"Jesus Christ … is the model for how we should lead and govern. True leaders have to be open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit," Archbishop José Gómez told his listeners on Tuesday when visiting Phoenix for that diocese's annual Red Mass.
The Red Mass is traditionally celebrated for judges, attorneys and government officials.
The archbishop spoke to the leaders about the challenges of being faithful to their beliefs in the public sphere.
"We are Catholics and Americans," he said. "We should never be forced to choose between these two identities. We must live every day in this culture as men and women of faith."
Love for neighbor
Archbishop Gómez, 55, recalled the Catholic heritage of the Southwestern states, especially in light of current debates about immigration law.
The prelate said: "Sharing a border with our brothers and sisters in Mexico, you find yourselves as we do in Texas, at the forefront of a great test of our national character -- a debate that will determine whether we remain faithful to our country's history and ideals."
"Whatever we do for the poor and afflicted -- or against them -- we do for or against Christ," the archbishop said, quoting Matthew's Gospel. "This is why we defend the dignity of the human person. … This is why, even in a complicated, globalized economy, we work for laws that promote peace, justice, cultural and social reconciliation, and the love of our neighbors."
The archbishop addressed the immigration issue saying, "The Gospel today gives us some perspective on this debate. The Lord in his parable reminds us that we're all strangers in a land that's not our own but belongs to God."
A Catholic land
The prelate focused on the history of Arizona, mentioning that the geographical area was evangelized by Spanish-speaking missionaries: "Long before the United States of America was even an idea, this land was Catholic. Holy Mass was celebrated here, at that time in Latin.
"Every American today, in some way traces his or her roots to the great Hispanic-Catholic missions of the 16th and 17th centuries. We feel this deeply here in the Southwest. In other parts of our country, Americans proudly trace their roots more deeply to the early Catholic missions of immigrants from other foreign lands, France, Poland, Germany, Ireland and Italy.
"But we are all of us Americans, and most of us are children of immigrants. And all of us are heirs to the legacy of the Gospel believed and preached here by our country's first settlers."
Archbishop Gómez encouraged public leaders to resist pressures to privatize religion: "The reason we're always fighting over Church-state and religious freedom issues in our courts and legislatures is that there are strong pressures to suppress and privatize religion.
"Those who tell us that the faith is something we should keep to ourselves, that it shouldn't influence how we vote and behave, aren't promoting tolerance or government neutrality toward religion. They're promoting hostility toward religion."
"Practical atheism is dangerously close to becoming our de facto state religion," the prelate said. "What I mean is that, more and more, in order to live in our society, to participate in its economic and political life, people are required to essentially conduct themselves as if God does not exist."
The archbishop added that "when God is forgotten, the human person and the common good are forgotten, too."