August 15, 2018
“Be especially concerned for the poor, particularly those most in need and deprived of every comfort.”
Dear Members, Companions, Volunteers, and Friends,
Blessings as we celebrate the feast of our founding 203 years ago! As we recall our father Gaspar’s passion for the poor and those on the margins of society, we also recall on this Feast of the Assumption our Blessed Mother’s focus of faith. As her Magnificat boldly proclaims, Mary had a heart for the poor and outcast, the lowly and lonely, the hungry and hopeless, the vulnerable and the victim. Mary models for us what it means to be missionaries of renewal and reconciliation in a world filled with scandal, shame, and sin because God “has remembered his promise of mercy.”
The horrifying report from Pennsylvania yesterday documenting seventy years of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up by bishops and lack of care for victims; the recent resignation of former Cardinal McCarrick because of credible accusations of abuse; and the ongoing trials in Chile and Australia where the church is being held accountable for the sins of the fathers, has put the church once again in the eye of the storm and at the foot of the cross.
At times like these, I am reminded of a meditation the former Master General of the Dominicans, Father Timothy Radcliffe, wrote about the cross: “At the foot of the cross is born our family from which no one can be excluded.” We are all brothers and sisters and Mary, Woman of the New Covenant, is our Mother. We are not distant cousins or related through marriage once removed. No, the cross makes us brothers and sisters because “we share the same blood, the blood of the cross.” Father Radcliffe points out that to call another a brother or sister is not only a statement about the relationship we share in the new covenant, it is a “proclamation of reconciliation.”
Our work of reconciliation begins in the recognition of each person as a blood brother or sister. But as our mission statement reminds us, this recognition is reflected in our peripheral vision: “especially the poor,” meaning those who are most vulnerable, the victims of poverty, injustice, and abuse. As people born again in the water and blood that flowed from the side of Christ, our call is to recognize every person, regardless of ideology or ecclesiology, political viewpoint or religious affiliation, as brother or sister in the blood of Christ.
This is the standard of relationship that Pope Francis underscored two weeks ago when he declared, “The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” In approving this change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis noted “there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.” He challenged all in the Church to work for the abolition of capital punishment around the world.
Our Corporate Stance Against the Death Penalty echoes the Holy Father’s call to action: “Motivated by the Blood of Christ and called to be ministers of reconciliation…we encourage our priests, brothers and companions…to engage in activities which will end the death penalty in those states where it is still used and to work toward the goal of ending this type of sentence in our nation. Whenever and wherever it is deemed appropriate, we encourage our members to preach justice and mercy on behalf of the victim and perpetrator of such horrendous crimes.”
In the United States, thirty-one states still have the death penalty, although five of these are under a moratorium issued by a governor. Since 1976, the state of Missouri has executed 88 of our brothers and sisters. There is much work to be done to give witness to the words of Pope Francis and bring the light of the gospel to bear on all the issues that threaten the dignity of human life.
Our work of reconciliation begins in recognition of each person as a blood brother or sister—no exceptions. Like our founder, St. Gaspar, Archbishop Helder Camara of Recife, Brazil believed deeply that all the poor—the poorest of the poor—were his brothers and sisters. Father Radcliffe recalled that if Archbishop Camara heard that one of the poor “had been unjustly arrested, he would telephone the police and say, ‘I hear you have arrested my brother.’ The police would apologize and say, ‘We are sorry, your Excellency, we didn’t know he was your brother’ and release him to the archbishop. When the police would point out the person arrested did not have the same family name, the archbishop would say every poor person was his brother and sister.”
As we celebrate the courage of our founder to start a religious community dedicated to renewal and reconciliation in the blood of Christ, may we rededicate our efforts to promote the dignity of all human life as we recognize all peoples are our brothers and sisters. No exceptions!
With peace in the blood of Christ,
Joe Nassal, C.PP.S.