.- Speaking last Tuesday at the Diocese of Phoenix’s annual Red Mass, which coincides with the opening of the state’s regular legislative session, San Antonio’s Archbishop, Jose Gomez, told lawmakers that they have a special duty to know God’s will and to bring justice to the poor and afflicted.
Archbishop Gomez, whose own state of Texas shares a border with Mexico just as Arizona does, used the opportunity to encourage greater respect for human dignity in light of social Catholic teaching when considering the volatile national immigration debate.
Reflecting on the day’s Mass readings, the archbishop said that “true leaders have to be open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit—especially the gifts of wisdom and good counsel. They have to strive to know and to do God’s Will.’
Archbishop Gomez went on, recalling the context of the Gospel reading from Matthew, in which Jesus identifies himself “with the stranger, the immigrant.”
“Jesus tells us”, the archbishop went on, “that the alien—and in fact every poor, sick, and imprisoned person—is a sacrament of his own presence.”
With this, he challenged the lawmakers to consider the place of Catholic legislators in a highly politicized world. “What does it mean to be a Catholic disciple of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to be an American? What is America’s place in the long history of God’s plan of salvation?” he asked.
The archbishop added that the words of Jesus remind us “why we defend the dignity of the human person as a child of God against every form of injustice and discrimination,” and why “even in a complicated, globalized economy,” Catholics must “work for laws that promote peace, justice, cultural and social reconciliation, and the love of our neighbors.”
The Mexican-born archbishop also reminded attendees in Phoenix’s crowded St. Mary’s Basilica of the deeply Hispanic roots of the Catholic faith in their own region, as well as the fact that “most of us are children of immigrants.”
“What this means,” he stressed, “is that long before the United States of America was even an idea, this land was Catholic.”
He suggested that a “renewed encounter with Hispanic culture” would help Americans “rediscover values our dominant…culture has lost sight of—the importance of faith, family, friendship, community, and the culture of life.”
In this light, Archbishop Gomez expressed his fear that “we’re in danger of trying to deliberately erase our memory of this history,” and that, “in the same way that some people would have us forget our country’s Hispanic heritage, there are powerful forces at work that want us to forget our Catholic and Christian roots, too.”
These same forces, he noted, are those which seek to privatize religion and remove its influence from the public square.
“Those who tell us that the faith is something we should keep to ourselves, that it shouldn’t influence how we vote and behave,” he said, “aren’t promoting tolerance or government neutrality towards religion. They’re promoting hostility towards religion.”
For Archbishop Gomez, the connection between removal of God from the public square and the deeper immigration problem were clear: “History shows us that when God is forgotten, the human person and the common good are forgotten, too.”