Mercy and individualism

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., our former bishop here in the Fall River Diocese, paid us a return visit this past Saturday to celebrate the annual Red Mass (Mass of the Holy Spirit to open the new work year for the legal profession) at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption (please also see the article on page eight).

Among other things, he spoke about the Year of Mercy and said that this special jubilee year is a “reminder that justice and mercy are central in our life of discipleship.” He made reference to Jesus’ parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46, when He will pardon or condemn us, based on how we treated our neighbors in need in this life.

The cardinal also referred to the prophet Amos, who was featured in the first reading (Am 6:1a,4-7), and said that “the prophets remind us about caring for the poor and justice” are linked. “We are called to give witness to God’s righteousness” by our own behavior. 

“The social Gospel of the Church [is] an amicus (friend of the court) brief for God’s trial before Pilate,” Cardinal O’Malley said, making reference to the second reading’s reference to Jesus’ Good Friday trial (1 Tim 6:13).

The cardinal also referred to a book which has been a touchstone of his, “Bowling Alone,” by Robert Putnam, which describes the collapse of American social institutions in the late 20th century (the book was published in 2000). This lack of the social connections is truly a problem for the Church. “In the Church, community, family and connectedness are so important,” the cardinal said.

He contrasted in the Gospels “the crowd” and “the community,” which would be the disciples of Jesus. “The crowd is always pushing people away from Jesus,” such as Zaccheaus (the short tax collector who wanted to meet Jesus, who was resented by the crowd because they did not like paying taxes to a foreign power, “just like the crowd at the Boston Tea Party,” Cardinal Sean quipped) and Bartimeaus (the blind man, whom Jesus healed). 

The community of believers work to bring people to Christ. The cardinal spoke about his favorite Gospel story of his youth — when a group of disciples opened a roof so as to let down a friend before Jesus so that he might be healed. “I’d like to have friends like that and I’d like to be a friend like that,” the future bishop thought.

The cardinal, who is now Archbishop of Boston, spoke about the recent visit of the heart of St. Pius of Pietralcina (commonly known as Padre Pio) to the archdiocese. “Twenty-thousand people came to the Boston cathedral over 24 hours” so as to venerate it. “People are hungry” Spiritually. “We must work to heal the divisions in our country,” the cardinal said. He then enumerated some of them: racial ones; “wanting to slam the door of immigrants”; selfishness in our families. “Polarization is very dangerous. Turning the crowd into a community is the challenge” which faces us Christians. “We need to promote Biblical justice, going beyond our rugged individualism.”

Back on Jan. 7, 2015, Pope Francis spoke out against individualism: “Mothers, in their unconditional and sacrificial love for their children, are the antidote to individualism; they are the greatest enemies against war.”

His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, said that individualism caused the recent economic crisis. In a speech Jan. 12, 2012, he defined “individualism” as that “which obscures the relational dimension of the person and leads him to close himself off in his own little world, to be attentive mostly to his own needs and desires, worrying little about others.”

St. John Paul II also warned against individualism: “To be human means to be called to interpersonal communion” [Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 7.], “acting and existing together with others” [The Acting Person].

As we enter the last two months of the Year of Mercy, we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us to embrace this task of carrying out the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, realizing that to do so, we cannot be a “rock” or an “island,” but rather people in communion with others. To more effectively enter into that communion, we also need to avail ourselves of the mercy of God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the other Spiritual resources God has made available to us (see pages two, four and seven).

One of those resources is the greatest treasure Jesus gave us — the Eucharist. Pope Benedict said on June 26, 2011, “In an increasingly individualistic culture in which Western societies are immersed, and which is tending to spread throughout the world, the Eucharist is a kind of ‘antidote’ which operates in the minds and hearts of believers and is continually sowing in them the logic of communion, of service, of sharing: in other words, the logic of the Gospel.”

May that logic prevail in us. 

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts