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Mass for the Deceased Homeless
November 13, 2014  

     I think it’s very fitting that we are offering this Mass for the deceased homeless people of our city on the day the Church celebrates the feast of St. Frances Cabrini.  Mother Cabrini, as we call her, was an immigrant nun from Italy, and the first American citizen ever to be canonized by the Catholic Church. And it was her work among poor immigrants and orphans, including here in Seattle – right here on First Hill in the shadow of the Cathedral – that prompted the Church to recognize her as a saint. Mother Cabrini was a champion of the poor and a servant of the poor. Her feast is a good day for this Mass that has become such an important event each year here at St. James Cathedral.

     So, the day is right, but what about the place? Isn’t it a bit incongruous to be remembering and praying for the deceased homeless in a grand place like this?  Does it make sense to come to a beautiful – even splendid - house of God to remember people who had no house, no home?

     That’s a good question, but I like Dorothy Day’s take on it -- Dorothy Day, the great 20th century prophet and voice for the poor. She once remarked that we need beautiful churches like this because, for many poor and homeless people, they are the only places they can call home, the only places where they can go to find peace, comfort, safe refuge and yes, beauty.  And she was right, of course, as any of you who are regulars here at St. James know very well.

     And I would also add that there is actually a connection – or there should be – between beautiful cathedrals like this and serving the poor.  So much of what goes on here day after day -- I think of the winter shelter, the St. Vincent de Paul Society outreach, the Immigrant Assistance Program, the Cathedral Kitchen, the Hunthausen Housing Fund, the Solanus Casey Center – so much that goes on here is carried out by people who first come here for Mass and who then leave this place to serve the poor and to advocate on their behalf. That’s how they make sense of the gospel they hear and the Eucharist they receive.  Catholic worship in beautiful buildings is never just for itself. Far from it. Our worship awakens our consciences and inspires us to go out and do everything we can to make this a better, more just, more loving, more compassionate world.

     The reading from Isaiah put all this in very blunt terms.    Heads bowed in worship, solemn feasts, fasting, sackcloth and ashes, are not enough. God wants more from us.  God wants us to find ways to (in the words of Isaiah) release those bound unjustly, set free the oppressed, share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked. Only in this way, the prophet says, will God listen to our prayer, only in this way will our light shine forth in the darkness of a very dark world.

     The reading from Luke’s gospel reminded us that Jesus himself was homeless, Jesus who was poor and who had no place to lay his head.  And the challenge for us who would follow him is to care for the poor and serve them as he did, yes, but also to find ways to be poor ourselves.  And what a scary thought that is. I can’t speak for you but I can tell you it’s a scary thought for me!

     My friends, it’s homeless and poor people who have brought us here tonight -- our homeless and poor brothers and sisters who died on our streets or in our shelters this past year -- including those who died violent deaths or took their own lives.  We are here to remember them and commend them to God, yes, but we are also here to acknowledge that we ourselves are not without blame when it comes to what happened to them.  We’re not.  We live in the wealthiest, most prosperous country the world has ever known; we live in a vibrant and affluent city; we live, most of us, quite comfortably, while the poor live on the margins, the far outer margins of our conspicuous abundance.  Often they live, if not out of sight, certainly, out of mind.  Right here in King County at this very moment, over 9,000 people are homeless and over 3,000 of them are without shelter – a roof over their heads, a bed to sleep in.  Many of them, too many, suffer from mental illness that goes untreated.  Night after night, they sleep outside in dark corners, in doorways, and under bridges and overpasses, and some of them in their cars.  This past year, 75 of these homeless people died – many of them unnoticed, unattended, and unmourned.

     We remember them tonight, we mourn them, and we pray for them.  With heavy hearts and uneasy consciences we commend their souls to God, confident that even though they were without a home when they were here with us, they now have a home with God; confident, too, that the peace that alluded them during their time here is now theirs forever.

     May they rest in peace.  And may we not rest peacefully until the plight and the problems of these homeless brothers and sisters have become our problem.  And our mission!

     Father Michael G. Ryan



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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303