Fortnight For Freedom Homily: Solemnity of Nativity of St. John the Baptist:

Thank you for the invitation to be here with you today to celebrate this Eucharist.  More than anything I wish to thank all of you for continuing the faith in this part of our state.  Faith is a tremendous gift, and it is a good thing to gather today to celebrate this gift and nourish it through the Eucharist and the Church.  

Today the Church exercises a rare practice of displacing the regular Sunday celebration with the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist.  John is celebrated for many things regarding his life, ministry and sanctity, and today, I wish to focus on a few that seem applicable to our times and needs, particularly the need for us to defend our religious liberty. 

As many of you know, our US Bishops in these days have called all people of faith to a time of intense prayer for the protection of religious liberty, otherwise known as a Fortnight For Freedom.  During these two weeks, 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.

Today, we celebrate one of several feasts 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.

First, let me summarize just a few of the indicators we see today of present ways in which federal, state and local governments are demonstrating a new, and alarming, restrictive view of religion.

HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion inducing drugs.  The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services forces religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching. Further, the federal government tries to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty.

Catholic foster care and adoption services. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the State of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services— by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.

State immigration laws. Several states have recently passed laws that forbid what they deem as “harboring” of undocumented immigrants—and what the Church deems Christian charity and pastoral care to these immigrants.

Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services. After years of excellent performance by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require MRS to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion  services in violation of Catholic teaching.

 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.  Thus, I offer the above examples for your own study and prayer.  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.  And that brings us back to St. John the Baptist.

St. John the Baptist was a ‘voice in the desert’ preparing the way for the world’s Savior, Jesus Christ.  Even within the womb, St. John leapt with joy at the presence of the Savior as the pre-natal Jesus arrives with Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.  St. John is a tremendous model for us to ‘find our voice’ today in the face of serious threats to religious freedom.

St. John in his life pointed the way to Christ.  The Father revealed the true identity of Jesus to John during Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan.  John told his followers that one greater than he was coming, who would baptize with water and the spirit for the forgiveness of sins.  John pointed to Christ as the Lamb of God telling all who would listen: “Follow him.”  St. John also recognized his insignificance in the presence of Jesus by saying: “He must increase, and I must decrease.” 

This feast today reminds us that we are to point others to Christ.  We are to be followers of Christ.  We are to be expanding God’s Kingdom, in a world that would restrict any mention of God.  We, too, are insignificant in the face of Christ.  Truly, Christ must increase.  Today, there are many who would decrease the public space for God, for the Sacred, and for Jesus Christ.  Will we work on behalf of Jesus?  Will the work and ministry of this parish continue to expand God’s Kingdom, even in the face of a growing and aggressive secularism?

St. John the Baptist had great fortitude.  He was fearless in preaching the truth about the king, and from him we have much to learn about fortitude in the defense of our faith, and in the defense of our freedoms.  St. John ultimately was imprisoned and martyred for preaching the truth.  May today’s voices calling for a limited role of religion not silence our own voice.  May our voices, as St. John’s give voice to the Eternal WORD of God, who was incarnate, who suffered and died for our ultimate freedom, the freedom from sin and death; the freedom to live as sons and daughters of God.  May Jesus Christ be praised for ever and ever, and may our freedom to worship and proclaim him be forever protected.