ROME — Over 500 friends and family joined Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley in the main chapel in the Pontifical North American College on March 26 to witness him celebrate his first public Mass since his elevation to cardinal.
Wearing his Capuchin robe beneath his chasuble, Cardinal O’Malley processed into the chapel accompanied by 85 priests and 11 bishops among them Auxiliary Bishop for the central region of the archdiocese John P. Boles and Bishop Richard J. Malone, bishop of Portland, Maine and former auxiliary bishop of Boston.
The cardinal began the Mass thanking everyone for travelling to Rome to take part in the weekend’s events.
“I am very touched by your friendships, by your love,” he told the assembly.
He also thanked the seminarians and rectors of the North American College “for allowing us to disrupt your seminary for the past week.”
Beginning his homily, Cardinal O’Malley joked, “A consistory is really like an Irish wake — everyone you ever met shows up and they say nice things about you even when they are not true.”
Moving to a more serious note, he took up the theme of Christian love, a theme Pope Benedict XVI dwelt upon in his homily for the consistory.
“Sometimes we are looking for God on our own terms,” Cardinal O’Malley said.
People often look for “God the fire extinguisher,” or “God the antibiotic,” he declared, but the search for God demands that we begin by loving Him and loving others.
“Being Church is not the result of ethical choice or of a lofty idea, but of an encounter with God and His love,” he said.
This love can be seen in the synoptic Gospels, he explained, where Jesus teaches that to love God is to show “mercy to the little ones, to the poor, to the sinner.” Humility, then, is integrally tied to love, he said.
“At the first Eucharist where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples,” he continued, “He teaches us to stop fighting over the first place at the table and to start fighting for the towel.”
This is the kind of love Jesus has had for us, he said.
“He has loved us to the very end when we were in sin, when we were indifferent,” he declared.
The love Jesus showed when He sacrificed His life for us is the greatest sign of God’s love, he added. However, it is also something to which we are called, said Cardinal O’Malley.
Recalling the hymn to charity, in which St. Paul describes Christian love that is always patient and kind, never angry, does not boast, is never rude, the cardinal proclaimed that “God is love.”
“And He reveals this love in Jesus Christ,” he added.
“Sometimes when we have low self-esteem, or an inferiority complex, we must never forget that we were bought at a great price,” he said, “Jesus’ life.”
“True love needs to be grounded in Jesus Christ,” he stated, and the ability to love can be found within the Church.
“God will not worry about how much money we’ve made, or what vestments we wear,” he remarked. “But he will remind us, ‘I was hungry and you gave me to drink.’”
“The Church exists to help us to become lovers — lovers of God… yes, even lovers of our enemies,” said the cardinal.
“To be lovers we must learn to live in God’s love,” he concluded.
After reciting the creed, the concelebrating clergy approached the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Following the song during communion, members of the assembly spontaneously broke out into a Spanish liturgical song “Cuando de mi Patrona.” It is a song often sung in Cuba in tribute to the Virgin Mary.
According to Rafael Madan, general counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice and personal friend of the cardinal, the song is one of Cardinal O’Malley’s favorites.
“Msgr. Seán has heard that song at least 1,700 times in the years he was in Washington,” he said, smiling.
Following the Mass, Cardinal O’Malley greeted his family and friends in an interior courtyard of the North American College.
“He is an image of the Lord,” stated Madan. “He is a priest, a friend, a brother. I have seen him cry with you when it was necessary and I have seen him laugh with you when it is necessary.”