On April 15, Archbishop José H. Gomez delivered the keynote address to Catholic advocates gathered by the Minnesota Catholic Conference at the state’s capitol.
The text of the archbishop’s remarks, delivered via Zoom:
Thank you for your kind welcome, Archbishop Hebda. I am very sorry we cannot all be together today “in person.”
My friends, on behalf of the Catholic people of Los Angeles and the nation’s bishops, I want to say that we are praying for all of you and for the whole Church in Minnesota in this challenging moment.
We pray for peace and we pray for justice, and we pray for the families of all those involved in the latest violence.
Please know that the Church remains committed to providing long-term leadership in the struggle against racism throughout the United States.
Racism, as we all know, is a grave sin, a spiritual disease and a social injustice. We need to stand together as one Church to eradicate this evil from our own hearts, from the hearts of our neighbors, and from the structures of our society.
This “Catholics in the Capitol” program is an important witness to the Church’s vision for social justice and the common good. As you take part in this program, I thought it might be good for us to reflect together on Pope Francis’ latest social encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” and what it means for our mission in this moment.
“Fratelli Tutti” is the first papal encyclical to be written during a global plague. And the pope is setting out a vision for rebuilding the world after this pandemic — not just politically and economically, but also spiritually, culturally, and morally.
The pope recognizes, as we do, that the coronavirus pandemic has exposed deep inequalities in our societies, and that in many ways the pandemic has made those inequalities even worse.
In the encyclical he also talks about the rise of racism and nationalism, the struggles of immigrants and refugees, and critical issues like the death penalty, war, and poverty. But he goes even deeper, offering a kind of “prophetic reading” of the signs of the times.
Pope Francis warns against forces in our societies that are deliberately distorting history in order to manipulate people.
He worries that the meanings of words like “freedom” and “justice” and “unity” are now being “bent and shaped to serve as tools for domination, as meaningless tags that can be used to justify any action.”
He talks about polarization and extremism and the breakdown of politics, which he says is now all about power and control and not about improving people’s lives or advancing the common good.
The pope also sees a “radical individualism” and a “throwaway world” at the heart of some troubling trends in our societies — declining birth rates, the shameful treatment of the elderly, the destruction of the unborn. “Our individual concerns are the only thing that matters,” he says.
He also warns of the concentration of power in communications companies and networks that are now able to manipulate people’s consciences and the democratic process, spreading “false information … prejudice and hate.”
These are just some of the many issues the pope addresses in this challenging document. As I said, it is prophetic. But I think it is also very practical because the pope also talks about the foundations of our Catholic commitments to building a better society and a better world.
At the heart of “Fratelli Tutti” is the simple and beautiful vision of the Gospel: that God our Father has created every human being with sanctity and dignity, with equal rights and duties, and that our Creator calls us to form a single human family in which we live as brothers and sisters.
The pope wants the Church to be the vanguard in society, to help our neighbors to see that we are called to create a shared community in which every human person is cherished and respected.
Near the end of “Fratelli Tutti,” the Holy Father offers a beautiful reflection on how important it is for us to maintain our Christian identity as we work for the common good of society.
He writes: “Others drink from other sources. For us the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Friends, this is so important. We are followers of Jesus Christ! We are not liberals or conservatives. The Church is not a political party and we are not activists. We are Catholics. Before everything else, this is our identity, this is who we are.
That means our vision and our approach to social justice must be different. As Catholics, we start with very distinct assumptions about the purpose of society, the meaning of life, and the happiness of the human person.
If we believe that God is our Father, then we must believe and act as if all men and women are our brothers and sisters. If we believe that Jesus died for the love of every person, then we know that “no one is beyond the scope of his universal love,” as the pope writes.
Nowadays, as we know, our politics and culture are aggressively secular. Sadly, some of our leaders seem to want to close our society off from Christian ideas and values. I am troubled by the growing censorship of Christian viewpoints on the internet and social media and the marginalization of believers in other areas of our public discourse.
These trends and directions in our society amount to a rejection of America’s founding principles, and the consequences are not healthy for our society.
America’s founders were wise; they understood the realities of human weakness and sin. The democracy they built depends on the virtue and morality of citizens. The founders presumed that our public morality would be grounded in individual religious beliefs and practice. And they knew that without solid religious and moral foundations, America’s commitments to human equality and freedom could not be sustained.
Pope Francis emphasizes this point, too, in talking about the spread of secularism in Western societies.
The point is this: When we lose the sense of God, when we lose the sense that human life is the gift of a loving Creator, then we lose sense of the true meaning of human life and the common good. Without God, our politics is reduced to a kind of power struggle among competing interests. And sadly, as we know, it is always the poor and vulnerable who are left to suffer at the hands of the powerful and privileged.
To put it simply, unless we believe in a God who is our Father in heaven, then we have no necessary reason to treat one another as brothers and sisters on earth. That is a key teaching in “Fratelli Tutti.”
Now, what does this mean for you and me as Catholics? First of all, it means we need to insist — as Pope Francis insists — that religious freedom is a fundamental right.
But it also means that we need to insist that the Church has a vital contribution to make in promoting social justice and helping to shape the direction of American society. We cannot allow the Church to simply be treated as a charitable organization or a place where people pray.
That takes courage and conviction on our part. We need to stand up for our rights and we need to live our faith in our daily lives with joy and confidence.
My dear friends, in this moment especially, we need to reclaim our identity as faithful citizens and missionary disciples.
We need to proclaim Jesus Christ and we need to do our part to advance Our Lord’s vision of the human person, who is made in God’s image and likeness and endowed with equal dignity, rights, and a divine purpose. This beautiful vision is the gift that the Church has to offer to our society’s ongoing conversation about the kind of America we want.
And as I said, our vision for social justice is distinctive. It is distinctive because we believe that the human person is a child of God, and because we believe that God has a beautiful plan of love for every human life.
Pope Francis warns against the temptation of “reductive anthropological visions” — secular visions that diminish the great dignity of the human person. Sadly, we see such “reductive visions” in some of the critical theories and ideologies that are gaining ground in our public life.
Even though America has become very secular, the religious impulse has not died. In fact, among our cultural and political leaders and some of our neighbors, politics has become their new religion. That’s one reason our politics has become so cruel and uncompromising, and so lacking in mercy and hope.
But again, the problem is the loss of God. When we deny God, we lose the truth about what human life is for, we lose the truth of human transcendence. That means strictly secular visions of social justice, even when they are well-intentioned, cannot lead us to create policies and social conditions that truly serve human flourishing.
In the Catholic vision, social justice is not about personal identity, or group power, or getting more material goods. True social justice is about building a society where people can be good, a society where people can love one another and take care of one another, where they can find God and know that they are made for heaven. And true social justice can never be obtained without simple human kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.
As Catholics, we are called to keep the truth alive about the human person: the truth that every person in our society has a soul that is destined for eternity and a meaning and purpose that transcends this world. As Catholics, we also believe that the most basic purpose of government and policy is to protect the sanctity and dignity of the person, from the moment they are conceived until the moment they draw their dying breath.
Friends, our task in this moment is to bring this beautiful vision to our public discourse, to awaken this awareness of God’s love in the hearts of our brothers and sisters.
We also have, in this moment, an important duty to be peacemakers and reconcilers. We need to help bring people together and help them realize our common humanity.
We can disagree with people; that’s part of democracy, and we need to have conversations and even arguments about what is best for our country. And we will disagree with ideas that deny God and threaten human dignity.
But we can never give in to hatred, to treating others as enemies or with contempt, even if others treat us unfairly or insult us. As Catholics, we need to let God be the judge. Our job is to proclaim Christ, to love our enemies, and to work with love to persuade people and to change hearts and minds.
Let us never forget that the Gospel message is delivered, not only by our words, but by the witness of our lives.
By our example, we need to help our society understand that we are all brothers and sisters. And we need to do this — like everything in our lives — with humility and a joyful heart.
I want to urge you to keep praying and to keep going deeper into the sources of our faith — the Gospels, the writings and lives of the saints, the Eucharist and the sacraments. These are for us, as the pope says, the “wellspring of human dignity and fraternity.”
Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father” because every one of us is a child of the same Creator. We belong to one family. We are all sons and daughters of God, created out of his divine love, with the same dignity and sharing in a common destiny and a common hope.
This is the message that the Church has proclaimed to the world from the beginning. Now we need to bring this message to the people of our times.
This project is far greater than politics. But this is what we are here for. If we live our faith with generous and grateful hearts, we can renew the soul of our nation.
Thank you for listening. God bless all of you and your families!
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