Bp. Wenski’s Mass of Reparation – sermon (Orlando, 3 May)

I had posted about the Mass of Reparation in the Cathedral of Orlando to be celebrated by Bp. Wenski on 3 May.  This Mass was brought about by alumni of Notre Dame because of the recent scandal there.

A priest reader sent the text of the sermon.

Prepare to be edified.

My emphases and comments:

Mass of Reparation – May 3. 2009

Today’s Mass is offered in reparation for the sins and transgressions committed against the dignity and sacredness of human life in our world today.  We do this at the initiative of Notre-Dame alumni here in Central Florida who, like many other Catholics across the country, are confused and upset that their alma mater would grant an honorary doctorate to President Obama despite his rather extremist views on abortion.  In granting this honorary degree, Notre-Dame chose to defy the Bishops of the United States who have said that “the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." 

The hurt felt by many throughout the United States is real, for Notre-Dame’s actions, despite its protests to the contrary, seem to suggest that it wishes “to justify positions that contradict the faith and teachings of the church; to do so, as Pope Benedict reminded Catholic educators in Washington, DC last year “would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission.” At the very least, Notre-Dame’s actions suggest that, unlike a beauty queen from California, it lacks the courage of its convictions. [Zzzzzot!]

However, our purpose here this evening is not to rail against the insensitivity or thoughtlessness exhibited by Notre-Dame’s president and board.  As I told a reporter who asked me last week, why I am celebrating a Mass of Reparation, “I am a bishop; and so I am not going to send upset Catholics to storm Notre-Dame with pitchforks, I am going to tell them to pray.”   [Excellent]

Our proper response is prayer – but our prayer should not resemble that of the Pharisee who, in the presence of the remorseful Publican, prayed: “Thank you, God that I am not like the rest of men. In our prayer, we seek to make reparation not just for Notre-Dame’s regrettable decision, but more importantly we seek to make reparations for our own complacency. [Indeed… it took a long time to get to this point, didn’t it?]  Yes, we pray for Notre-Dame – for Notre-Dame holds a unique place in the heart of most American Catholics and not just its alumni; but we pray for ourselves as Catholics in America. [Once again we hear the emerging theme of "Catholic identity in the public square".]

We live in a nation where abortion laws are among the most liberal among the Western democracies. We Catholics have become too complacent about the legal killing of unborn children in America and elsewhere.  This complacency contributed to the climate that led Notre-Dame’s president to think that it would be no big deal to defy the bishops in granting this honorary degree to President Obama. And, as the world’s lone superpower, with President Obama’s setting aside the Mexico City policy, we as a nation are once again using our wealth and influence to export abortion to nation’s weaker and poorer than ourselves. [promotion of abortion abroad is framed as exploitation of the weak]  Before the completion of his first 100 days in office, President Obama has already expanded federal funding for abortion, directed tax payer funded support for embryonic stem cell research which requires the destruction of living human beings, and has challenged conscience protection provisions that allow health care workers and institutions to refuse to participate in abortions and other procedures that violate their ethical or religious views.

Soon after the election, the Bishops promised their prayers and support to the then newly elected president.  Cardinal George, president of the USCCB, pledged our cooperation in working with the new administration to advance the common good.  And we do hope to work with the President and his team on any number of important issues.  We do this because we are Catholics and Americans; and as Catholics and Americans we can and must engage and work with people of good will, even those with whom we might disagree to promote the common good.  [To contribute properly in the public square Catholics must have a clear identity.]  But, at the same time, as Catholic journalist, John L. Allen observed, “how to engage public figures who hold pro-choice views without seeming to endorse, or wink at, those views is critically important”.  We must always insist that the common good is never served by making wrongs –like abortion- into rights. [Read carefully…] That President Obama speaks at Notre-Dame is not the issue – and certainly, the President takes the dignity of his Office with him to Notre-Dame.  The issue is that giving him an honor is understood by many to indicate approbation – and thus undermines the efforts of bishops and others who want to offer [wait for it…] a Catholic perspective to the shaping of public policy[Again… Catholic identity in the public square.]

But, let’s return to the issue of our complacency.  We have become complacent, because we have become comfortable – too accommodated and too uncritical of the larger culture in which we live[Comfort lulls us into thinking that there really isn’t a war going on.] Perhaps, as Catholics, we have become victims of our own success. For much of American history, the Catholic Church and Catholics were viewed with great suspicion by our fellow Americans.  In fact, we still are –Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in American life.  The US government established diplomatic relations with Red China long before it did with the Vatican.  It would be considered impolite and politically incorrect to make jokes about Muslims, Jews, gays or African Americans – but, it is still open season on Catholics. If you don’t think so, just tune in any comedy show on HBO.

We have craved “respectability”; we have wanted to be accepted.  Ironically, Catholic education – our grammar schools, our high schools and our universities opened the way to upward mobility and social acceptance the children of immigrant Catholics in America. Catholics schools aimed to teach us not only how to do good, but how to do well. Thanks in large measure to Catholic education, our Catholic laity are among the best educated, and the most affluent, in America today.  Catholics – 25% of the American population – are now part of the American mainstream.  But, at what price[If those Catholics don’t have a clear identity, what good can they contribute as Catholics?]

A few months ago, the State government of Illinois was shaken by “the pay to play” scandal over the senate seat vacated by President Obama.  But, today, too often Catholics are being told that in order to play in America one must pay the price of surrendering one’s own convictions and principles. Catholics who want to enter public life more often than not have to pay the price “privatizing” their religious faith and convictions to play roles of significance in the halls of power.  You can be sure that President Obama would not consider a Catholic for the position of Supreme Court justice – unless that Catholic “bracketed” his beliefs on the dignity and the rights of the unborn.

The options before us are not just between flight and capitulation:  we need not retreat into a Catholic ghetto – for Christ calls us to be in the world; nor, must we necessarily surrender to the culture around us and accept to be absorbed by and assimilated into the ascendant secularism – for Christ tells us not to be of the world. [IN the world but not OF the world… this is also the problem with most inculturated liturgy.  The logical priority of what the Church has to give to the world is set in second place to what the world then gives back after having been formed according to what Christ entrusted to the Church.] There is a third option, to be for the world. [Good.  Now watch the "clear Catholic identity" theme I keep harping about all the time…]  We are best for the world, when we preach and live the gospel coherently. In a world which pretends that God doesn’t matter, we must witness that life is meaningful and joyful only when we live in a way that shows that God does matter.

Jesus in the gospel says:  I am the good shepherd: I know mine and mine know me. The challenge is not how to change the gospel message to make it more palatable, more relevant to the world, but to allow the gospel message to change the world. [See the logical priority here?]  But, it will not change the world unless the gospel changes us first[identity]

In today’s first reading, Peter says: “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved."  This is a rather bold statement – but because Peter and those who share Peter’s faith believed it – it inspired an equally bold evangelical movement to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. 
As Catholics, we need not flee from the world, nor should we surrender to the world; rather we need to recover that bold conviction of Peter and the early disciples that will make it possible for us to change the world – not by imposing our beliefs but by making our proposal, informed by gospel values, about what constitutes the best conditions for human flourishing in our society..  Peter, in our first reading, spoke truth to power; today we need that the truth be spoken to our complacency[Good one!]

This is the first Sunday of May.  The month of May is considered Mary’s month.  Let’s us pray to Our Lady, – or as they say in French – Notre-Dame.

Most Holy Virgin, and Our Mother, we listen with grief to the complaints of your Immaculate Heart surrounded with the thorns placed therein at every moment by the blasphemies and ingratitude of ungrateful humanity. We are moved by the ardent desire of loving you as Our Mother and of promising a true devotion to Your Immaculate Heart.

We therefore stand before You to manifest the sorrow we feel for the grievances that people cause You, and to atone by our prayers and sacrifices for the offenses with which they return your love.

Obtain for them and for us the pardon of so many sins.

Hasten the conversion of sinners that they may love Jesus Christ and cease to offend the Lord, already so much offended.

Turn you eyes of mercy toward us, that we may love God with all our heart on earth and enjoy Him forever in Heaven. 

Notre-Dame, our Mother, pray for us!

I am reminded of the prayer said for many decades after every Low Mass:

Oremus. Deus, refugium nostrum et virtus, populum ad te clamantem propitius respice; et intercedente gloriosa, et immaculata Virgine Dei Genitrice Maria, cum beato Joseph, ejus Sponso, ac beatis Apostolis tuis Petro et Paulo, et omnibus Sanctis, quas pro conversione peccatorum, pro libertate et exaltatione sanctae Matris Ecclesiae, preces effundimus, misericors et benignus exaudi. Per eundum Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Let us pray. O God, our refuge and strength, look with favor upon the people crying to Thee; and as glorious and immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God are interceding along with Blessed Joseph her spouse and the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul and all the saints, hear Thou, merciful and kind, the prayers we pour forth for the conversion of sinners, and for the liberty and exaltation of Holy Mother Church. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Scott says:

    Red hat for him

  2. Andrea Brown says:

    What a sermon! Pray for our Bishops that they may obtain the grace and courage to follow Bishop Wenski’s lead. It behooves all of us to offer acts of reparation and prayers to recapture our Catholic identity so that it may shine throughout the world.

  3. TNCath says:

    These are powerful words offered by a courageous bishop and aimed right between the eyes of Father Jenkins and Notre Dame.

    I’d like to offer one question of clarification, however.

    Bishop Wenski says, “That President Obama speaks at Notre-Dame is not the issue – and certainly, the President takes the dignity of his Office with him to Notre-Dame. The issue is that giving him an honor is understood by many to indicate approbation – and thus undermines the efforts of bishops and others who want to offer a Catholic perspective to the shaping of public policy.”

    Does Bishop Wenski mean to say that it would have been ok for President Obama to speak at the graduation without being given the honorary doctorate? If so, I would find that troubling. I could see his coming on some other occasion, perhaps, but to speak at the commencement, a time to celebrate the mission and identity of a school, would still seem very inappropriate, especially when the speaker, whether he is President of the United States or not, does not support its mission nor its identity.

  4. CBM says:

    Bp. Wenski is one of the best. He was a great priest and pastor in Miami has proven himself as a worthy successor of the apostles for Kearny and Orlando. An undaunted advocate of the down trodden and a defender of the Faith. Truly Orlando has become the shining light of the province (vocations, new parishes and a strong capital campaign). God grant him many years- sto lat!

  5. Nick says:

    Scott: Well said!

  6. Central Valley says:

    Outstanding! Thans be to God! We would never ever see or hear anything like this in the diocese of Fresno, Ca., with bishop John t. Steinbock. Holy Father please send us more men like Bp. Wenski, especially to California, where to my knowledge not one of the California bishops has made a public statement on this matter.

  7. Lee says:

    To laugh or cry?

    Twenty years ago I took my 12 yr old son to a “leadership camp’ sponsored by Opus Dei. One of the fathers there asked the boys what made a good leader. “Courage,” said one. “Honesty,” said another. And so it went, through all the virtues. Finally one of the boys ventured, “Doesn’t ask too much of his followers.”

    And at *this* many of the fathers-many of them executives- broke into spontaneous and hearty laughter. This was a bit of an epiphany to me, and it explains a great deal about our situation. Think of it. Every great political and military leader in history, much less Christ Himself, has not been afraid or ashamed to ask his followers to make the supreme sacrifice.

    And our bishops and priests, what have they asked of us? They will not ask of us what very clearly needs to be done, to rid our homes of the popular culture, which would be without doubt a very great death to self. How can we act on gospels values when our minds and hearts are routinely filled to the brim with anti-gospel values? How can there be any Catholic identity out of which to act, when we are constantly identifying with comedians, sports figures and the political heroes of the left? And not the saints and martyrs of the faith.

    Yet we need all these “credentials” to maintain our cherished respectability. One needs to watch the big games and all the ads to be one of the guys, to function as an executive, a salesman or a bishop.

    It is ridiculous to think that we can stand back and discriminate our way through these tides of deception and propaganda. In the very act of weighing the media in the balance we absorb all unknowingly the very assumptions that inform the ads and the programming. We Catholics are being brainwashed into anti-Catholicism and anti-Christianity. Or are your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews keeping the faith?

    Sixty years ago, in a 1949 allocution on radio and television Pius XII quoted the poet Juvenal, “Nothing impure in the home!”

    Would that the bishops would exact from Catholic fathers that saying as a pledge- after demanding it of themselves and their priests.

    Who from the pulpit warns parents against sending their kids to the so-called “best schools”? I know of one mother who had the brains to accompany her daughter on a visit to a first tier university and saw a banner hung from a frat dorm, “If you haven’t taught your daughter about birth control, we will.” Who warns parents of the “hookup” culture or Marxist professors? When in the name of all that is holy, to take just one of many examples, will someone in authority say that DePaul University isn’t anything like a Catholic university?

    Recovering our Catholic identity necessarily requires- very obviously- repentance on a massive scale by all of us Catholics, not just Father Jenkins. We are in a world of hurt… Even as we have risen in the world, we have descended in our Catholic ardor to the point where we are practically out of grace.

  8. Gary says:


    All I can say is Wow–great thought provoking post!

    Very well and poignantly said. That and the fact that my convert wife today had to help lead a Catholic school gathering of moms in the Joyful mysteries of the Rosary because none of them could remember them, confirms that we as a nation of Catholics have much work, repentance and reparation to do.

  9. Thomas says:

    Never thought I’d hear a bishop give a homily that said a beauty pageant contestant shows more integrity than the University of Notre Dame.

    Quite the smackdown.

  10. Brandon says:

    I echo all of the “wow”s… His Excellency has got quite the hammer there. He’s hitting more than one nail on the head, and hitting hard!

  11. Andrew, medievalist says:

    Ten years ago, or even only five, would we have heard as many bishops speaking like they do today? These are signs that the Church is beginning to, if not already there, entering a period of trial. But, for us, that also means a period of grace! Let’s not forget either that, for all the prelatial complaints about Pope Benedict, the cardinals, knowing who he was, still elected him. In their hearts they heard the Spirit and responded.

  12. EDG says:

    Great homily. However, I was very disheartened to read John Allen’s recent post in the dread NCR where he said that “the Vatican” is generally very positive about Obama and that most people there either seem to be unaware of the US bishops’ opposition to this ND event or don’t understand what the flap is all about. According to him, abortion has never been a big issue in Europe, and their true concern is “Christian identity.” In addition, he says that they like Obama because he shares the Catholic (left’s) opinion on the Palestinians, the war in Iraq, capitalism, etc.

    How it is possible to restore Christian identity without restoring Christian morality is beyond me. The reason that European Catholics may be less publicly concerned about abortion is simply that Europeans in general are not used to opposing their governments in any area. Also, many of them are really not opposed to it at all because of decades of lousy catechesis and terrible leadership. Americans, by contrast, will publicly express their opposition to government policies and furthermore are not cowed by the opinions of the self-proclaimed intellectual leaders within the church, such as Richard McBrien.

    It could be that Allen is simply giving us his view, or it could be that the people he has chosen to interview on this tend to be on the liberal side and are intentionally downplaying the words of the US bishops. Again, I’m not sure who he is referring to as “the Vatican,” but I hope he is wrong in his analysis. The Church needs more Wenskis, and we could stand some in Europe, too, not to mention in the Vatican.

  13. Supertradmom says:

    This sermon should be promulgated in dioceses across the United States. What if every diocese had a Mass for Reparation? How the climate of the United States’ morality would change if we all prayed together for repentance and conviction. I suggested such a Mass in our diocese, which went bankrupt because of the sexual scandals, and my idea was labeled “unique”. Not one Mass of Reparation was celebrated. How many issues could be addressed by group prayer and the offering up of the Body and Blood of Christ for mercy for our country. That, to me, is true patriotism, a minor but necessary virtue.

  14. Andreas says:

    The good bishops is great at targeting issues, not picking at people, not individuals, not institutions. He is not focused on what camp anyone might belong to but on the truth that is universal regardless of affiliations. It is truly encouraging and comforting to see this taking place. This might be the most effective approach of combating error.

    It is interesting to note that negative comments attract a lot more attention than positive comments such as this one. McBrien gets many more reader comments than Bishop Wenski.

  15. Fidelius says:

    There has been an airplane circling Notre Dame all this past week, trailing a large banner showing the remains of a ten-week old child killed in an abortion. I imagine it will be circling Notre Dame until commencement.

  16. Charivari Rob says:

    “…airplane …imagine it will be circling Notre Dame until commencement.”

    Until the Presidential security no-fly zone is established, anyway.

  17. Fidelius says:

    Rob, by that point, I hope lots of pungent displays will be up around campus. I\’m wondering what ND\’s policy will be regarding displays and protests near the Joyce Center, where the \”festivities\” will be held.

    It will be a dark day for the Church.

  18. irishgirl says:

    I second, and third, the ‘wows’!

    Bravo and huzzah, Bishop Wenski!

    Red hat for him, too!

  19. Aaron Magnan says:

    What O’Brien later complains about, and what these students did as an initiative is part of the Catholic tradition–asking a Bishop to silence a heresy…

    Read the following…amazing parallel to what we should be doing as Catholics.


  20. trespinos says:

    Right now, I’m considering sending a copy of this sermon to the attention of my own ordinary. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve corresponded with him; this seems to be a good chance to share something important with him. Would that he and a bunch of other bishops could have followed Bp. Wenski’s example before now. Thank you, Bp. Wenski!

  21. Mike T says:

    I particularly liked the line: “The options before us are not just
    between flight and capitulation…”

    Flight is always my first instinct, and I can even fool myself into
    feeling sanctimonious about it. (“I won’t capitulate like those other
    weaklings, I’m going to flee.”)

    This is a good lesson well delivered.

  22. Anthony in TX says:

    Bravo!!! Holy Father, one red hat please!

  23. sherry o says:

    Hats off to Bishop Wenski and WOW to the thoughtful-provoking posts. It makes me proud to be a Catholic when I read such comments and such a homily. I really need this mass of reparation in my diocese since I have such animosity toward the Catholics who voted for this Pro-abortionist President…life trumps everything and anything.

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