Bishop Robert J. Cunningham celebrated a Mass to promote harmony July 13. The full prepared text of his homily appears below.
On July 13th, a capacity congregation filled the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for the celebration of a Votive Mass for Promoting Harmony in our community and the world. In our celebration we remembered law enforcement officials, the victims of violent acts and those who mourn their death; the injured and those who support them in the healing process. We prayed also that our city and all in our diocese would continue to show great respect for every human life and the dignity of all God’s children. The homily I preached on that occasion follows.
Let me begin with a word of welcome and gratitude. Thank you for being here at the Cathedral this evening. It is good and necessary for us to gather around the table of the Lord. It is here that Jesus’ sacrifice on behalf of all men and women is made present — the sacrifice offered to reconcile us to the Father and to one another.
We live in an imperfect and troubled world where the exercise of human freedom often thwarts the dignity of the human person. We gather this evening because each of us has a part in bringing peace and harmony to our country, our community and our family and friends. As the words of the hymn remind us: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” We know we cannot promote harmony and peace without God’s help. We believe that prayer changes things. And so we raise our minds and hearts to a merciful God asking that minds be enlightened and hearts opened to the inherent dignity of every human person made in the image and likeness of God.
The events of the past few weeks, internationally, nationally and in our own community cause us to pray for peace and harmony. Some attacks have been far away; others much closer to home. In Orlando, the tragic deaths of so many young people gathered at the Pulse nightclub, police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, the retaliatory action of the sniper in Dallas killing and wounding police officers and civilians and the killings in the courthouse in Michigan are vivid reminders of the magnitude that violence has reached in our country.
In our own area, close to our homes, lives are harmed or lost when people seek to support their drug addiction, or in response to a misguided search for justice or in retaliation for abuse and domestic violence. Assaults on the human person abound. The precious gift of human life is too often threatened and disregarded. Our hearts are heavy and many tears are shed as we try to understand this senseless loss of life. It is at times like this that human words, however thoughtfully chosen, are inadequate and so we turn to God’s word in Sacred Scripture for comfort and consolation.
In our first reading, Isaiah spoke about people who walked in darkness and saw a great light. The great light appears with the birth of a child called, Wonder-Counselor, God Hero, Father Forever, Prince of Peace. We believe, with the birth of the child in Bethlehem, the long awaited Prince of Peace arrived. For all who accept Him He is the light that dispels the darkness. St. Paul reminds us that those who walk in this light live differently. “. . . Clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you” (Col 3: 12-13).
Dorothy Day spent the majority of her life working with those who were “down and out.” in one of her writings she noted that she would like to change the world — make it a better place to live where people had what they needed and the rights of all were respected. I think she was envisioning a world described by Matthew in today’s Gospel. The sorrowing are consoled, the lowly inherit the land, those who hunger and thirst have their fill, mercy abounds for those who show mercy, and the persecuted are rewarded with entrance into the kingdom. In her many efforts to change the world, Dorothy Day concluded that love alone can bring about the conversion of hearts needed to change the world.
During this Year of Mercy and throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has called us to reflect on divine mercy, the name of God’s love bestowed on those in misery. He reminds us often that God never tires of forgiving us and encourages us to never tire of asking for forgiveness. He asks us to emulate the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son who welcomes home his wayward son. He encourages us to adopt a “Samaritan attitude” after the Good Samaritan who acted as a neighbor to a wounded man when the priest and Levite went on their way without offering assistance. He asks us to encounter God’s mercy and to extend mercy to others. I think he would agree with Dorothy Day’s plea, “Please, dear God, enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.” Quoting Pope Francis, “Violence cannot be overcome with violence. Violence is overcome with peace.”
In the midst of these trying days we must be clear about the dignity of every human person. Whether black, white, straight, gay, lesbian, transgender, a police officer, an ordinary citizen, an immigrant, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim . . . each and every person is created by a loving God in His image and likeness, precious in His sight. Human life is a beautiful gift that must be respected, reverenced and protected.
In addition, we must be clear that much good is at work within our community and beyond. The violence that makes the headlines and fills our newscasts should not blind us to the many ways in which people reach out to others, the varied ways in which people treat others with care and concern, the numerous efforts made by many to provide for the corporal and spiritual needs of their brothers and sisters.
So what should we do? Pray daily that the inherent dignity of every human life will be recognized, respected and protected. Pray for an end to violence and conflict. Treat others with respect and reverence beginning with those closest to us — family and friends, co-workers and neighbors and extend respect and reverence beyond our immediate circle to all we encounter.
In the days and weeks ahead let us ask Mary to help us respond to violence and conflict with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love. She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children” (Pope Francis). Mary, Mother of Mercy, with a maternal heart you embrace all your children with your love. Be with us and support our efforts to build peace and harmony.