WASHINGTON – All Americans can see in the historic inauguration of President Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president an indication of the country’s “historic, proud, but not always realized, boast to be a land where all are equal,” Washington’s archbishop said Jan. 18.
In his homily during a Mass at St. Matthew Cathedral, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl said the Jan. 20 inauguration also was an opportunity to reflect on “our national history, our identity and … the significant role that religious faith plays in our self-recognition.”
He urged the congregation as “a people of hope” to pray for the new president that he might always be open to the stirrings of the spirit of God and as a people of faith that we might always respond … in a way that our deepest convictions are expressed, heard and appreciated.”
Archbishop Wuerl said the European colonists who settled the nation’s two coasts came to this new land imbued “with a sense of call and mission,” and through its history the country has “tried to respond to God’s word.”
“We are a people of faith, we have been so from our beginnings, confident that God calls us to be a truly good and just society,” Archbishop Wuerl said. “As we have grown and prospered we have tried to see in our lives the hand of God.”
All over the country “church buildings and houses of worship and prayer … are a testimony to our religious heritage and tangible verification of its impact on our lives, individually and collectively,” he said.
“A visit to church, as we do this evening, is both an exercise in history and a religious pilgrimage of faith,” Archbishop Wuerl continued.
“Churches are a witness in our day that the same faith in God that marked our nation’s beginnings continues to thrive, to inspire, to form and to give identity to who we are today,” he said. “Since we are both members of the church and citizens of the state we should expect that our faith should be reflected in our public life.”
Catholics look to their church “for guidance that can only come from God,” he continued.
“We believe that the teaching of the church represents for us an opening onto the wisdom of God and we should look to our most deeply held convictions when we address matters that effect our nation’s activities at home or abroad,” he said. “Over centuries the voice of the church has been the voice of conscience.”
“Well-articulated faith-based principles” have helped to form U.S. public policy with regard to human dignity and the improvement of working conditions, he said, noting that the church has brought “the strongest moral voice” to debates even when it was not always welcome.
Most of the social legislation of the 1930s and subsequent years “finds its moral foundation and philosophical formulation in the magisterium of the church,” he said.
Today “our struggle” is to defend all human life from conception to natural death, he said.
“The voice of faith today, as it has been for centuries, is still the voice of conscience, the voice of God within our hearts calling us to what we ought to do,” he said.
He asked that Massgoers remember during the prayer of the faithful for the country’s new president the words of Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the U.S. last year:
“As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society.”
“We pray that this dialogue will help, above all, knit together a new respect for the dignity of the human person and the value of all human life,” the archbishop said. “It is an appreciation understood by our Founding Fathers who wrote of the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, rights so endowed to us by God, our creator.”
“Looking to the future of our great country, we should do so with hope, confidence and enthusiasm, knowing that we bring something particularly valuable to the effort to build a good and just society. We share the wisdom and love of God,” he said.