PUNTA GORDA | In delivering the keynote to some 450 people gathered for the state Respect Life Conference, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, said everything he knows about living as a Catholic Christian, he learned at Mass.
“Everything,” he emphasized.
“It’s all there. It’s really not even that complicated. The liturgy and the Mass in particular is Christ-encountered, it is the Gospel experience, it is community achieved, it is the kingdom present,” said the member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pro-Life Committee. “It is the gift of life welcomed and glorified. It is from here the practice of social justice wells up in the Church.”
The liturgy teaches Catholics to love someone they do not know, Bishop Seitz said. He added that person could be a community member outside one’s circle of family and friends, the sick and dying, an unwed mother, or an immigrant or refugee from another country.
“Catholic worship welcomes people where they are,” he said, adding the people might live or have philosophies compatible with Church teachings, while some might not. But it is that nature of welcoming that is a key conviction of social justice and respect of all life.
“Life’s dignity and meaning is lost in the material secular eye,” he said. “No human life, no matter how unanticipated by us, is ever a mistake on the part of God.”
The liturgy also offers a “new social reality” than what is presented by the materialistic, secular world, and God works through people through liturgy, offering a truer message of life and love.
“The liturgy should move us to courage and conviction in the recognition that we belong to God’s kingdom. This passing world does not drive our priorities. That world is already dead.”
In speaking of the “dark day” when the Roe v. Wade’s decision legalized abortion, the bishop recognized that those on the pro-life front could feel weary, especially in times when a stride is made forward, but then the moment is taken two steps back. Yes, changes need to be made, but Catholics should not place those expectations in an unrealistic way. But again, that is when Bishop Seitz the role of the liturgy is crucial because it allows Catholics to recommit themselves to social justice and be renewed while entering the kingdom of God.
“You may have been coming to Mass all your life and missing the depth of its power to transform you and your way of seeing,” the bishop said, adding the Church and the faithful need to “get serious” about quality adult formation to teach adults the profound meaning of the liturgy.
The liturgy also urges engagement in the community. He asked how parishes are responding to the “the vulnerable, to the marginalized, to people in crisis, the immigrants and refugees in our midst.”
“Are we responding to the poor and the suffering as brothers and sisters in need or as unwelcomed aliens?” he asked. “Are we present to the mothers of unborn children, when their isolation makes them feel like they have no other option?”
Following his presentation, Bishop Seitz spoke to the Florida Catholic about his encounters with the poor, the marginalized, and immigrants and refugees as shepherd of the El Paso Diocese. The love and concern pro-lifers hold for the unborn should be extended to everybody, he said, echoing his call for realizing the dignity of all human persons. While some people might view the unborn victims of abortion as “innocents” and different from those not completely recognized as innocent — such as the incarcerated or an undocumented immigrant — he said no person was created as “innocent,” which is why we need the example of Jesus as Savior.
“If Christ loved us while we were still sinners, then are we called to love and care for anyone and everyone, even our enemies,” he said. “That is the mark of a Christian.”
Bishop Seitz said his personal encounters with immigrants and refugees, including as he has celebrated Mass at the border and visited detention centers where adults and children have been held, have made a profound impressionon him. Through a volunteer network, his diocese for several years has been offering housing accommodations for undocumented men and woman who have been processed and many times incarcerated by U.S. immigration, even though that they have not committed a crime, Bishop Seitz added. Once they are released or “paroled,” they are left to fend for themselves without money or basic needs. In response, parishes and volunteers offer space to sleep, shower facilities, food and clean clothes while they arrange to stay with family.
“For me, (the issue of immigration) is no longer an abstract question,” the bishop said. “I’ve seen their faces. I’ve held the children. I’ve heard their stories. One piece of advice I can give people if they wish to understand this issue is to simply meet a migrant, an immigrant and talk to them. Or better yet, go to Mass with them.”
Immigration is a hot-button issue, and Bishop Seitz realizes that not every Catholic holds the same mindset as he. However, because he is a Christian, he always sees hope in any situation.
“Presently the government hasn’t shown willingness to address underlying issues that force people to leave their homes — countries torn apart by violence and corruption,” he said. “Until we do that, there will be no wall high enough. People will try to escape; they are running for their lives. And we have the moral responsibility to receive them.”