Cardinal celebrates annual White Mass

BOSTON -- Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley urged Catholic healthcare workers gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross for their annual White Mass Oct. 21 to respond to God’s call to defend the dignity of human life.

The White Mass and following banquet at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel are held each year near the feast day of St. Luke, the patron saint of physicians. They are sponsored by the Guild of St. Luke, an organization of Catholic physicians in Boston, which began in 1912 and is one of many independent guilds associated with the national Catholic Medical Association (CMA). This year the Mass and dinner were part of the CMA’s annual conference, held in Boston for the first time in 27 years.

In his homily, Cardinal O’Malley told the physicians that the Lord has called them to an important vocation.

“Marriage and family are the sanctuary of life, and they are under attack,” he said. “A culture that allows parents to kill their own children will soon want to let children kill their own parents.”

“As Catholic physicians, you are on the front lines of the debate over the dignity of life. Life is a gift -- a gift to be cherished, to be nurtured, to be defended. That is what your vocation is about,” he added.

Catholic physicians face opposition from the culture and their peers and need to draw strength from Jesus Christ, he said.

“Catholic physicians, brothers and sisters, take courage, arise, Jesus is calling,” Cardinal O’Malley concluded.

The keynote speaker at the banquet following the Mass was First Things’ editor Father Richard J. Neuhaus. Father Neuhaus spoke about both the importance and difficulty of maintaining the dignity of the human person in political dialogue in his talk entitled “Quo Vadis Catholic Physicians?”

Some in the public domain claim moral authority and argue that the dignity of the human person is a religious bias that has no place in public discourse, he said.

“The perfectly understandable suspicion is that there is a self-serving dynamic in the efforts of some to appoint themselves the gatekeepers and border patrol of the public square, admitting some arguments, excluding others,” he continued. “The proscription of comprehensive accounts, especially when they are religious or associated with religious tradition, in fact ends up giving a monopoly of the public square to accounts that are non-religious or anti-religious. Such accounts of reality are in fact no less comprehensive.”

Father Neuhaus said that in practice those people are “methodological atheists,” drawing on a term used by Pope Benedict XVI.

“As the Holy Father has suggested, whether by invoking Pascal’s wager or some other line of argument, one can make the case that it is a great deal more rational to proceed as if God does exist. In any event the great majority of Americans do so proceed,” he said.

In fact humans are “hard-wired toward truth” because of the natural law God has established. When public discourse is not arbitrarily restricted, the dignity of the human person receives overwhelming public support, he added.

“The dignity of the human person -- it is to some a concept that is indispensable to the political task of deliberating and deciding how we ought to order our life together,” he concluded.

Cardinal O’Malley praised Father Neuhaus before delivering a final blessing for the evening, saying, “Father Neuhaus, in these days when democracy and religious freedom in our country are certainly threatened, is the kind of Catholic intellectual that we need who is so grounded in the faith and so articulate in his exposition of Catholic social thought.”