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SOUTH END — Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley affirmed the importance of treating every human being as a neighbor during his homily at the Red Mass for judges, attorneys and others working in the legal profession, celebrated on Feb. 6 at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
The archbishop spoke of the day’s Gospel reading of the Good Samaritan, a parable Jesus told to a lawyer who asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
The lawyer is not pursuing the truth so much as trying to define his obligations, the archbishop said. Jesus responds with a different question, ‘‘Which of these three proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
Suffering is often hard to look at, which leads the pain of the poor, the sick and the elderly to be covered up and hidden behind “the wall of shame,” he added. The Samaritan was able to see through that wall. He saw the pain of another who was not only a stranger, but also an enemy because he was Jewish. He had compassion and took practical steps to help the man and saved his life.
Jesus urges the lawyer to figure out which of the three men in the parable were neighbor to the man in need and urges the lawyer to “Go and do likewise,” he added. This is an invitation for us to construct a civilization based on love.
“It is stretching toward a community in which the alien, the stranger, the unborn baby, the Alzheimer’s or AIDS patient, the poor are truly our neighbors,” Archbishop O’Mal-ley continued. A culture must have a solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles in order for democracy to survive, the archbishop said. Building this culture is a challenge in our society.
“Too often when political leaders agree with the Church’s position on a given issue, they say that the Church is prophetic and should be listened to, but if the Church’s position does not coincide with theirs, then they appeal to the separation of church and state to silence the Church,” he said.
The modern culture, addicted to entertainment and obsessed with celebrities who have replaced our heroes, holds up “the false ideal of chaotic self-absorbed existence in frantic pursuit of money, fame and pleasure,” he added.
The Good Samaritan, who changed his own plans to help a stranger, helps a man in need but also makes the world a better place, the archbishop said.
“Love and compassion have a ripple effect on the world,” he said. “Selfishness pollutes the atmosphere.”
“May Jesus’ words to the lawyer hasten our steps on the journey up the mountain of love — go and do likewise,” he concluded.
The Red Mass — sponsored by the Catholic Lawyers’ Guild, an organization with the purpose to promote the spiritual, moral and religious growth of its members — was followed by a luncheon at the Park Plaza Hotel.
John Silber, president emeritus of Boston University was the guest speaker. Silber began his remarks by saying that after college he had many doubts about his own Presbyterian religious beliefs and had not yet learned to appreciate a church that accepts everyone — sinners and saints.
God cared so much about His people and was so distressed by their sinful behavior that He decided to become a man to save them and share in the human experience, Silber said. In becoming fully man, God suffered “all the ills that flesh is heir to.”
“If one could believe, one could know that this God fully understood each human heart, sinners no less than saints, and because he had shared their experience, He would have compassion for them,” he added.
Silber continued by saying that God calls each Christian to perfection, but understands that this “call to perfection is merely a call to striving and in every case it is a call to failure.” But because God loves His people, He forgives them, which allows them to strive to do their best but not be destroyed by guilt.
These doctrines are losing influence in the mainstream spread of secularism, he said. Silber added that he began to understand the importance of a church that would teach these doctrines and minimum standards of religious orthodoxy.
“I came to see that the Catholic Church served the purpose in religion and theology, like that of the meter bar in Paris, that set that standard of measure throughout the world,” he said.
The Church also teaches that the validity of the Mass does not depend on the moral quality of the priest, an insight applicable to all institutions, he continued.
“The individual priest may fail in his obligation, but the Mass he performs is still valid,” Silber said. “This insight when generalized is a saving grace for us all.”
In universities and the scientific community, there are people who assert that human beings act in the way they are programmed by their genetics to act, he added. While this does not invalidate scientific thought, these beliefs need to be challenged.
“One is not attacking or denigrating science to point out its hubristic extensions unsupported by any evidence or methodology that could be positively described as scientific,” he said. “Those who challenge the reductionistic doctrines of scientism have been subjected to verbal abuse and contempt by scientists that equal in intensity the denunciation from pulpits of those who question the literal interpretation of scripture. With regard to the literalists and the reductionists I would say a plague on both houses.”
“Whether with faith or without faith we find a home more congenial to the full dimensions of the human spirit in the Catholic Church than in the wallows of scientism,” he concluded.
The archbishop, before the Benediction, called Silber’s remarks both “inspired and inspiring.”
“You’re among brothers and sisters who share many of your ideals and wish you well in the wonderful work that you do on behalf of our community,” he said to Silber.
Many members of the Catholic Lawyers’ Guild said they too were inspired by the remarks of Silber and the archbishop’s homily.
“The archbishop gave a very, very deep and thoughtful homily which really provoked a second look at the way we see the world,” said Henry C. Luthin, the guild’s treasurer.
Members also maintained the importance of the gathering of Catholic lawyers to celebrate Mass.
They must come together and support each other because it is very difficult to uphold the faith professionally, said the guild’s clerk Frances X. Hogan.
“Like everything in life, you need to be reminded of what’s important,” said Rep. Brian Golden, D-Brookline. “This profession we’re in can do wonderful things to uphold the dignity of human beings.”