On this Vigil for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the faithful gathered for our Mass to mark the celebration of the Fortnight For Freedom.  Below is the Homily.

Thank you for your presence here today to celebrate this Eucharist.  Thank you for your presence with us to pray for one of our most basic human freedoms, the freedom of religion.

As many of you know, our US Bishops have called us in these days to a time of intense prayer for the protection of religious liberty, otherwise known as a the Fortnight For Freedom.  During this two week period, the Church celebrates numerous feasts, such as those of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas Moore, who were beheaded in 1535 by King Henry VIII for their opposition to his practice and teaching on marriage.  We also just celebrated a feast of St. John the Baptist, who was also beheaded by his king for being outspoken regarding King Herod’s practice of marriage that disregarded God’s law.  On July 4th, which will conclude our Fortnight for Freedom, our nation will celebrate the anniversary of our Independence from what our forefathers saw as an overly intrusive government.

Today the Church celebrates the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles.  Sts. Peter and Paul both gave their lives as a confession of faith in Jesus Christ.  They shed their blood because they would not denounce Christ nor stop preaching in His name.  They certainly would not have renounced Christ in order to profess the pagan beliefs of the Roman Caesars.  They shed their blood because they knew that Christ was not only their greatest treasure, but the greatest treasure of all people for all times. 

The feast of these two great Apostles reminds me of a quote from St. Bonaventure who said: “If I have everything without Christ, I have nothing.  If I have nothing but Christ, I have everything.”

 Our readings today remind us of the benefits of faith as portrayed in the power of St. Peter to heal a man crippled from birth.  St. Peter’s words and actions are a clear teaching that faith is one of our greatest treasures: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.”  (Acts 3:1-10) 

This account from today’s celebration not only instructs us on the role of religion in the life of the human person, but it also shows the connection between belief in God and the good works that follow.  Our celebration today shows that religion, faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ is a threat to no one, but rather is a force for good.  Society has nothing to fear from religion, and only good to gain.  Perhaps this was only one of several reasons our forefathers saw the need to enshrine this fundamental human freedom of religion in the First Amendment of our Constitution.

Jesus Himself in the post-resurrection account offered in today’s Liturgy from John’s Gospel, makes the same connection between love of God and good works.  (John 21:15-19)  “Simon, son of John, do you love me?  …  Feed my lambs.  Tend my sheep.  Feed my sheep.”

Here, we see the foundational importance to first love God.  This is the fundamental question before each of us:  “Do we love God?”  “Do we love Jesus Christ?”  In a recent address in Atlanta to the body of U.S. Bishops, Mr. John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America made the following observation:

Our society won’t care about religious freedom if it doesn’t care about God.  That’s where reform is needed.  We won’t have – and we probably won’t need – religious exemptions for nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers if no one is practicing their religion.  The best way to protect religious freedom might be to remind people that they should love God. 

So, my dear friends, we are here this evening to express our love for God, and to pray for the religious freedom to express this love through the many ministries our Catholic Church provides to the poor and needy, regardless of their beliefs.  We are here this evening to pray for the religious freedom to carry out our good works without government mandates that we violate our conscience and moral teachings in order to do so. 

Sadly, toady we see internationally growing concerns regarding violations against humanity when the basic human freedom of religion in disregarded.  This international trend is now finding its ways to our shores, and we see growing concerns in the ways in which the federal, state and local governments are demonstrating a restrictive view of religion and a lack of respect for the role of religion in the broader society.  Perhaps the most notorious demonstration of the federal government’s willingness to restrict the free practice of religion is the recent HHS Mandate.

I know some feel that the US Bishops are not truly concerned about religious liberty, but are simply using this issue as a political football to discourage the re-election of a certain political personality.  I want to assure you, our concern is far greater than any one election, and is definitely about the very basic principle of religious liberty, and what we see as serious threats to this fundamental freedom.    I invite all of you to join us in our prayers for the protection of the freedom to practice our religion.

There is a growing trend in the culture today that wishes to define religious liberty solely as the freedom to worship.  This is neither the language nor the intent of the First Amendment of the Constitution.  The language in the recent HHS Mandate wishes to define religion in such a narrow manner that very few would qualify as a religious organization.  This religious exemption is a clear over-reach of the government, in that it seeks to define membership as well as the ministry of a religious organization. 

Namely, to qualify as a religious organization, we would only be allowed to hire people who share our faith, and we would only be allowed to serve people who share our faith.  It also says that the primary purpose of the organization should be to teach the faith.  In other words, we would have to dismiss the mandate of Jesus Christ to serve the poor, heal the sick, baptize all nations, cloth the naked, visit those imprisoned, comfort those who mourn and enlighten those who are in the dark regarding the Truth of His Gospel.

And these concerns do not even begin to get into the other area of the Mandate which would force us and many other organizations and individuals to violate our conscience and teachings regarding contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs.

So, this threat to religious liberty is very real, and if we do not begin to raise our voice of opposition now, there is no telling where this invasion of government into the internal life of the Church will end.

Let our celebration this evening of the faith and works of these great Apostles, Peter and Paul, renew our faith.  May the intercessions of Sts. Peter and Paul make us strong in living our faith in the face of a growing secularism that would seek to diminish the freedom of religion.  May the witness of Sts. Peter and Paul renew our hope in this time, and strengthen our confidence and trust that God is still at work in the world today. 

 Saints Peter and Paul, Pray for us!