholics. If you don’t
think so, just tune in any comedy show on HBO.
We have craved “respectability”; we have wanted to be
accepted. Ironically, Catholic education – our grammar schools, our high schools
and our universities opened the way to upward mobility and social acceptance the
children of immigrant Catholics in America. Catholics schools aimed to teach us
not only how to do good, but how to do well. Thanks in large measure to Catholic
education, our Catholic laity are among the best educated, and the most
affluent, in America today. Catholics – 25% of the American population – are now
part of the American mainstream. But, at what price?
A few months ago, the State government of Illinois was shaken
by “the pay to play” scandal over the senate seat vacated by President Obama.
But, today, too often Catholics are being told that in order to play in America
one must pay the price of surrendering one’s own convictions and principles.
Catholics who want to enter public life more often than not have to pay the
price “privatizing” their religious faith and convictions to play roles of
significance in the halls of power. You can be sure that President Obama would
not consider a Catholic for the position of Supreme Court justice – unless that
Catholic “bracketed” his beliefs on the dignity and the rights of the unborn.
The options before us are not just between flight and
capitulation: we need not retreat into a Catholic ghetto – for Christ calls us
to be in the world; nor, must we necessarily surrender to the culture around us
and accept to be absorbed by and assimilated into the ascendant secularism – for
Christ tells us not to be of the world. There is a third option, to be for the
world. We are best for the world, when we preach and live the gospel coherently.
In a world which pretends that God doesn’t matter, we must witness that life is
meaningful and joyful only when we live in a way that shows that God does
Jesus in the gospel says: I am the good shepherd: I know mine
and mine know me. The challenge is not how to change the gospel message to make
it more palatable, more relevant to the world, but to allow the gospel message
to change the world. But, it will not change the world unless the gospel changes
In today’s first reading, Peter says: “There is no salvation through anyone
else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which
we are to be saved." This is a rather bold statement – but because Peter and
those who share Peter’s faith believed it – it inspired an equally bold
evangelical movement to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth.
As Christian Catholics, we need not flee from the world, nor
should we surrender to the world; rather we need to recover that bold conviction
of Peter and the early disciples that will make it possible for us to change the
world – not by imposing our beliefs but by making our proposal, informed by
gospel values, about what constitutes the best conditions for human flourishing
in our society.. Peter, in our first reading, spoke truth to power; today we
need that the truth be spoken to our complacency.
This is the first Sunday of May. The month of May is
considered Mary’s month. Let’s us pray to Our Lady, - or as they say in French -
Most Holy Virgin, and Our Mother, we listen with grief to
the complaints of your Immaculate Heart surrounded with the thorns placed
therein at every moment by the blasphemies and ingratitude of ungrateful
humanity. We are moved by the ardent desire of loving you as Our Mother and of
promising a true devotion to Your Immaculate Heart.
We therefore stand before You to manifest the sorrow we
feel for the grievances that people cause You, and to atone by our prayers and
sacrifices for the offenses with which they return your love.
Obtain for them and for us the pardon of so many sins.
Hasten the conversion of sinners that they may love Jesus
Christ and cease to offend the Lord, already so much offended.
Turn you eyes of mercy toward us, that we may love God with
all our heart on earth and enjoy Him forever in Heaven. Notre-Dame, our Mother,
pray for us!
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