Votive Mass for the Progress of Peoples
100th Anniversary of Catholic Charities of Baltimore
National Convention; Catholic Charities, USA
September 28, 2022
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption
It is a pleasure to welcome all of you to this historic church, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (a catchy title to be sure), or as it is more commonly called, “The Baltimore Basilica” or “America’s First Cathedral.” Allow me a word about this unique place of worship, so beautiful in its architecture and so rich in its history.
Having enlisted the noted architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Bishop John Carroll broke ground for this Cathedral in 1806. He and the parish trustees wisely commissioned Latrobe to design a cathedral that would reflect the spirit of the new republic. Latrobe, who was also the principal architect of the Capitol, willingly complied, and eventually the present structure was constructed, a first cousin to the Pantheon. Its most prominent feature is the massive dome with its Holy Spirit oculus, and its skylights designed to capture as much natural light as possible. It is said that Thomas Jefferson took an interest in this project, especially the dome, and that he contributed to the design of the skylights. Then (and now), money was in short supply, and the War of 1812 intervened, so, it was only in 1821 that the Cathedral was complete enough to be dedicated.
This Cathedral quickly became the heart of the Church’s life in the United States. It was here that the Provincial and Plenary Councils of Baltimore took place, here where many bishops were ordained for service in newly established dioceses, here where a parish community in the heart of Baltimore City thrived. Over time, the original design of this Cathedral was obscured by embellishments, so, in 2005-06 Cardinal Keeler restored this historic structure to its original beauty. Each year, the bishops of the United States gather here in this Basilica for the opening Mass of their fall plenary assembly. But the best thing about this church is that it remains a living, breathing parish, with a congregation mostly comprised of young adults, with perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, and with urban missionaries who go forth from this place to minister to the homeless. And that is a wonderful segue to the event that brings us together this afternoon.
Catholic Charities of Baltimore // Catholic Charities USA
Even as John Carroll set about building a Cathedral for America’s first diocese, he also set about laying the foundations for Catholic Charities. In 1792, he directed that one-third of all parish revenue would be used for the poor. In 1856, the first orphanage, St. Vincent’s was opened and as the 19th century gave way to the 20th, the Archdiocese of Baltimore had developed a network of charitable services. In 1923, Archbishop Curley incorporated them into Catholic Charities of Baltimore. Over the span of a century, that network has grown exponentially while remaining a deeply integral part of the diverse communities it serves, and while remaining true to its original mission of serving the poor and vulnerable … its mission of cherishing the divine within each person. I am deeply grateful to Bill McCarthy and his team for their leadership and service.
What an honor it is, during our centennial year, to host Catholic Charities USA, bringing together over 85 directors of Catholic Charities from our country. For well over a century, Catholic Charities USA has supported and funded many initiatives to serve the poor and vulnerable throughout the United States, to assist in disaster relief, and to advocate for the underserved and the forgotten. Let me reiterate my thanks to you and to your team, Sr. Donna, for your leadership and service – we are stronger when we are banded together.
The Path of Encounter: Radical Solidarity in Christ
This too is an apt segue, a segue into the Scripture readings proclaimed at the Votive Mass for the Progress of Peoples. These readings powerfully manifest the foundations of our common mission, namely, our radical solidarity with Christ, and therefore, our radical solidarity with the poor and vulnerable. Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, is our path of encounter with God, with one another, and especially with the many faces of human need.
We see this in the reading from the prophet Isaiah who, long ago, warned against engaging in religious practices, like fasting, as a way of justifying oneself. In no uncertain terms, Isaiah proclaimed what kind of a fast is acceptable to God: letting the oppressed go free, sharing bread with the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, ministering to those who are in any way afflicted. Through Isaiah, God announced to the people of Israel, and now to us, that he is on the side of the poor, that he has taken their part, and that if we would reflect the light of divine glory, we must do more than fast. We, like our God, must be on the side of the poor; we must take their part; and we must serve their very real human needs – not only basic necessities, but also their thirst for justice.
The light which Isaiah saw from afar blazes forth in the Gospel in which Jesus envisions the closing thunders of human history and the final judgment. In the decisive moment when the Lord comes in glory to judge the living and the dead, it will become utterly clear to everyone who ever lived that when God’s Son emptied himself and took the condition of a slave, he identified in complete solidarity with the poor, the sick and the suffering, with victims of injustice, with those who are oppressed and persecuted. As the final judgment proceeds and the whole of humanity is assembled, the Light of Divine Glory who, at creation, separated light from darkness, will separate into two camps those who loved in truth and those who did not. The true sons and daughters of God will be those who opened their hearts to Christ and in opening their hearts to Christ opened them to the hungry, the homeless, the naked, the imprisoned, the list goes on. Begotten by the Father of mercies, they will have loved as God loves. They will have taken to heart what Jesus says to us today: “I” was hungry, and you gave me food. “I” was thirsty, and you gave me drink. “I” was a prisoner and your visited me.
In encountering Christ, whether in private prayer or in Word and Sacrament, our eyes are opened and our hearts are prepared to encounter him in those undergoing every imaginable form of human suffering. Conversely, in encountering the poor, our eyes are opened to the Christ whose self-emptying love was no idle gesture but the definitive expression of God’s radical solidarity with the poor.
When we really listen as Jesus speaks to us through words of Matthew 25, all abstractions and human ideologies vanish into nothingness. We viscerally feel the awe of entering into the presence of the God of all holiness. We palpably sense that, in sight of God, we share a common dignity and destiny with one another and especially with the poor, the suffering, and the vulnerable. Standing under the light of God’s glory, we see with utter lucidity, that that each person, from the moment of conception until natural death, is part of a web of human relationships in which God has intervened in Jesus Christ. With the clarity of flesh and blood it dawns on us that we do not love the God we cannot see if we hate or are indifferent to the neighbor in need whom we can see. Such radical solidarity in Christ is the foundation of our mission.
Scripture records one other moment when Christ self-identifies, namely, when he sat at table on the night before he died. Taking bread, he said: “This is ‘my’ Body, given for you.” Taking the cup, he said, “This is ‘my’ Blood to be poured out for you.” In so doing, Jesus proclaims his death just as we do at every Eucharist, a death that embraced every form of human suffering a death that binds us to one another and to the poor and suffering. Let our Eucharistic encounter with the One who was broken to make us whole be the foundation of our encounter with every form of human brokenness, so that our light will blend with the light of God’s glory and shine brightly, now and for all eternity.
May God bless us and keep us always in his love!