'Be the hug of Christ'

White Mass in DC encourages those with disabilities

Washington D.C., Nov 10, 2015 / 03:25 am (CNA/EWTN News) - Honoring individuals with disabilities and mental health challenges, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., celebrated the archdiocese's annual White Mass on Sunday and encouraged the faithful to embrace, serve and welcome the diversity of the Church.

The White Mass, hosted by the Archdiocese of Washington's Department of Special Needs Ministries, drew various caregivers and individuals with disabilities. It was celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Matthew on Nov. 8 and the homily was delivered by Father William Byrne, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac.

“Last week, I just met a wonderful man named Jason,” Fr. Byrne said in his homily, explaining that he encountered the man at the Tricia Sullivan Respite Care Program run by the Potomac Community Resources.

“During the Rhythmic Music Program, Jason reached over and grabbed me around the neck, pulled our heads together and gave me a long hug,” he continued.

For Fr. Byrne, this hug symbolized something more than just an embrace. It was a gesture that all Christians should imitate – one of welcoming strangers into the Church and embracing them as Christ would embrace the world.

“We are the universal Church, whose job it is to welcome, embrace and accompany everyone in his and her encounter with Jesus,” Fr. Byrne stated, saying “we are called to be the hug of Christ to the world.”

“The hugs of Jason and me, the embrace of the apostles, the warm squeeze of the cousins Elizabeth and Mary while John leaps for joy in his mother's womb – these hugs are a great image for what we are called to be as a Church.”

For the past six years, the White Mass in the Archdiocese of Washington has been held to honor caregivers and individuals with special needs. Those in attendance at the White Mass wore white to symbolize their baptismal vows and life within the Church.   

“The White Mass boldly proclaims that all are needed at the altar of God and commends and commissions us to be the agents of that message,” Fr. Byrne said.

The White Mass celebrates the familial bond of the Body of Christ within the Church, he explained. If one member is missing, then the whole body is incomplete. This includes the members of the Church who are disabled or mentally challenged, as well as their caregivers.

“The White Mass celebrates not just all are welcome to the altar, but most important, all are needed at the altar of God!” the priest stressed.

Respite care is not a luxury, he reminded the faithful, but rather a necessity for the effective care of the Church. He also noted that caregivers need help and support from the community to fulfill their mission of serving the disabled or mentally challenged.

Fr. Byrne went on to highlight Sunday's Gospel, Mark 12:38-44, pointing to the poor widow and her sense of trust and generosity. Her witness of giving everything she had, he stated, should be every Christian's aspiration.

“The lady is not just giving up her second latte and dropping the change in the basket. She is literally hungry, hungry to serve God. She is hungry to help others.”

Fr. Byrne also noted that the caregivers who are involved in special ministry with the disabled or mentally challenged emulate the “modern day vision of this Gospel,” because they sacrifice but they also receive – just like the poor widow in the Gospel.

“Remember that in the end, what the woman in the Gospel was given was truly more than she herself gave. But, her giving also hurt,” he said, emphasizing that true love is sacrificial.

“Real love mandates always doing the right thing, even if it is the hard thing. Real love is extraordinary. Real love means going out of our way, digging in a bit deeper and finding Jesus not in my excess, but where I need Him most.”

The priest concluded his homily by challenging the faithful gathered to embrace one another and pray for the Body of Christ.

“First, don't be afraid to give someone a big ol' hug,” he said.

“Second, pray to understand that in order to be holy, we have to be whole. With all our differences, the huggers and the hugged, we are one Body, the Body of Christ.”