Cardinal celebrates first public Mass in Boston

WEST ROXBURY — St. Theresa of Avila Parish was abuzz with excitement and anticipation April 1 as parishioners and guests awaited the arrival of Boston’s new cardinal, Seán P. O’Malley. Before going to Rome for his elevation to the College of Cardinals March 24, Cardinal O’Malley chose St. Theresa’s to be the site of his first public Mass back in the States.

“I was thrilled when Cardinal O’Malley called and asked if we could hold a Mass of Thanksgiving upon his return from Rome,” said Msgr. William Manning Helmick, pastor of St. Theresa of Avila Parish. “I really did not expect the call, but I was very happy to accommodate and told him it would be an honor for our parish.”

Hundreds of people filled the parish, sitting shoulder to shoulder in the pews and standing at the back and sides of the church — wherever a free spot allowed. After the opening procession, the congregation greeted Cardinal O’Malley with a standing ovation.

“It’s a great joy to be here,” he responded.

The cardinal began his homily speaking about the universality of the Church and the role of the pope, who unites Catholics throughout the world.

“It’s the ministry of the pope that is the glue that helps keep us together,” said Cardinal O’Malley. “The fact that the Holy Father has made the archbishop of Boston a cardinal joins us more closely to that ministry of service to the whole Church.”

He explained that the red robes of a cardinal, which he wore under his vestments, remind us that the Catholic Church is a Church of martyrs. “We must be ready to suffer to bear witness to our faith,” he said.

Cardinal O’Malley then wowed attendees by stating that the purple Lenten vestments he was wearing, which were embroidered down the center in gold, red and green, once belonged to Pope John Paul II. They were a gift from Pope Benedict XVI after he was elevated to cardinal. Cardinal O’Malley felt it appropriate to don the vestments of the late pope as the one-year anniversary of his death would be commemorated the following day, April 2.

“We can be united to him and remember how one year ago the whole world mourned his death,” said Cardinal O’Malley. “He served us so well and even in his death helped unite us to God.”

Cardinal O’Malley also spoke of how Lent should be less about sticking to our promises to give up sweets or cigarettes and more about getting to know Christ. “We know the things we should do, but Lent should be about focusing on Jesus, seeing Jesus,” he said. “It’s not enough to remember Him as an ancient hero. We need to remember His words and deeds so we can glimpse His love and know He is still with us, loving us, forgiving us, healing us, and encouraging us to take up the cross of discipleship.”

During Lent we need to ask ourselves if we are seeking and obeying Christ, said Cardinal O’Malley. “Lent should mean turning our backs on everything that separates us from Christ and each other,” he said. “Lent is about dying to the selfishness of sin and individualism and being able to experience the joy of Christ.”

Cardinal O’Malley reminded Mass-goers not to be afraid to follow Christ. St. Peter denied Christ three times and followed Him at a distance. From the crowd, St. Peter looked to Jesus on the cross and saw that Jesus was looking back at him, said the cardinal.

“During Lent, look to Jesus lifted up on the cross. Let’s discover that Jesus is looking at us,” he said. “If we really see the cross, we see love, obedience, hope — and if we really see Jesus, we see that He is always watching us with love — love that gives us the courage to stop following Him at a safe distance and follow Him up close.”

Following the Mass, attendees gathered in the school hall for a chance to greet the new cardinal.

“The Mass was very uplifting,” said Colleen Clancy Costa, a cousin of Msgr. Helmick. “The way he explained how we need to get close to Christ at this time of year really helps to put Lent into perspective.”

Sister Ursula Binnette, OSU, a teacher at Ursuline Academy in Dedham, was touched by the cardinal’s humility. “I’m delighted for him to be named cardinal. I think he deserves that honor,” she said. “He really captured the love of God in his sermon and if you have that, you have it all.”

Cardinal O’Malley is scheduled to celebrate Mass at St. Catherine of Siena in Norwood on April 9 and he will celebrate a Mass in Spanish at St. Mary of the Assumption in Lawrence on April 16.