Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks during the "Hispanic Innovators of the Faith" lecture Feb. 6, 2019, at The Catholic University of America in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles told a crowd of priests, women religious and students the story of a Spanish missionary named Montesinos.
Witnessing the cruelty of colonialists to Indians, Montesinos did not back down in a 1511 Advent sermon. The missionary declared: "Are these not men? Have they not rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourself?"
"In many ways, Montesinos' questions are with us again," Archbishop Gomez said, opening his address Feb. 6 during The Catholic University of America's seventh annual Hispanic Innovators of the Faith lecture series. "What does it mean to be human? What are the obligations we have toward our neighbors? Where is God and Jesus Christ in all of this?"
Speaking "not as a historian or a scholar, but as a pastor of souls," Archbishop Gomez addressed what he called "the crisis of man" in his address, explaining that he meant "a crisis of human nature. Men and women. All of us."
"People have been talking about a 'crisis of man' since at least the end of the Second World War," Archbishop Gomez said. "We forget that in the last century, millions were killed ... in Soviet gulags and Nazi death camps, in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in genocides in nearly every part of the world."
Archbishop Gomez recognized that the crisis persists to this day in the practice of abortion, contraception and euthanasia and even in human trafficking and the "worldwide debates over migrants and refugees."
He questioned how such a crisis started and why it was continuing.
"As I see it, this problem is rooted in our society's broader loss of the awareness of God," the archbishop said.
The crisis might not seem as jarring today, Archbishop Gomez admitted. However, he urged the audience to remain alert, saying that while "atheist humanisms have faded ... the project of the global leadership class to create a world without God and transform the human person according to political and economic dictates ... is still very much alive."
But the archbishop included all people in his indictment: "We think we do not need God to help us run the economy or the government. We think we can rely on politics or science and technology to ... answer every question."
Attempts to cleanse God from society, science and everyday moral sensibilities inevitably will create a society which "no longer believes in the existence of permanent or universal truths like right and wrong," Archbishop Gomez said. The harsh result will be, he explained, as it always has been, "the degrading of the human person."
Instead of realizing that people are all formed in the image of God, "we are coming to see, that if we are not made in the image of God, we can be remade in the image of those who appoint themselves as 'gods,'" he said.
Archbishop Gomez continued, showing the audience a bright path out of the pit: "Always in the church, renewal and reform means returning to the source."
Calling for a "new humanism" rooted in Jesus, the archbishop said the full potential of humanity can only be realized by a revival of Christ as a model for life. "We need to proclaim boldly that Jesus Christ reveals the human face of God and that in his face we see reflected the glory that God intends for our lives," he said.
As a counterpoint to the perspective of atheist humanisms, which he described as seeking to "throw off the 'burden' of God and create 'a new man,'" Archbishop Gomez stressed that accepting Jesus also requires a glorious reinvention of humanity. "In Jesus Christ, we discover that we are born to be 're-born' as God's children, his own beloved sons and daughters."
Archbishop Gomez concluded his address by lifting up Venerable Maria Luisa, a Carmelite nun who faced persecution in 1920s Mexico, as an example of a Hispanic innovator of the faith and someone who understood that humanity's destiny is rooted in Jesus.
"She used to tell people: 'For greater things you were born,'" Archbishop Gomez said, "In this short expression, we have the truth of the Incarnation. And this is the truth about our lives."