Chicago's archbishop preaches equality, solidarity at St. Patrick's Day Mass

by Tom Gallagher

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One day after violence broke out at a planned campaign event at the University of Illinois at Chicago for Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, an event that Trump cancelled, Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich preached at a Mass for the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising, at the historic Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago, on the urgent need to recognize equality among people and friendship as the key to democracy that leads to unity, peace and solidarity.

Old St. Patrick’s was founded 170 years ago in 1846, by Irish immigrants not welcome elsewhere. The oldest continually-used church and public building in Chicago, it survived the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.

To open his homily, Cupich shared a humorous story about his Croatian last name.

Years ago when I was serving as a bishop’s secretary, I was asked to get another bishop on the phone. The housekeeper answered the phone in a strong brogue. I asked, "Is the bishop available." "And who would be callin," she insisted. "This is Fr. Cupich," I replied. "And how would you spell that," she demanded. "C-U-P-I-C-H," I offered. With a laugh in her voice, she blurted out: "Isn’t that a funny name?" 

Now you have to realize that when all of this took place I was young and lacking in restraint, and so I couldn’t let that go by. "Well, don’t trouble yourself deary," I explained. "We shortened it; it used to be O’Cupich." She reported me to her boss, wanting to know who that cheeky lad was. 

Turning to the first reading from Isaiah 32:15-18, Cupich highlighted the prophet's use of the "image from the natural world to offer a vision about the restoration of society and the civic order to a people alienated from each other and their God. It is a restoration offered to those open to receiving God’s spirit," he said. He continued:

"In those days: The spirit from on high will be poured out on us." The desert will give way to an orchard of justice and the orchard of justice will grow into a forest of peace, calm and security. The message is clear. The growth and preservation of human civilization, culture and the social order requires a discipline, a pacing, a collaboration and coordination involving everyone. Growth cannot be forced. It cannot be advanced by favoring some over others, including some and excluding others. It cannot be left to chance, but it has to be intentional, ordered and purposeful in bringing about social solidarity.

Cupich reminded those in attendance that disordered growth leads to cancer in living organisms, as well as in the human society. "When the common good of all is not the aim of society’s growth, whether that be in the economy, education, civil rights or civic participation, a cancer grows that damages the whole social body."

The 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Ireland served as an example of social isolation and discrimination that led to the killing of Irish nationalists by British forces and the destruction of much of the Dublin city center.  

Cupich asked: 

How did this happen? What were the causes?  A segment of society was told they didn’t matter, and were treated as sub-human, "a lower class" not only economically but socially to be excluded from the body politic. Social cohesion wore thin in a system corrupted by inequality, favoring the powerful and wealthy, their self-promotion and preservation to the exclusion of the weak and voiceless. The result: many people lost hope, solidarity vanished, hearts hardened and society ended up becoming infected by a cancer that harmed all.

Twice in his homily Cupich used the same excerpt from the poem, Easter, 1916, by William Butler Yeats, to capture the outcome of long-term discrimination:

Too long a sacrifice

Can make a stone of the heart. 

Cupich pointed out that an alternative reality is possible, one of unity, friendship, equality and solidarity, according to the text in John 15:9-17. "[Jesus] speaks of the importance of friendship for remaining together. The disciples are not just to be acquaintances but friends," Cupich said.

While friendships take time to develop, once rooted, they "transcend differences of opinion and conflicts, bring comfort in trial and they grow in moments of forgiveness and failing," said Cupich. "For their community to remain united, they needed to befriend one another," he said. 

Turning to the broader community, Cupich pointed out that centuries ago Greek philosopher Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, "noted that friendships are needed for the growth of civilization. He remarked that while friendships, like justice, are not found in tyrannies, they are proper to democracies, 'because the citizens, being equal, have much in common.'"

Aristotle’s insight seems forgotten in today’s politics and public discourse. Cupich continued:

Our nation seems to have lost a sense of the importance of cultivating friendships as fellow citizens who, being equal, share much in common.  Instead, our politics and public discourse are often marked by enmity and animosity. There is an overly competitive character that defines how we relate to one another, emphasizing what divides us rather than what we share in common. And because we do not value growing together, a cancer is developing that threatens to harm us all. Positions harden, progress is stalled, and it is becoming clear that the body politic is nearing the limits of how much suffering it can endure.

Given the reality of divisive, and even violent, political discourse, Cupich asked, "Is it not time to remember that we are a democracy and that in being equal we have so much in common? Can we recapture the value of friendship as fellow citizens? Is that not what we should all pray for this day, as we call on the spirit of God promised by the prophet?"                          

Cupich asked all Chicagoans to be open to the spirit of God, to take up the work of restoration, a restoration that comes in building friendships, with a commitment to dialogue, a commitment to walk together equals who recognize differences, but know they have so much in common.  

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, called by Pope Francis, Cupich recommended that people reach out to each other with works of mercy that foster friendship and reconciliation and open up new horizons for us to live together as children of the one Father. 

The full text of Archbishop Cupich’s homily can be found here.

[Tom Gallagher is a regular contributor to NCR and lead writer for the newspaper's Mission Management column.]

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