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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 matter.

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 us first.
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 - Notre-Dame.

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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