On September 25, 2010, Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago, gave the homily in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC, during the Eucharist celebrating the centennial of Catholic Charities USA.
His Eminence is one of the most thoughtful and insightful witnesses within contemporary Catholicism, whose contributions are often obscured from hearing by the media controversy of the day. His 9/25/10 reflections on charity and generosity within the context of the Catholic faith are worth lengthy consideration. I offer this report of them to you, first by this link to the official text of his homily, and then by my unofficial text below, which I transcribed from a television recording. The edition below includes a few of the Cardinal’s verbal insertions (there were only a few) into the official text, but is laid out visually closer to the way the homily was delivered (according to this witness):
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
It’s a great pleasure and a true honor, together with all of you, with Sr. Donna Markham, the chair of the national Catholic Charities Board, with Fr. Larry Snyder the president of Catholic Charities USA, and with all those associated with Catholic Charities in this country, all of us gathered today in our national shrine.
This centennial Eucharist is possible first of all because of a virtue. The Pope, in sending his congratulations for this anniversary, said that it will be an occasion for gratitude to Almighty God for the “abundant harvest of generosity, solidarity, and good works reaped.”
Generosity: Generosity is a virtue that has made possible the extraordinary record of help, and the even more extraordinary outpouring of hearts that we celebrate today.
The case statement for Catholic Charities is in the Gospel just proclaimed–the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, the prisoner, the least of Christ’s brethren–
We are commanded to see them and to respond.
But behind the cases and the case studies, behind the plight of the poor, behind the well-organized response to their needs through Catholic Charities, there is the Gospel and its imperative to love.
It is always important to give to a good cause. It is even more important simply to give, to be generous in imitation of the Lord himself, of Jesus who is generous to the point of self-sacrifice for our salvation. No matter the cause, disciples of the Lord Jesus have to give, are impelled toward generosity from the power of God’s grace working in them, in us. Salvation depends on this virtue.
St. John of the Cross reminds us in the evening of life we will be judged by love, examined in love. Made in God’s image and likeness, and created therefore out of infinite love, we will be asked how we have grown into the mind and heart of Christ, who saves us out of love. The One who loves us far more than we love ourselves will ask how we have loved those whom He also loves, and therefore have shown how we love Him.
If love, which is the form of every virtue, informs our life and our actions, we have nothing to fear in this life or in the next. So we are here, dear brothers and sisters, because of a virtue: generosity.
We are here also because of a motive: faith. It’s a particular faith, a faith, as St. James reminds us, that sustains works, a faith that becomes visible in works, a faith demonstrated by good works.
There are tensions, as we know, particular to such a faith and the good works that it motivates:
There is a tension between humanitarianism–helping the poor for the sake of the poor–and evangelization: helping the poor for the sake of Christ.
There is a tension between professionalism–helping others from the knowledge and skills that have the poor come to us on our terms, the terms of our social work, of our profession, of our health care–a tension between that kind of professionalism and ministry, which is going to the poor on Christ’s terms, and helping them as they want to be helped.
There is a tension even between charity and justice, especially when justice is interpreted as vengeance.
Pope Benedict solved this conceptually in his first encyclical, God is Love, Deus Caritas Est, when he pointed out very aptly, and very obviously when you think about it, but what the world has often forgotten, one cannot be just to someone you don’t love, and one cannot love someone without seeing to it that they are treated justly.
These and other tensions familiar to you are the stuff of many conversations–good conversations–but most of all, they are the stuff of daily life for Catholic Charities directors and staffs. And they are resolved in practice each day by many thousands of well-prepared and well-formed men and women who have put their lives, their careers, and often risk their livelihood in service to the mission of Catholic Charities.
Pope Benedict mentions them as well in his encyclical:
The personnel of every Catholic charitable organization want to work with the Church and therefore with the bishops so that the love of God can spread throughout the world by their sharing in the Church’s practice of love [the diakonia that Cardinal Cordes mentioned]. They wish to be witnesses of God and of Christ and they wish for this very reason freely to do good to all.
I take great pride in the Catholic Charities workers, the directors, those who are responsible for Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese I serve. I take great pride because I see men and women could work in many places but who are in Catholic Charities because they know what the mission is, and more than that, the mission has transformed their own heart, and their lives in such a way that they they are trustworthy, that they can work out the tensions, that they can respond to the individual and keep the principles in mind and do so day after day, year after year. I take great pride in them, and to them especially, we owe a debt of gratitude today.
There remains always, of course, the temptation to resolve these conceptual and existential tensions by doing the works of charity–good works–as if God did not exist.
This form of self-secularization arises because the Church, especially in a time of great difficulty, can fall back on works that make sense on the world’s terms, on the critics’ terms. The Church is often praised for her schools, her hospitals, her charitable organizations and institutions–although not always. Two days ago I had to respond to an irate lady who was saying that Catholic Charities should close down its food kitchen in her neighborhood because the people made a mess when they came to eat there and her life was disturbed. We know as we try to sponsor low-income housing that this is always a very difficult kind of conversation, sometimes because people are genuinely afraid and that must respected–people have a right to security in their own homes. But often it is for other reasons as well that are hard to sort out.
So not every work that you do and Charities sponsor and I try to help in my own way, not every work is praised, and yet, yet, the Church is recognized for her works.
But concentrating on the good works doesn’t always save us from the comment that they are somehow in conflict with the Church’s doctrines, retrograde as they are. And that it’s just too bad one cant’ take only the works and forget the teaching, not to mention the teachers. However, we take what we can get from a world too often marked by self-righteousness that is, in Gospel terms, the sin against the Holy Spirit.
And we use the works to give us an opening. An opening for what?
We could not come together for this centennial Eucharist but for the virtue of generosity and the motivation of faith, both of which, however, are sustained and confirmed by a vision:
It is a picture of the Spirit of the Lord at work in the world, bringing good out of evil, hope from despair, life from death. It’s a picture proclaimed in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to comfort all who mourn, to give them oil of gladness in place of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit.”
This is the text, as you know, that was cited by Jesus himself in the synagogue at Nazareth when he first returned to his home town. In the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke, Jesus, having finished the reading, speaks to his friends and neighbors: “Today–Today–this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Today–it’s a long day, a day that will last until Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. It is His day, and in Christ, in Him, it is our day.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the greatest poverty is not to know Jesus Christ.
And the greatest challenge is to serve the poor in Christ’s name, with complete respect for their dignity and their personal freedom.
Today, then, on this anniversary date, our hearts are filled with gratitude to God, to our benefactors, to directors and staffers of Catholic Charities–to all of you–and all those whom you represent. And most of all, most of all, our hearts are filled with gratitude to the poor, without whom no one enters the Kingdom of God. God bless us all.
Catholic Charities USA
Centennial Mass Homily – September 25, 2010
Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC
Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Unofficial Transcription by Albert J. Schorsch, III
“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the greatest poverty is not to know Jesus Christ.”
“And the greatest challenge is to serve the poor in Christ’s name, with complete respect for their dignity and their personal freedom.”
Also, His Eminence’s concept of “self-secularization” is worth pondering.
© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved