Cardinal O’Malley visits Denver’s Annunciation Parish

Boston’s archbishop addresses immigration, life issues

Even though the horizon looks bleak when it comes to immigration and end-of-life issues, there is hope, says the archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley.

The cardinal, who is also the newest member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke to the Denver Catholic en Español during a visit to Denver last month, motivated by the first communion of his nephew.

The Capuchin cardinal, 72, made time during his quick trip to visit the parish served by the Capuchins here in Denver, Annunciation Parish, where he celebrated the morning Spanish Mass on May 28th.

Pope Benedict XVI elevated Boston’s archbishop to a cardinal in 2006, and in January, Pope Francis appointed him as a full board member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is also a member of the Pope’s “council of cardinals” and president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Cardinal O’Malley has a master’s degree in religious education and a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature from Catholic University of America.

Denver Catholic en Español: You began your priesthood serving the Hispanic community as the executive director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Spanish Catholic Center in the early 1970s. How did you get to that position?

Cardinal O’Malley: I was in Washington from 1965 to 1984. When I was in Washington there was a great migration caused by the war in Central America. When I was a deacon, I was told that I was going to work on Easter Island in Chile with the Capuchins. But before my priestly ordination, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., told my provincial: ‘I have only one priest that speaks Spanish. Leave that brother here,’ so I spent 20 years in Washington working with the Hispanic community.

DCE: How do you view the situation of the Hispanic community of that time compared to the current situation?

CO: It was the time of the wars in Central America, and many of them were farmers and refugees. They fled from violence and misery. Their farms were destroyed by the wars. It was dangerous. There were a lot of Salvadorian immigrants. At that time, I got to know Blessed Óscar Romero very closely. Most of the parishioners were undocumented people. We can see that so many decades later we are in a similar situation.

Cardinal Se‡n O’Malley celebrates Mass during the Ascension of Jesus Christ at Annunciation Catholic Church on May 28, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

DCE: What do you think of the Hispanic Catholic community in the United States?

CO: I see that the Hispanic community growing, numerous, and active. I admire the enthusiasm, the religious devotion, the family values, their work, and their participation.

DCE: The Hispanic community faces many challenges with regard to immigration, how do we resolve this issue?

CO: We urgently need a new legislation to deal with immigration issues. We should have more generous quotas and work visas for those who want to work in the agricultural sector so that they can be with their families. Now there are many people who are trapped and cannot go back to visit their families, or re-enter the country for the next harvest. President Bush tried with a bill that was sponsored by John McCain, a Republican, but even with that it was not approved. Obama couldn’t either. And like that, many years have passed and this has become more urgent than ever. We must solve the problems of the people and stop these deportations.

More than 60 percent of undocumented immigrants that live here have been here for more than 10 years, and many of them have children who are US citizens. Many of them own a home. The government must have a policy that favors families and should consider the situations of many undocumented workers who have been hard workers and who have contributed a lot to the country. Talking about them as if they were all delinquents is very unfair, and the Church, which has always been an immigrant church, must raise its voice in defense of the undocumented.

DCE: What message can we give to those who fear being deported?

CO: The hope is that there are many people who already realize the need to have more just [immigration] laws, and a pathway for people to have documents. The president said that when they managed to close the border and deport the criminals, he would treat the undocumented immigrants who are here with mercy. I hope this happens soon.

Cardinal Se‡n O’Malley greets parishoners after Mass celebrating the Ascension of Jesus Christ at Annunciation Catholic Church on May 28, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

DCE: You are known for fighting in favor of the life of the unborn and the terminally ill, what challenges do you see in this country regarding life issues?

CO: The appointment of the new Supreme Court justice [Colorado native Neil Gorsuch] gives us hope. The president promised to name someone who was pro-life and it seems that he kept that promise. Also, the new judge has written a book on physician-assisted suicide. He is a man who understands the seriousness of these ethical problems. It is a very serious and very difficult challenge also because every year there are more states that submit referendums to legalize euthanasia. This is a result of the extreme individualism of the culture. We must take care of each other. Every human being at the beginning and at the end of his life needs someone to take care of him. It’s the human condition!

COMING UP: Searching for wisdom in a confused world

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Jordan Peterson became an overnight celebrity with the success of his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Random House, 2018). A viral interview from January of this year with Kathy Newman of England’s Channel 4 News brought immediate attention to Peterson’s newly released book, which has sold over two million copies since its release. The interview proved emblematic of Peterson’s popularity for attempting to retrieve common sense and to push back against the ideology overtaking our society.

Why has Peterson proved to be so popular?  A clinical psychologist, who teaches psychology at the University of Toronto, Peterson addresses issues that people care about: finding meaning, relationships, parenting, and gender, to name a few. People are looking for a guide, they desire wisdom — knowing how to order and make sense of reality — and Peterson has offered some needed insights. He tells his readers, “Don’t underestimate the power of vision and direction. These are irresistible forces, able to transform what might appear to be unconquerable obstacles into traversable pathways and expanding opportunities. Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being” (63).

This quote illuminates both the allure of Peterson’s writing, helping people to seek definition for their lives, but also its limits, as the definition of self he recommends lacks mooring. Writing from the viewpoint of secular psychology, Peterson can help us to reflect, but his 12 Rules for Life can come across as sophisticated self-help devoid of deeper wisdom. He engages the Western tradition, including the Bible, and offers a fresh, but ultimately unsatisfying, reflection of the stories that define our tradition. He does bring needed common sense, such as “stop doing what you know to be wrong,” (which should not even need to be said) but fails to provide answers to the ultimate questions that define meaning and identity (157).

Greater depth and wisdom can be found in Leon Kass’ Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times (Encounter, 2017). Kass, a Jewish medical doctor and bioethicist, draws from his lengthy experience in science and teaching the Great Books at the University of Chicago to take us deeper into the human condition and point us toward a richer understanding of the human person — body, mind and soul. Kass, like Peterson, does not write from a religious perspective, but engages the same general themes and classic works, such as the Bible, though with a more convincing explanation of their meaning.

Kass’ book has four major sections, treating themes of love, human dignity, education and our higher aspirations. Kass guides us to reconsider the importance of the foundational goods of life — finding meaning in work and married life — as well as calling us to “the cultivation in each of us of the disposition actively to seek the truth and to make the truth our own” (256). We pursue this liberation by entering into the great tradition of Western thought, which provides an “education in and for thoughtfulness. It awakens, encourages, and renders habitual thoughtful reflection about weighty human concerns, in quest of what is simply true and good” (ibid.).

The thoughtfulness encouraged by Kass is needed more than ever to address the key concerns he raises: a collapse of courtship and marriage, biomedical challenges to the integrity of human nature, and a decline of citizenship. The first two themes share a common source in the “the rejection of a teleological view of nature,” which finds no intrinsic purpose in the human body or even life itself (54). Speaking of the threat of biotechnology and transhumanism, but in a way applicable to gender as well, he relates that “only if there is a human givenness that is also good and worth respecting — either as we find it or as it could be perfected without ceasing to be itself — does the given serve as a positive guide for choosing what to alter and what to leave alone” (149). We must learn to appreciate and cultivate the good of our nature, rather than manipulating and controlling it to our own demise. The same is true of our nation, as Kass, drawing on Abraham Lincoln, points to the need for “enhancing reverence for the Constitution and its laws” (377), as we appreciate, preserve and advance the heritage of our country.

Kass, drawing on his unique background, guides us through an integrated discovery of the good and points us toward the wisdom we need to live a worthy life.