29th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

October 20, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

Today St. Paul tells us:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…
proclaim the word;
be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand, encourage
through all patience and teaching.”

On this Sunday which the US Bishops single out as “Mission Sunday”
we remember how for 2000 years
the Church has been proclaiming the word
to peoples of every continent and race.
Sadly, after 2000 years, we have not been entirely successful in our efforts.
And even sadder still, in many of the places we were once the most successful, we see the people slowly walking away from Christianity,
and from religion and God in general.

So is it any surprise that Jesus poses the question in today’s Gospel:
“when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

There are many reasons why Christianity is fading in the world.
There are the temptations of materialism, secularism and ideologies,
luring many away.
There’s also the demanding nature of the faith itself:
it’s hard to be a Christian, and especially hard to be good Catholic.

But there’s also something else at work,
something that many are trying to ignore.
And that is that Christians are increasingly being persecuted around the world.
Whether by the subtle restrictions of the laws of governments,
or the bullying voices of the popular culture and media,
or the violent and bloody attacks by both governments other religions,
the persecution of Christianity is real and growing throughout the world.

Of course, the worst kind of persecution is bloody persecution.
Over the last few months I’ve written several columns
about the persecution ramping up in Egypt:
Two months ago Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood had
looted and torched nearly 40 churches,
and attacked and heavily damaged 23 others.
They went on to trash a 115 years old Catholic school
and dragged the nuns through the streets shouting obscenities at them.
All in one week.

3 weeks ago Taliban suicide bombers killed at least 85 worshippers
at All Saints’ church in Peshawar, Pakistan.
A month ago Christians were also targeted by the Islamist fanatics
who attacked the shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya,
that killed more than 70 people:
“captives were asked questions about Islam,”
and “if they couldn’t answer, they were shot.”

And this is nothing new:
“On a single day in July 2009, seven churches were bombed in Baghdad.”
And you may remember that in 2008,
“The archbishop of Mosul, Iraq, was kidnapped and killed.”
In Nigeria, in the last year hundreds of Christians have been murdered
and their churches invaded or fire bombed by Muslim fanatics.
In Syria, last month the Christians begged President Obama
not to attack the butcher President Assad,
because he is their only protection from the Islamist rebels.

And who can forget how, back in June, Syrian jihadist rebels beheaded
Franciscan Father Francois Murad,
and then posted the video on the internet?
Actually, probably most of us have either forgotten it
or not even seen or heard of it,
as the media and our government has been mostly silent on this,
and the other atrocities.

But what would we expect,
when the media and the current administration themselves
has such little patience for Christianity, especially Catholics,
who are faithful to their 2000 year tradition.
The media mocks us and calls us bigots and haters,
simply because we reject the immorality they embrace
because we must, as St. Paul reminds us today,
“Remain faithful to what [we] have learned and believed,”
from Sacred Scripture and our Tradition.

And the government continues to try to marginalize faithful Christians,
especially Catholics.
Of course, the most high profile of these attempts
is the HHS mandate related to Obamacare,
that requires Catholic employers to provide insurance for their employees
that pays for abortion inducing drugs
as well as contraception and sterilization.
I warned you about this over a year and a half ago
—and most of you seemed to understand, and were outraged.
At almost every Mass you stood and applauded me when I spoke about this.

But for many, the outrage seems to have faded
as we seem to have grown used to “accepting the inevitable.”
In spite of the fact that
over 78 businesses, charities, universities and Catholic Dioceses
have filed lawsuits,
the mandate has now gone into effect.
And just last month the Little Sisters of the Poor
had to join in those lawsuits or face millions of dollars in penalties because,
as one sister said: “We cannot violate our vows.”
Think of that: those beautiful little nuns,
who radiate the very love of Christ
and the Catholic faith lived out in charity,
who come here every year around Christmas
begging you to help them to fund their nursing homes.
The government says they aren’t really part of the Catholic Church
and they don’t have the right to practice their Catholic faith
in their work with the poor.

But the persecution doesn’t stop there, as it has seeped down to the state level.
Even in the great Commonwealth of Virginia.

For most of the last year Virginians have been witnessing a race for governor
between, on one side,
a Catholic who, although not perfect,
is strongly faithful to the Church’s teaching
on the most important moral issues of our time:
abortion, traditional marriage and religious liberty;
I’ll call him “the faithful Catholic.”
And on the other side we find his opponent,
who also calls himself a Catholic,
but who is strongly opposed to those key teachings.

Now, we can all disagree with each other
on most of the various policy issues in the campaign:
on taxes, metro, roads, education, etc..
But for months, beginning before the two candidates
ever really began to discuss those issues,
the faithful Catholic has been attacked viciously and incessantly
by his opponent
for supposedly being “anti-women” and “anti-gay.”
And sadly, like the dishonest judge in today’s Gospel,
who gave in to the widow just because she wouldn’t relent,
too many Virginians have succumbed to believing these relentless lies.

How many times did I see an ad attacking the faithful Catholic
for being “anti-woman” simply because he was against abortion?

For example, how many times have they attacked him
because he supports new restrictions on abortion clinics.
But who is anti-woman:
the faithful Catholic that wants to protect women
from unsafe and unsanitary clinics,
or his opponent who doesn’t seem to care?

And how many times have they attacked him
because he supposedly wanted to take away women’s contraception?
What he actually did was support a law that would
define the tiny baby as a person from the moment of conception.
That has nothing to do with contraception,
which by definition takes place prior to the moment of conception.

But the most despicable is the way his opponent
supposedly quotes the faithful Catholic as saying
“gay people are soulless.”

But, the faithful Catholic is a faithful Catholic, so he never said that.
As the Washington Post reported last week, and I quote:
“What [he] actually said in February 2008 ….was,
“When you look at the homosexual agenda,
I cannot support something that I believe
brings nothing but self-destruction,
not only physically but of their soul.”
Where does the supposed quote “gays are soulless” appear in that statement?
That’s not a man who thinks homosexuals are sub-human, or hates them.
That’s a Catholic who is concerned for homosexuals
because he believes their behavior hurts them.

Now you might say, “okay Father,
but he’s not being persecuted for being a Catholic,
they’re just attacking his political positions.”
But ignores the context all this takes place in.
It is undeniable that the Catholic Church
stands as the major stumbling block to those advancing the secular
pro-abortion, pro-promiscuity, pro-gay agenda.
And so they systematically attack the Church and all faithful Catholics,
through the media, regulation and political campaigns.
And in the end they effectively say
that all faithful Catholics are disqualified from holding public office
because they are bigots and haters;
after all, they say, that’s what faithful Catholics are, by definition.

And that, my friend, is, by definition, religious persecution.

But it shouldn’t be this way—not in America.
After all Article VII, Section 2, of our Constitution provides:
“no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification
to any office or public trust under the United States.”
And the 1st Amendment to that Constitution guarantees that:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

And it especially should not be this way in Virginia,
which planted the seed of American religious liberty,
when, in 1779, Thomas Jefferson introduced
the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
“…[A]ll men” it said, “shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain,
their opinions in matters of Religion,
and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect
their civil capacities….”
Because to do so, it said, would “be an infringement of [a] natural right.”

Brothers and sisters,
religious persecution of Christians abounds in today’s world,
even in American, even Virginia.
And no one seems to care.

But we care, don’t we?
Because WE ARE Christians:
and when they persecute our brothers and sisters in Christ
they persecute us.
As St. Paul writes elsewhere, we are the Body of Christ,
and “If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it…”
And as Pope Francis asked, just a few weeks ago:
“Am I indifferent to that,
or does it affect me like it’s a member of the family?
… Does it touch my heart, or doesn’t it really affect me….?”

Do we not care about the Christians in Syria? Or in Egypt? Or Africa?
Or China, or North Korea or Vietnam?
Are they too different or too far away for us to care about them?

Do we not even care about our fellow countrymen?
Are the Little Sisters of the Poor too insignificant for us to care about?
Is the faithful Catholic running for office too damaged by false accusations
for us to care about him?

Who will defend Christians attacked if Christians won’t—if we won’t?

So we must.
But what can we do?

In today’s Psalm we prayed:
“Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
And today’s first reading tells us that with the help of the Lord:
“Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people….”
But to make that happen we read that:
“As long as Moses kept his hands raised up,
Israel had the better of the fight….”
Moses raised his hands to heaven in the classic posture of the priest at prayer,
and God answered his prayer and protected Israel.
So, as we read in today’s gospel,
“Jesus told his disciples
…about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.”

So we must first trust in the Lord and his power,
and then we must not cease to call on that power in constant prayer.

But besides praying, the first reading also tells us:
“Moses, ….said to Joshua,
“Pick out certain men, and …go out and engage Amalek in battle.”
So we must take action as well.
One very important action we must take, is to, as St. Paul says:
“proclaim the word”!
We must be silent no more when our brothers and sisters are persecuted.
We must speak out in our homes, our jobs, and our schools,
with our family and friends, and with our government officials.
And we must, as St. Paul insists:
“be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand,
[and] encourage through all patience and teaching.”

And finally, remember, in this country “We the People” are sovereign,
including Christian people.
So we must participate in the political process.
In particular, faithful Christians must run for political office.
And when those faithful Christians run for office
the rest of us must support them, to the extent possible,
with our prayers, time, voices, and money.
And, my friends, with our votes!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, look up now at the Crucifix,
and see the ultimate persecution of Christianity.
But notice, that, like Moses,
Jesus on the Cross is lifting up his hands in prayer to His Father.
We now prepare to move more deeply into the mystery
of this most powerful prayer of the Cross made really present today
in the Eucharist.
As I lead you in this prayer with my hands lifted up
let us unite our prayers to Christ’s, begging his Father
to give us the courage to proclaim the Word,
whether it’s convenient or inconvenient;
the love to care for and defend our persecuted brothers and sisters,
whether they live across the globe or down the block;
and the grace to remain faithful to what we believe as Catholics,
whether in times of peace or oppression.

And as we leave here today, filled with the courage, love and grace of Christ,
let us, like Joshua, “go out and engage …in [the] battle.”
So that, by the grace of God,
when the Son of Man comes he will, indeed, find faith on earth
especially in the great Commonwealth of Virginia.

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