(Archbishop Gomez delivered this talk at the annual Red Mass for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston)
My dear friends,
Thank you for your warm welcome, I am honored to be here.
When I accepted this invitation, it didn’t occur to me that I would be speaking six days before the election!
Obviously, that is what is on everybody’s mind these days, so I guess we need to talk about it. But I’m going to have to plan better next time — no Red Masses during the week before an election!
Especially this election. I think we all agree this has been a strange year, there’s nothing else we can compare it to.
I did a lot of traveling this summer and fall — Rome, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, the East Coast — I was in Boston and Washington.
And everywhere I go it seems people are talking about this election and what it means for our country. Everybody keeps asking me: What’s going on with America? And I’m not sure I have any answers. In fact, I have a lot of questions myself.
What is sad is that there are a lot of people who seem angry and frustrated and there are a lot of people I meet who seem discouraged about the direction our country seems to be going. They don’t know what to think, and they are kind of depressed to have only these two candidates to choose from.
As a citizen, as a voter, I agree it is a frustrating year. There are so many important issues that we seem to be avoiding or not talking about.
But I’m a pastor — not a pundit or a politician. And what troubles me as a pastor is that we seem so divided, so unable to come together as a country, as a people.
It is sad but it seems like America is pulling apart, becoming more divided by money, by privilege, by race, by social class. We seem to have lost the sense that we are all “in this together,” that all of us need to sacrifice and compromise for the common good.
Also, I think we all understand that America is changing.
We know something is happening, but we don’t know what it is. We don’t know how things got this way and where things are going. And that makes us anxious, afraid.
Ten years, ago when we said words like “man,” “woman,” “marriage,” “family” — we all understood the definition. Ten years ago, our laws and public policies reflected a common understanding about what these words meant.
Obviously, that’s not true anymore. Now the definition of these words is controversial and contested.
These are strange times. And this transformation in our society has taken place in just the last few years. And there are other deep changes going on in American life — changes that are rooted in the globalization of our economy and inequalities and injustices in our society.
I think this is the background to the election. And I think that is behind a lot of the tension and anxiety that we see. So it’s important for us to talk about this and understand what all this means — for the mission of Church, for our lives as Christians.
I have a friend who was traveling on the East Coast recently, and he told me about a sign he saw. As you know, some of our Protestant brothers and sisters like to post messages outside their churches — short messages to make people think about God and to encourage people to come to church.
Now my friend saw one of these signs and it said, “No Matter Who is President, Jesus Christ is Still King.”
And that’s true, isn’t it?
The Catholic Church has lived for more than 2,000 years — under every form of government, even dictatorships and totalitarianism. Politicians come and go; nations rise and fall; empires fade away — what remains and what continues is the Church that Jesus established on the rock of St. Peter.
And as I was reflecting on this, it occurred to me — if Jesus Christ is truly King — then that means two things.
First, it means we should have great hope — because Jesus has already won the battle for us and he is walking with us. And if God is with us, who can be against us? With Christ, all things are possible.
And second, if Jesus Christ is truly King it means we still have a job to do, you and me. We still have our identity and mission as Christians.
No matter who wins next Tuesday and no matter who loses, we are called to follow Jesus Christ as children of God and missionary disciples. To be faithful to Christ and to build God’s Kingdom here on earth.
We are called to be people of hope and we are called to share the hope of Christ with others. No matter who is President.
And of course, we all know that Christian hope is not just wishful thinking or some kind of “blind faith” that things will somehow always get better.
Christian hope is realistic, it is rooted in the truth. Not only the truth about the way things are in society. But the truth about of the Cross — the truth that Jesus Christ is King and that he is still working to make this world his Kingdom.
The truth that God is in charge. In charge of history and in charge of our lives. That means that we matter to God. Each one of us. God is not indifferent to our struggles. Not at all. In fact, just the opposite.
So my friends, that’s what I want to talk about in our time together this evening. Our mission as Catholics and as the Church — in these strange times we are living in, in this America that is changing.
I want to follow a simple outline. First, I want to start out by talking about what I consider to be the two most important “signs of the times” in American society.
We need to talk about these “signs” because we need to be “realists” about the state of the society we are living in. We need to try to understand what’s going on and what that means for our Christian lives and our Christian witness in society.
Second, after that, I want to talk about some ideas for moving forward, for carrying out our mission. I want to suggest some ways that we can keep living our faith and building the Kingdom with hope.
So let’s start with the first of the “sign of the times.”
For me, the most important reality we face is the growing secularism of our society. In fact, I would say that this is the first election where we can see very clearly that we are living in a “post-Christian” America.
And I don’t think in the Church we have come to grips with this fact, or what it means. But we need to. Because secularization and de-Christianization pose an “existential” threat to our institutions and to our consciences and even our souls.
I think all of us can agree that the elites who govern and shape the direction of our societies are deeply secularized and hostile to religion, to religious values and to traditional culture.
We are not seeing violent persecution in our society, as our Christian brothers and sisters are suffering in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.
Last week, I had the privilege to meet with Archbishop Warda from Iraq and earlier with a priest from Iraq, Father al-Bazi.
They are living in a land where being a Christian is almost a “death sentence.” The Islamic State there is committing “genocide,” according to the Pope and international authorities.
Christians in Iraq are being murdered on a mass scale. Father al-Bazi, who I met, was kidnapped and tortured — his captors pounded his teeth out with a hammer and broke his back and burned his body in many places. All for the “crime” of believing in Jesus Christ.
I mention that because it puts our situation in this country into perspective. We need to pray every day for the persecuted Church in Iraq and Syria and throughout the Middle East.
And we need to be realistic about what’s going on here, too. Because Christianity is under attack here — although the Church’s enemies so far have only resorted to the coercive means of law, policy and public opinion.
But more and more we see our elites using these means to discriminate against Christian institutions and to vilify Christian beliefs. It is not violence, but it has the same effect — to silence religious believers so they have no influence in society.
Until now, for the entire history of this country, religious belief and churches have always been important.
And there has always been a good partnership between the government and religious institutions in providing vital services in our society — to the poor, the homeless and the immigrant.
But now the government is more and more trying to pressure Catholic institutions into doing things that violate our religious mission and moral teachings.
A couple examples:
There is a lawsuit right now that is trying to force the U.S. bishops’ refugee services program to provide abortions and sterilizations for women we help through our program.
Nationwide, we are seeing aggressive moves to erase conscience protections and force doctors and nurses to take part in killing their patients through “assisted suicide.” Pretty soon it may be hard for a Catholic to practice medicine.
One of the leading medical journals recently published a statement by ethicists. It was entitled: “Doctors Have No Right to Refuse Medical Assistance in Dying, Abortion or Contraception.”
This is where America is heading. And I believe the Church faces an “existential” threat in this new post-Christian environment.
How do we live and love, work and create? How do we raise our families, educate our children and carry out our Christian mission? How do we serve our God in a “strange land” that sees the Church and her teachings and institutions as a mortal enemy?1
So this is the first sign of the times — the growing secularization and hostility toward Christianity in American society. The second “sign” I want to talk about is a consequence of the first.
A Crisis of the Human Person
The second sign of our times is what I would call a crisis of the human person that is rooted in the denial of God.
As I have said, our society is trying to live without God. We are trying to live as if God does not exist and as if we — with our science and technology — can somehow take God’s place, replace him.
As a result of this “practical atheism,” our society has lost a sense of the human person; we no longer know the meaning of life.
This is something the Church has always understood. When we forget our Creator, then we forget what creation means and we lose the sense of our own meaning as his creatures.
Without God, we lose the meaning of creation and we lose the reason for human solidarity and community.
The crisis of the human person is the real root of “gender ideology” and the debates over same-sex marriage. We are confronting in our society a false humanism —a wrong and dangerous set of beliefs about the meaning life and what makes for human happiness and flourishing.
And that false humanism is false, precisely because we no longer know who we are and where we came from. We no longer know the mystery of human life and what it means to be a human person.
And this crisis cuts across society. In a society without God, the human person becomes “nothing special.” The value of a human life is judged according to whether it is productive or efficient.
There is a growing assumption in our society that some people are not worth society’s “investment,” not worth paying for or protecting.
Some lives are judged to be “disposable” because they are no longer “useful” — because they are too old, too weak, or too much of an inconvenience or burden to others.
We see it in other areas too.
If we don’t believe that God is our Father and that we are all brothers and sisters, then we will have “no reason” to treat others with mercy and compassion.
And this is the reason we are becoming a society where people are unable to empathize or sympathize with the humanity of other people.
We see this reflected in the cruel treatment of refugees and undocumented migrants, in deportations that break up families and place women and children in detention.
We see it also in the debates over social programs for the poor and homeless, in the increasingly severe punishments for criminals and our indifference to the deplorable conditions in some of our prisons.
We are becoming a society with no mercy — and again, it is because we know longer see the sanctity and the great dignity of the human person.
So this is the second “sign of the times.”
What should we do? How should we live?
Ok. So if these are the signs of the times — if this is the reality we are living in — then what should we do? How should we live? I want to offer a couple of observations and suggestions.
The first thing is that we need to be clear-eyed about the “signs of the times” that we have been talking about.
We are not living anymore in a society that reflects Christian or Judeo-Christian values. We are not living in a society that understands the great dignity and the transcendent destiny of the human person.
That is sad, but that’s the way it is. And it is also true no matter who is President, no matter what party is in power — we are not going to restore religious values “from above.”
If we want America to be greater, then we need men and women like you and me who are committed to serving God and living their faith in every aspect of their lives.
Yesterday was All Saints Day. And that is a reminder about our vocation, our destiny. We are created and called to be saints.
This the reason we are here — to follow Jesus Christ and to become more and more like him, through the grace of sacraments and through our desire for holiness. This is the beautiful truth about who we are as children of God.
Being a saint doesn’t mean separating ourselves from the world. It means just the opposite! It means loving God and serving our neighbors right here and right now — in the middle of the world.
God wants saints in every area of life. He needs mothers and fathers who are saints. He needs saints in corporations and law firms, in courts and legislatures; God wants saints in hospitals and schools and in the media; he even needs saints on Wall Street and in the Oval Office.
One of my favorites saints — he’s not canonized yet — was an auto mechanic. Blessed Salvador Huerta Gutiérrez. The point is: God wants saints everywhere!
That’s another way to answer the questions we have about this election and the issues we face in our culture and our society. God wants saints everywhere!
We all know that famous story about G. K. Chesterton, the great writer. Once when a newspaper asked him to write an essay on the subject of “What’s Wrong with the World?” Chesterton wrote back with his answer. It was two words, he said, “I am.”
My friends, if we want to live in a society that promotes virtue and justice and human dignity — if we want leaders who reflect these values — then we need to become leaders and role models in our society.
We need to become deeply engaged in the larger conversation about America’s future direction. As Catholics, as citizens.
No matter who is President, we are called to be who we are — and who God made us to be. That means we are Catholics first. Christians first. This is our identity. Always!
We are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. Before everything else, we are followers of Jesus Christ, children of God, made in his image, called to be saints and to work for his Kingdom, the family of God on earth.
We cannot have political renewal in our country without first having a renewal that is moral, spiritual and cultural.
This kind of renewal takes a longer time. Because it is not about elections or candidates or about policies. It’s about us. It’s about personal renewal.
The renewal we need in this country is a renewal of the heart — a renewal of the spirit. This kind of renewal comes from knowing who we are. It comes from trying to become better people and trying to help others to see the beauty and dignity of human life.
What does this look like in practice, in everyday life?
We need to start with our relationship with God — everything begins with prayer. Every day we should be spending time in prayer.
Every day we should be reading a passage from the Gospel. Trying to become more like Jesus. Praying to understand and to do God’s will.
We also need to strengthen our relationships — our relationships in our marriages and with our children and grandchildren, with our parents and our brothers and sisters.
Finally, we need to be witnesses to God in our lives. The challenge, as we all know, is to really live the truths that we believe and what the Church teaches.
And the greatest of these truths is the commandment to love, to be people of compassion and mercy.
Love is not a feeling, love is an action. Love means we are called to defend the weak, to heal the sick, to seek peace and confront the injustice and poverty and violence we find in our society.
Love means we are called to seek out the lost and search after those who have gone astray. These are our duties every day.
And we are also a universal Church, a worldwide family of God. That means when our brothers and sisters are suffering, even half way around the world, we need to come to their aid in solidarity and struggles alongside them for justice. Especially our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters.
So all of this means that we need to stand together and stand strong and we need to insist on our freedom to serve God and follow Christ — in our own lives and in our institutions.
We have a beautiful duty to evangelize this culture to proclaim and share the beauty of God’s loving plan for our lives and for creation.
We need to show our neighbors — by our words and by our actions — that every human life is sacred and precious; because every human life is created by God, who loves us and calls us a personal relationship of love, to be his sons and daughters.
My friends, let me conclude with a few words from the Servant of God Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and in my opinion, one of the great apostles to America.
And something else to think about — Election Day this year falls on her birthday. She was born November 8th, 1897.
Dorothy Day once wrote: “There is room for greater saints now than ever before. Never has the world been so organized — press, radio, education, recreation — to turn minds away from Christ. … We are all called to be saints. God expects something from each one of us that no one else can do. If we don’t, it will not be done.”2
This is the truth, my friends. Our country and our world will be renewed — not by politics, but by saints. And that means you and that means me. If we want a greater America, we need to become, by the grace of God, greater saints.
No matter who is President, Jesus Christ is still the King. And we are still called to be saints and to renew this world in the image of his Kingdom.
Thank you for listening. God bless you and your families, and God bless our country!
2William D. Miller, ed. All Is Grace: The Spirituality of Dorothy Day (Doubleday, 1987), 102.