Last week, I attended the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C. and delivered the closing homily on Tuesday, February 10, the memorial of St. Scholastica. This was the day that participants were planning to go to Capitol Hill to advocate for issues with Congress. Here are the major themes of this homily:
Today, my theme is three-fold: the paradox, the encounter, and the momentum.
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.”
Pope Francis presents a paradox when he tells us that the farther we go to seek the forgotten, the closer we’ll be to the heart of Christ. We are called to get out of our homes and churches and schools to the frontier. And when we reach that neglected edge of our society, we find ourselves in the center … the heart.
In his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” 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” (§272). We go to the frontier, and we find the heart of the Lord Jesus in the forgotten, the voiceless, and the vulnerable.
Vatican II’s, “Gaudium et Spes” (“Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”), 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” also speaks of finding the heart of Jesus as our highest calling: “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 the paradox leads to my second theme: an encounter. We do not only bring statistics and programs to this ministry, but we bring our encounter with someone who has changed our lives. All work for justice has a “face.” I come with three faces in my mind and heart:
- I picture my brother George, who was born five 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, which stands against the horrible way in which society wants to forget and ignore. My parents needed to be helped and accompanied, not ignored. 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 when we were dedicating a newly rebuilt hospital. He was a maintenance man, and I asked him why he was working there. He replied: “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 because they want to be free to serve those who are forgotten 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 should seek to recall these faces 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; 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!” Dignity is a gift but also a task. Today, you will carry out this task in a way that “… brings to light your most high calling!” (“Gaudium Et Spes,” §22)
These two powerful insights — that at the edge you find the heart of Christ and that you are not simply proposing ideas but encountering a person — lead to my third theme: momentum. The task of the saints of God is to go forth. All through the centuries men and women of faith have been raised up by Christ to give authentic and bold witness.
I like to say that we are armed in the effort to go forth with the four C’s: 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: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) Be courageous, be compassionate, be civil, stay calm. Do not fear. GO FORTH.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz