One More Fake Homily!
For this assignment we were supposed to preach about a social justice document to a young audience. I decided to pretend to preach at St. Anselm where I attended as an undergraduate. The document is the bishops document on Faithful Citizenship and it supposedly the night before the election.
Good evening, what a joy and privilege it is to be here with all of you, my fellow Anselmians. When Father Jonathan DeFelice and monks of the Abbey invited me to be the guest homilist at these evening’s Mass, on this the eve before the election, I jumped at the opportunity. I was all the more excited when they asked me to speak to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document entitled Faithful Citizenship, a document that speaks not only to my heart but also to my training here at the hands of the politics and theology departments.
In the Fall of 1898 on a night much like this one, a young man not unlike many of you gathered here tonight, made his way across this very campus. The impressive clocks that mark the courtyard, and the quaint street lights were not there, nor the impressive Athletic facilities, the library or even the dorms in which you reside, in fact much of this campus was but in its most primitive stages. Nevertheless, young John Francis traversed across this place, “the hilltop”, much as you did this evening, with the crisp late Autumn winds blowing in his face, just as they do this time every year, carrying with them a hint of the harshness of the winter ahead, and the promise of the gentle warmth of spring, which always follows. John Francis was like any young person, like many of us here, he looked to the future with hope, anticipation and even some worry. In 1898 Young John had no way of knowing that the very winds he felt across the chilled corners of his face, would foretell the future that awaited him, and the stinging bitterness of struggle juxtaposed against the warmth of the Gospel cry which filled his heart, his hands, his pen and ultimately his staff.
John was from the humblest of backgrounds. His parents were not Boston Brahmins, but rather immigrants to a new and strange world. His home was a crowded apartment in the heart of New York, which he shared with his many siblings and his extended family. The world in 1898 was strangely, radically different and remarkably similar to our own. John’s America was experiencing the dawn of electricity, endless streams of ocean liners brought waves of immigrants to our harbors and crowded schools and hospitals, horses continued to lead the way, and the promise of a new day awaited.
The age of the great superpowers had not yet dawned, and life was both remarkably simple and incredibly challenging. The problems facing people were much the same, the horrors of poverty which stretched from the rural heartland to urban centers, corporations exploited workers for profits, while family life was under attack, and the environment was violated for but the whims of industrialists. The rich continued to grow richer on the backs of the poor, the disposed and the marginalized. Sporadic violence enveloped the corners of the world, and the seeds of wholesale division, which would drag much of the world to war years later, were beginning to be sown, all the while the sick and suffering continued to seek after limited resources, and the dignity of the human person was being trampled at the hands of injustice, intolerance, greed, sexism and bigotry. John’s world, like ours today, was filled with a great despair, and yet it looked to the future with hope.
It is precisely hope that John Francis would bring to the marginalized, and it was a hope rooted in Christ that he proclaimed as part of the Church’s long tradition of social justice. You see after John Francis left St. Anselm College he not only became a humble parish priest, and a Midwestern bishop but also the Archbishop of New Orleans. In his late eighties, frail with the ravages of age, and longing to return to this “hilltop” and the long Autumn nights he so enjoyed, Archbishop Joseph Rummel entered the world of American politics not because he wanted to but because his conscience called him to act. Archbishop Rummel understood what Faithful Citizenship proclaims today, that it is the “Church’s obligation to participate in the shaping of the moral character of society.”
Rooted in Jesus’ call “to love our neighbors as he has loved us”, the Church uses her voice to advocate on behalf of justice, on behalf of all those in need, not because She wishes to dictate the rules and laws of the world, but rather because the Church has the moral obligation to use her voice on behalf of the voiceless. Faithful Citizenship and the guide to forming personal conscience which the American bishops have given us, is not meant to inform us on who to vote for, but rather to guide on the issues of the day, and to challenge us to hear the cries of the voiceless and to defend those whom the world has forgotten.
Sure, many of you might naturally say there is no perfect candidate. To that I would reply “tell me about it.” However, I would also echo Faithful Citizenship in saying that we must use our consciences, our informed consciences, to discern that candidate which best represents a way forward without violating the core beliefs we hold. At the end of the day we know that we will not be perfect, that we will not always get it right. However, we must not hide from the uncomfortable decisions that must be made and together we must blaze a path forward.
One would be a fool to think that such a guide, as Faithful Citizenship would be welcomed in all corners of our society. In fact almost from the very moment of its inception critics have attacked it, arguing that the Church has no place in politics and that our faith must be left on the doorstep. However, these critics are wrong our faith must not be left in our homes, but rather our faith must inform every aspect of our lives, including our votes, because it is our votes that will give birth to policies that either promote or destroy human dignity, votes that protect or destroy our environment, advocate or ignore the poor, the homeless and the immigrants. Those whose policies oppose the values we hold dear will certainly attack our legitimacy; they will say we should have no voice, and that our nation’s policies must be devoid of religious influence and values. Yet these very same voices forget that it was a society devoid of the influence of faith and morals that Adolf Hitler proposed when he sent six million Jews to death camps; it was the same society devoid of faith that Josef Stalin promulgated in Moscow when twenty million met their end; and it is the same voices which today want us to be silent when millions of lives are destroyed because of poverty and greed, when millions of lives are destroyed because medicines and health care are unattainable, or when the right to life is violated in the womb and in the final stages of life. A society where people of faith were told to keep their voices silent on behalf of the marginalized is precisely the society into which Jesus was born, and the society in which all of us live.
The greedy, the proud and powerful wished to silence Jesus because the Gospel he proclaimed was contrary to the society which they envisioned, yet Jesus preached change and was met with resistance. Jesus preached a Gospel of Hope predicated on the belief that each and every human person has value. Jesus preached a Gospel raising up the poor, one which responded to the nature of their circumstances not with judgment but with love. Jesus preached peace to those who believed power and might solved the problems of the day. His Gospel, the Gospel we hear this evening at Mass so eloquently proclaiming the beatitudes calls upon us to love one another, and to radically model our lives after him.
In calling on us to consider the defense of human life in all its stages when heading to the ballot box, the bishops are responding to Jesus’ command of love. When the bishops call upon us to protect the rights of workers, to provide debt relief to poor nations, to fight economic inequalities, and provide healthcare for the sick and food for the hungry, they are not preaching politics, they are preaching Jesus’ call for justice. When the bishops speak for just military policies in the world and for the end to war, they are responding to Christ’s call to be peacemakers in this world of violence. Faithful Citizenship is not about the bishops’ political beliefs; it is about the Gospel message and what Jesus calls us each to do. I encourage you all to read this document which is enclosed in your bulletins, and to reflect on it, not in light of one’s political beliefs but rather in light of the Gospel.
What did our fellow Anselmian Archbishop Joseph Rummel do that caused him to be so vilified in his day? He released a pastoral letter called “Blessed are the Peacemakers” in which he said:
"Racial segregation as such is morally wrong and sinful because it is a denial of the unity and solidarity of the human race as conceived by God in the creation of Adam and Eve. Ever mindful, therefore, of the basic truth that our Colored Catholic brethren share with us the same spiritual life and destiny, the same membership in the Mystical Body of Christ, the same dependence upon the Word of God, the participation in the Sacraments, especially the Most Holy Eucharist, the same need of moral and social encouragement, let there be no further discrimination or segregation in the pews, at the Communion rail, at the confessional and in parish meetings, just as there will be no segregation in the kingdom of heaven."
Thus he desegregated New Orleans’ Catholic Schools, Churches, Seminarians and Catholic Institutions in 1953 with one stroke of his pen. He was accused of mixing religion and politics, of interfering with the laws of the state, with bringing faith into the public square. Yet he persisted in challenging not only the people in the pews, but also those in the state house, including those Catholic politicians who lost sight of the Gospel’s call and thus needed to be reminded not only of it, but also of the responsibility that it was owed therein.
Archbishop Joseph Rummel left St. Anselm over 110 years ago filled with a great love of the Gospel message and unafraid to change the world, and unabashed in his defense of the defenseless, the marginalized and all those forgotten in society.
We too are called to have the same courage as Archbishop Joseph Rummel did that moment he put his pen to paper and wrote his pastoral letter. Our pens will never write pastoral letters to be read from pulpits, however they will mark ballots which determine the future of this state and nation. The question remains: will we be led by Christ, and have the courage to use our pens to fill ballot boxes with Gospels of Love?