‘Politicizing the Mass?’

Cardinal Séan O’Malley, OFM Cap., and the fellow bishops who accompanied him to the U.S./Mexico border last month were criticized recently on EWTN’s “The World Over” program by host Raymond Arroyo and guest George Weigel for supposedly “politicizing” the Mass there. Reviewing the homily (which can be read at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/upload/Homily-April-1-2014-Border-Mass-Cardinal-Seán-OMalley.pdf), the cardinal does not directly call for any legislative action (he and the other bishops did so in the press conference afterwards). 

In his homily, our former bishop did say why they came to the border. First, in the midst of a reflection on Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan, the cardinal drew a parallel between what happened to the robbery victim in that story and the present situation on the border. “We come to the desert today because it is the road to Jericho; it is traveled by many trying to reach the metropolis of Jerusalem. We come here today to be a neighbor and to find a neighbor in each of the suffering people who risk their lives and at times lose their lives in the desert. Pope Francis encourages us to go to the periphery to seek our neighbor in places of pain and darkness. We are here to discover our own identity as God’s children so that we can discover who our neighbor is, who is our brother and sister.”

In the “comments” section of some websites covering this news story, some of the writers objected to the cardinal’s pointing out of our need to recognize that even the undocumented are our neighbors (remember, Jesus told the parable in response to the question, “And who is my neighbor?”). They seemed to argue that Jesus would want us to love legal immigrants as ourselves, but not illegal ones.

A little later in the homily, Cardinal Séan gave another reason for being at the border. “Here in the desert of Arizona, we come to mourn the countless immigrants who risk their lives at the hands of the coyotes and the forces of nature to come to the United States. Every year 400 bodies are found here at the border, bodies of men, women and children seeking to enter the United States. Those are only the bodies that are found. As the border crossings become more difficult, people take greater risks and more are perishing.” 

In other words, he came to pray for the repose of their souls and to implore people to have more open hearts, so that more people would not have to die in such horrific ways.

Cardinal Séan also made reference to the Holy Father’s Mass on the Italian island of Lampedusa (which also could be attacked for supposedly being “political,” as could the Masses before the March for Life or other Masses in which we are praying for a change in public policy, such as St. John Paul II’s Masses in communist Poland). “At Lampedusa Pope Francis warned of the globalization of indifference. Pope Francis, speaking at the borders of Europe, not a desert, but a sea, said: ‘We have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and Levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road and perhaps we say to ourselves: “Poor soul” and then go our way. It is not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people living in a soap bubble, indifference to others.’”

Outside of the Mass, the cardinal told John Allen of The Boston Globe, “We have to rescue this issue from politics. This isn’t about statistics or policy, it’s about people.”

When he got back to Boston, the cardinal wrote in his blog, “For years the government has been unable to come to an agreement because the whole process is held hostage to the politics of the issue. It is a complicated problem, and certainly there is no quick fix. However, it requires a rational conversation by people who are really concerned about the common good and concerned about respecting human rights. Hopefully, our presence at the border will encourage people in positions of power to work for immigration reform. We have to raise the consciousness of our Catholics, in general, of the need for comprehensive reform.”

May Cardinal Séan’s true and deep love of the Eucharist, in which he sees Christ present, and his humble love for his neighbors, whatever their station or status, be an inspiration to us and help us to live out the Mass, by how we pray it in church and how we live it out in our daily lives (including in our responsible politics).

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