Editor’s note: The following article is adapted from the homily given by His Eminence, Roger Cardinal Mahony, to delegates of the Democratic National Convention held in Los Angeles, California, on Sunday, August 13.
Once again, I extend to all of you, delegates to the Democratic National Convention, my sincere welcome. It is the Church’s special prayer that during these days of important deliberations for the good of our country, God will be ever present in your hearts to guide you for what is truly in the best interests of all our people.
I am particularly pleased that so many of you chose to come this morning to be nourished by God’s word and sacrament as you prepare for your convention. That is surely a hopeful sign for our country. In an era when polling techniques and focus groups sometimes seem to have replaced enduring principles and values to guide us, it is heartening that you are here to listen to God’s word and to allow God’s plan for the human family to impact your views and decisions.
Today’s Scripture readings recall two central dimensions of our faith: First, they remind us of the centrality of the Eucharist as a primary source of our spiritual nourishment. The meal that we share at the eucharistic table provides the food for the journey—borrowing an image from today’s passage from the first Book of Kings.
Second, the reading from Ephesians reminds us that, as Christians, our discipleship must be guided by the virtues of compassion and forgiveness. In doing so, we imitate Jesus Christ, whose life embodied a genuine compassion for the poor and most vulnerable members of society. Likewise, his ministry extended God’s forgiveness and mercy to sinners and to those ostracized from the community.
The image of bread is one used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. It is used figuratively as a symbol of our need for spiritual nourishment—a need that is most completely satisfied through a genuine and faithful relationship with God.
But the Scriptures also use the image of bread in very literal terms. Our Old Testament Scripture recalls how God nourished Elijah with special food that was sent to him by an angel, thus sustaining him for a journey of some 40 days and nights. Our gospel speaks to us so powerfully as Jesus declares, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Jesus knows well that each of us needs both spiritual and physical food for our life journeys and offers both to us most generously.
The Eucharist that we celebrate this morning calls us to establish a deeper relationship with God and with our neighbor. Love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable, as we know as disciples of the Lord. We demonstrate our love for God by how we interact with our neighbor. Throughout the Catholic social tradition, this is measured by how we treat “the least among us,” how human life is protected and human dignity is affirmed, and how the common good is promoted and human rights are preserved.
It is the prophets down through the ages who constantly remind us that the quality of justice in society—and the measure of our fidelity to the covenant relationship with God—are measured by how the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien are treated. In our own day and time, the test is no different. Today, the poor, single mothers, children, and immigrants remain the most vulnerable populations even in an economy that has shown great vitality and has rewarded so many in our society. The lives of children are threatened both in the womb and in our neighborhoods.
The widening gap in our economy was emphasized last year by a local study released by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles that documented the reality that someone who works full-time, all year round, at minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. It also has provided momentum for a campaign by organized labor, religious groups, and community organizations to obtain a new amnesty for immigrant workers.
As we seek God’s nourishment in this morning’s Mass, we are called to be in the forefront of those who stand on the side of all who may be threatened in our communities. Let me give you just three examples of such threats that we experience today:
(1) Human life remains threatened in our country most clearly because of legalized abortion, but also by the continued use of capital punishment, and the movement to allow physician-assisted suicide. As we are nourished by God’s word, we find that innate dignity of each human life and person and are nourished through the Eucharist to guard and protect all human life.
(2) Human dignity remains threatened by the growing gaps in wealth and income and by the scarcity of affordable housing, health care, child care, and a quality education. Again, we are nourished by God’s word and sacrament to step forward boldly and, with courage, make certain that all Americans share in the incredible prosperity with which God has blessed our nation.
(3) Human rights are jeopardized when immigrant workers are exploited, when the minimum wage cannot support a family in dignity, and when discrimination and racism are still evident in the workplace and in our neighborhoods. And again, God’s word and sacrament nourish and sustain us in our unrelenting efforts to respect all people’s God-given rights and to correct and reverse attitudes and feelings that diminish all of us.
As you leave our special Mass this morning, you will receive copies of a statement entitled Faithful Citizenship issued by the United States Catholic Conference. Every national election year, the Catholic bishops issue such a statement with a threefold purpose:
1. To outline the basic principles of Catholic social teaching.
2. To apply those principles to the pressing social policy issues of our day.
3. To encourage Catholics to fully engage in the civic life of their communities.
Those of you gathered here this morning represent leadership from across the United States. And with leadership comes responsibility. The challenges that stand before us are many: to protect the lives of all God’s children and to promote the rights of the most vulnerable in our society, whether they be the unborn, the powerless, and the voiceless; to preserve the dignity of the poor and the least among us; to strengthen families, nurture our children, and reinvigorate a deeper sense of promoting the common good, rather than an exaggerated sense of individualism.
This Eucharist that we share this morning not only sustains us spiritually; it can also guide us practically if our hearts are open and if we are willing to be people of compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. In the end, God will not rely on polling data to judge our fidelity to the gospels. God will not convene focus groups to determine our moral integrity or our ethical fitness. Instead, we will face a self-examination that is both simple and stark: Whatever we did for the least of those among us, we did for God.
May God bless each and every one of you during these important days of your national convention, and may God’s word and sacrament expand your vision and sustain you as you journey forward as His faithful disciples.