An opportunity lost: What Catholics actually wanted to hear at Mass last weekend

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, greets children after celebrating Mass. (CNS photo/Mohammed Saber, EPA) Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, greets children after celebrating Mass. (CNS photo/Mohammed Saber, EPA)

Last week was a momentous week in U.S. politics. President Trump signed several executive orders pertaining to immigration and refugees, and tens of thousands of people around the country gathered to protest these measures. Plus, on Friday, the annual March for Life took place in Washington, D.C., with a sitting vice president addressing the crowd for the first time.

We asked America readers if these current events were discussed during Mass on Sunday Jan. 29.

poll

The overwhelming response to the survey was that these political issues were not discussed at all by homilists and congregants were left wanting. Eighty percent of poll respondents agreed that not enough was done in their parishes to address the ongoing political upheaval. Meanwhile only 1 percent wrote that current events were given too much consideration during Mass.

Of the dissatisfied majority, many respondents mentioned that their parish priests were capable of thoughtful homilies, but wished that these homilies spoke more directly to their practical lives. Joshua L. from Kirkland, Wash., expressed disappointment that immigration and the refugee crisis were not discussed. “Don't get me wrong, our parish priest is an excellent homilist, but I was frustrated that the opportunity to affirm our faith in the face of injustice was lost.” Elizabeth Reed from Costa Mesa, Calif., reiterated this point in the context of her own parish’s demographics: “We have a somewhat divided parish as the church family is composed of a very large immigrant population and the parish school is predominantly caucasian and upper middle class…. I think yesterday was a missed opportunity for connection.”

Also from California, Mayra Torres is a Catholic undocumented immigrant who experienced the devastating impact of this missed opportunity first hand. She wrote to us about how the silence of her parish is contributing to divisions in her community. “I feel alienated from my church, and I feel threatened by the present administration…. As a catequista I am questioning whether I should be serving and teaching my faith. I feel abandoned, not by God but by church leaders.”

This sense of abandonment was not felt in all parishes. At 20 percent, a low but not inconsiderable number of readers felt their parish adequately addressed current events during Mass. An anonymous reader from Washington, D.C., described a Mass that spoke directly to pro-life commitments and to the executive orders on immigration and refugees: “Our parish prayed in a special way for a refugee family that we are sponsoring…. Our prayers of the faithful included a prayer that we uphold the dignity of all human life, including the elderly, the unborn, refugees, and immigrants. I am proud to be part of a parish that demonstrates its commitment to minister to those at the margins.”

Talking about politics is always a fraught matter, perhaps especially from the pulpit. Many homilists are, as they should be, wary of expressing partisan opinions and dividing communities with too much political talk. But this much is clear: silence is not conducive to solidarity, either.

Ronald Powaski
1 month 3 weeks ago

Are the Catholic bishops of the United States going to speak out about Trump's unjust ban on Muslims? They spoke out about the dangers of the nuclear arms race with a pastoral letter in 1983, when Ronald Reagan was president. I believe it added to the pressure on Reagan to eliminate a whole class of nuclear weapons, intermediate-range nuclear missiles, and eventually to bring about an end to the Cold War with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Rudolph Koser
1 month 3 weeks ago

Letter was sent to Congress. That's enough. After all this isn't abortion or gay marriage or birth control.

Eugene Fitzpatrick
1 month 3 weeks ago

Don't hold your breath waiting for the American episcopacy to meaningfully stand with the Abrahamic people of the Islamic persuasion. In Denver, in the first decade of this century I witnessed first hand the obloquy directed at the Muslims, in league with several in the local Jewish community, by principals of the Catholic Archdiocese. The Archbishop and his Chancellor at Denver were Islamophobes of the first stripe. Hopefully, the former has shed his former malice since residing in the City of Brotherly Love.

J Cosgrove
1 month 3 weeks ago

meaningfully stand with the Abrahamic people of the Islamic persuasion.

You obviously don't know anything about Islam to make such a comment. They are committed to either killing or converting non Muslims or possibly having them as indentured servants till they wither away. Which would you like to be?

Tim O'Leary
1 month 3 weeks ago

What a funny phrase "the Abrahamic people of the Islamic persuasion." And, if they become unpersuaded, can they leave? Or do they get executed, per the rules of Sharia law.

As to Islamophobia, of any stripe, how is that defined? If one is against ISIS, does that fit? How about opposition to polygamy? Or, favoring equal rights for women (like voting or driving or employment, etc)? Or, if one just believes that people should have the right to change their religion? If one wants peaceful Muslim communities protected from Sharia supremacists, wouldn't the better phrase be Shariaphobia.

Kester Ratcliff
1 month 3 weeks ago

Jesus said "Be not afraid" - nothing the world can do to us, none of it ultimately matters as much as our choice to love like Christ. If your soul is with God already by choosing to be love integrally and practically while sojourning through the world, whatever else happens on the way, it is all completely okay already. Just make sure that your fundamental choice is right and your soul is with God, and then be not afraid of anything the world can throw at you.

Specifically about fear of "Shariah", it may help to actually understand what Sharia means first:

Sharia is not one set text but the name of a range of schools of interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence, deriving guidance from the Quran and Hadith (authenticated stories from the Prophet's life and example). It is *interpretative* of religiously authoritative sources, but not authoritative of itself.

The hudud (corporal punishments) are just a minor part of Shariah, with extremely stringent conditions before they can be applied legally. Many Quranic and Sunnah instructions and jurisprudential (i.e. Shariah) traditions guide Islamic judges that they should try to find every possible factual and logical reason to avoid the hudud and always prefer to err on the side of mercy. One of the most important and most neglected conditions for the hudud to be applied legally is that no-one should be punished for a crime which they were not fully free not to commit - poverty, coercion, fear, all mean that hudud sentencing would be illegal according to Shariah and the fault may belong to the Caliph or State, not to the individual.

The fact "Islamic" judges in KSA, Iran, Taleban and Da'esh obviously do not interpret and apply Shariah according to the maqasid as-shariah as-shari (the primary objective of Shariah) - which is, to implement mercy in all things, is their own fault and not a fault of Shariah in principle, nor is it authentically Islamic.

Like "Canon Law" in previous centuries was used to justify injustices and oppression, "Sharia" too can be invoked to attempt to justify the unjustifiable.

Better sources to start really understanding Islam would include:

Dr Chris Hewer's recorded talks and books. As far as I know he's also a Catholic priest, and he's worked as an academic most of his life researching and teaching Islamic history. He still regularly gives courses and lectures in Clifton diocese, UK, where I'm from. I went to his course on diversity in Islamic traditions. See e.g. http://www.chrishewer.org/live/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Theological-I… and - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01Wcz0Z0W8c

Professor Tarek Ramadan http://tariqramadan.com/english/ who is a Muslim theologian and progressive / socially liberal Islamist. Among other things, acts which might catch your attention include - he issued a fatwa (a verdict of a qualified Muslim scholar) that the hudud (corporal punishments) should be globally suspended indefinitely since the conditions required according to the Quran and Sunnah for those punishments to be necessary and just no longer apply. This is similar to the reasoning for the Islamic consensus on the abolition of slavery.

Dr Karen Armstrong - she knows the history of the three Abrahamic traditions very thoroughly, altho not so much when she tries to cover non-Abrahamic global religious traditions. Her books are a relatively light and accessible introduction to the topics.

'Letter to Baghdadi' co-signed by more than 126 qualified Muslim scholars from every major Islamic school and country, both Sunni and Shia, clarifying and condemning Da'esh (ISIS)'s doctrinal and moral errors on 24 points - http://www.lettertobaghdadi.com/pdf/Booklet-Combined.pdf

Indeed, if you understood Islam or Christianity, you would not create divisions which are not there.

Christians should have no problem with the Islamic profession of faith: "There is no deity worthy of worship but God, and Muhammad is a Messenger of God."

"Allah" is simply Arabic for "God" - and it is linguistically related to "El", the Hebrew word which is translated as "God" in English (Gott in Old German). Christians in majority Arabic speaking countries, some of whom have been continuous Christian communities since the time of Jesus, call 'God' Allah. Both words are just names, neither are God, to associate either name with God in an idolatrous way is neither genuinely Christian nor Islamic. God is truly beyond all names and associations, not possessed by any human tradition or symbol. Traditions and symbols can be very good, but they are only means, they should never be regarded or treated as ends in themselves.

Please do read some of the references I've provided before reacting or arguing back.

Shalom, salaam and peace be with you

Kester

Roberto Blum
1 month 3 weeks ago

Well said Kester. People should be well informed before making unchristian flamable comments.

J Cosgrove
1 month 3 weeks ago

Kester is not well informed. Not that any of us couldn't stand to learn more.

I suggest you read about the life of Mohammed and see why his actions and what he professes cannot ever be compatible with Christianity and Western Civilization. The word "Sunni" means the actions or conduct of Mohammed and is central to Islam. The Quran does not contain information on how to be a Muslim. A Catholic theologian described it like a book of homilies and prayers. So a Muslim must turn to the Hadith to learn how a Muslim should act or behave primarily by emulating Mohammed. Sunnis believes there was a golden age of Islam and it was when Mohammed was alive and the next two generations after his death. So a true Sunni Muslim will try to follow what Mohammed and his immediate followers did.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 month 1 week ago

Lester
I will grant your assumption that Islam is a peaceful religion taken as a whole. But the passive role of Sharia as an essential element seems sketchy.
In application , based on your description, Sharia apparently means what the local religious leaders decide it means in each case. They may be exhorted to be merciful, but they decide. That of course means that this highly malleable juridical system is subject to inconsistent application ranging from the benign to the horrific. The factors influencing these results are as myriad as human characteristics.
The dominant interpretation of Sharia , given human nature, is bound to determined by the most powerful members of the system. Currently that result is not very acceptable.

In this context you should also note that a Pew Research Poll in July of 2016 found that the vast majority of Islamic adherents through out the world thought that Sharia should be made the official law of their respective countries. Sharia thus becomes a political system competing with secular governments. The future results of Official Sharia through the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia would be at best problematic but the current application in the form of a Caliphate in the Levant does not seem to indicate that such result would even be potentially positive.
So if Isis is dismissed as just a murderous heresy, where are the legions of right thinking orthodox Muslims protesting, condemning , and fighting to save their oppressed fellow Muslims in the Levant? I have not seen or heard them at this point. Given Isis preferred tool of terrorism, waiting for right thinking Muslim to act seems imprudent at best,and more likely futile.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 month 1 week ago

Lester
I will grant your assumption that Islam is a peaceful religion taken as a whole. But the passive role of Sharia as an essential element seems sketchy.
In application , based on your description, Sharia apparently means what the local religious leaders decide it means in each case. They may be exhorted to be merciful, but they decide. That of course means that this highly malleable juridical system is subject to inconsistent application ranging from the benign to the horrific. The factors influencing these results are as myriad as human characteristics.
The dominant interpretation of Sharia , given human nature, is bound to determined by the most powerful members of the system. Currently that result is not very acceptable.

In this context you should also note that a Pew Research Poll in July of 2016 found that the vast majority of Islamic adherents through out the world thought that Sharia should be made the official law of their respective countries. Sharia thus becomes a political system competing with secular governments. The future results of Official Sharia through the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia would be at best problematic but the current application in the form of a Caliphate in the Levant does not seem to indicate that such result would even be potentially positive.
So if Isis is dismissed as just a murderous heresy, where are the legions of right thinking orthodox Muslims protesting, condemning , and fighting to save their oppressed fellow Muslims in the Levant? I have not seen or heard them at this point. Given Isis preferred tool of terrorism, waiting for right thinking Muslim to act seems imprudent at best,and more likely futile.

Barry Fitzpatrick
1 month 3 weeks ago

Eugene, clearly you have not read anything the "former" has said or published lately. His new location has done little for his temperament.

Eugene Fitzpatrick
1 month 3 weeks ago

Barry, you're right. I haven't looked into the fallout that transpired with Chaput's move to Philly although I sometimes wondered what the reaction(s) between him and the vast Catholic population down along the Schuylkill was like. I thought I'd get some info from the newspaper of the diocese but I think this became defunct sometime in the last decade. Unfortunately I have no friends or relatives over there to get the skinny from an astute on the scene observer. I always Reserved.thought that Denver Catholics in general gave him a free pass to carry on his manipulative and authoritarian intolerances at will. He got very little opposition, including from the press. Any Catholic blow-back was tepid and unorganized. I'd appreciate reading any article(s) on the subject if such come to mind.

PATRICIA CASEY
1 month 3 weeks ago

Could the readings this past Sunday have been any more relevant to the conversations going on in the US? How could those presiding at liturgy resist making connections?

Henry George
1 month 3 weeks ago

Correct me if I am wrong, but didn't America magazine report just
before the Election that some Catholic Pastors were advocating for
certain Political Candidates and saying you cannot support Politicians
who vote for this or that ?

Sure sounded like the America magazine did not want direct political
involvement in the Sermons.

Were I a pastor I would ask everyone to pray for the refugees and all
those who suffer from the ongoing wars, but I would not presume to
know on a day's notice what the implications of Trump's order really
meant. Even now I have read seemingly contradictory interpretations.

Jay Cuasay
1 month 3 weeks ago

Before the election, the caution was not to dictate or tell someone from the ambo during a homily who they ought to vote for. But a homily this weekend contrasting the Beatitudes with the boastful results of a vindictive Executive Order is not the same thing.

Vincent Gaglione
1 month 3 weeks ago

Thanks for the article. I am not interested in homilists discussing the specifics of current events. I am very concerned with homilists discussing the moral issues underlying those events. Then I have a better basis with which to make an informed judgment in conscience about what’s happening.

Regarding the immigration and refugee issues, I was directed to Matthew 25 not by my parish priests but by reading comments on various Catholic websites. Why so? And thanks to Father Martin on the America website for his instruction on the moral dimensions of the current issues.

Philip Cyscon
1 month 3 weeks ago

On Sunday, I had a conversation with 2 women from the parish where I say Mass (very small, mostly older people, almost all white). They were offering observations on the travel ban, especially as it applied to people who already have permission to enter/reside in the United States and some other actions of the president with which they disagreed. A person in earshot entered the conversation in strong disagreement, stating that the president was, in fact, going exactly what his election slogan stated.

That, more than any other reason, is why I won't enter a partisan fray in my preaching. Instead, I used the vehicle of the Beatitudes to outline values for the Christian life. I also included a petition about those who are displaced or are victims of religious oppression and 2 petitions directly pertaining to abortion, given that it was the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision.

This week, I'm impressing on the parish's administrator the need to provide a copy of the statement by Cardinal Cupich (our archbishop) in the parish bulletin. We'll see if he agrees.

Jarrod Dillon
1 month ago

I find it refreshing that political topics are not being discussed regularly from the pulpit. Church is the space where I seek refuge from our highly politicized world. It seems that one cannot choose a department store or get a cup of coffee these days without it involving some kind of political statement. People go to church to get away from all of that. They go to have their lives changed. They go to encounter Jesus. Not to be dragged down by partisan politics.

Personally I think the advice of Pope Francis is relevant to this topic. I remember reading an interview with him in this magazine where he says that some people in the church can become "obsessed" with certain political issues and forget to preach the transformative gospel of Jesus. He called for a "new balance," where political topics are subsumed under faith and not the other way around.

Don't get me wrong, faith certainly must inform our politics. We can't just be hearers of the word; we must also be do-ers. As followers of the Christ, we are called to transform our society. As lay people, we are called to engage actively in politics. But! Mass is a time where we allow God to transform us. It is a time where we strive to have our lives--including our political life--conform more fully to Christ. Certainly people within the Church cannot be silent when it comes to abortion, immigrants, and refugees. But! These topics are not the main reason why we gather.

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