Ss. Peter and Paul, June 29, 2014
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul.
Like other saint’s feast days this one falls on the same day every year—June 29. But when other saints days fall on Sunday they are suppressed
because Sunday is always the feast day of Lord—it is the Lord’s day.
But this feast is different, special.
Because it is the feast of the two patron saints of the Church in Rome,
and so it reminds the whole Church throughout the world
of our unity with Rome, especially with the Bishop of Rome—the Pope.
So the whole Church celebrates it even on Sunday
to celebrate the unity of the one Church of Christ,
under the governance of the one Vicar of Christ on earth,
who is today, of course, Pope Francis.
It’s kind of interesting that we celebrate this unity with a diocese in foreign country,
because later this week, on the 4th of July, we Americans celebrate
our independence from another foreign country.
Now, most you might kind of smile at the coincidence,
but there was a time with this contrast had
very real-life serious consequences to Catholics in America.
It wasn’t so long ago the many Protestants in America wondered
if our loyalty to a foreign power, the Pope,
would interfere in our loyalty to America.
After all, just 150 years ago the Pope was absolute sovereign of the Papal States,
which included a third of all Italy,
and even today he’s sovereign of the Vatican City State.
More importantly he commands the obedience before God
of all Catholics worldwide.
But there was never a need to worry.
Because the doctrine of our Catholic faith tells us that
our absolute obedience to the Pope is only related to papal teachings
on matters of Faith and Morals,
as well as internal Church matters like how we worship.
But it does not extend to particular matters of prudential judgment.
So that while the Pope may teach that
we have a moral obligation to care for the poor,
he has no authority to tell us that we have to do so
using a particular program or by voting for a particular politician.
He can propose particular solutions,
and we should respectfully consider them,
but Catholics are not bound to obey them.
So it’s almost impossible that there would ever be a conflict
between our loyalties to America and to the Pope.
Even so, this wasn’t always understood by Protestant Americans,
who have always formed the vast majority of our nation’s population.
So when immigrants from the Catholic countries of Europe
immigrated to America, especially in the 1800s and early 1900s,
they were often held in suspicion.
So much so that political movements like the “Know Nothings”
rose up to try to oppress Catholics,
and laws like the Blaine laws tried to close Catholic schools,
to force Catholic children
into the Protestant mainstream of public education.
And while Catholics fought these oppressive efforts,
and kept their Catholic identity and their schools,
they were not unmoved by the oppression.
And so you saw Catholics send their kids to Catholic schools
and go to Sunday Mass and pray the Rosary daily,
but then also strive to be more American
than George Washington and Betsy Ross,
and bend over backwards to show their loyalty to America.
So much so that when Catholic John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960
he felt obliged to go before a group of Protestant ministers,
the Greater Houston Ministerial Association,
“I believe in an America
where the separation of church and state is absolute,
where no Catholic prelate would tell the president
(should he be Catholic) how to act,
…where no public official either requests or accepts
instructions on public policy from the Pope…
or any other ecclesiastical source…”
Whether he intended to or not, by these and other statements in this speech
Kennedy seemed to express a loyalty to America above
his loyalty to the Pope and his Catholic faith.
And he left the clear impression that religion in general
has no place in influencing the public policy and laws of our time.
To his credit, I don’t think he meant to do that.
In fact, later in the speech he stated:
“But if the time should ever come ….
when my office would require me to either violate my conscience
or violate the national interest,
then I would resign the office…
…nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church
in order to win this election.”
I’m not a huge John Kennedy fan,
but I think he was simply trying to convince Protestant Americans that he,
a loyal Catholic, was also a loyal American.
But he shouldn’t have had to do that.
There is no opposition between being a faithful Catholic and good American.
First of all, the Constitution itself guarantees protection of
the God-given right to religious liberty,
protecting religions and individual believers
from any oppression whatsoever by the government.
This reflected the founders strongly held belief in
the absolute importance of the positive effect of religion
to the success of the American experiment.
As George Washington himself wrote in his Farewell Address:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity,
religion and morality are indispensable supports….”
…[R]eason and experience both forbid us to expect
that national morality can prevail
in exclusion of religious principle.”
Not only that, it is a moral doctrine of Catholicism itself
that Catholics must be loyal to our own countries
and be obedient to our country’s government and its just laws.
In other words, the Church says you’re a bad Catholic if you’re a bad citizen.
Finally, as I said earlier, it is Catholic moral doctrine that we are free
to make decisions according to our own individual consciences,
subject only to the truths expressed in the doctrines and dogmas our faith.
Sadly, largely because of the historical push
to be seen as loyal and mainstream Americans,
for too many Catholics in America
their Catholicism has become more and more like
an ethnicity than a deeply held conviction and a passionate way of life:
they take their fundamental values not from Christ and His Church,
but from either the popular American culture,
or, amazingly, from the decrees of government itself.
So that if the Supreme Court says abortion is okay,
many Catholics American think it must be okay.
And if the President says it’s time to approve so-called “same-sex-marriage,” many Catholic Americans go along.
But it cannot be that way.
I love America, and I firmly believe it is the greatest nation in the history of man,
and I honor the great and brave men and women
who have sacrificed to make it so.
But our loyalty to America is not a blind loyalty.
First of all, it is a loyalty not to government officials
but to government established by
“We the People….in order to form a more perfect union,
establish justice, …and secure the blessings of liberty…”
A “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
We the People, as individuals, making free choices
based on our own individual moral values—and religions—:
this is what our American government is about—or is supposed to be about.
So that we Catholics are good Americans when we think like Catholics
and demand that our Catholic values,
our understanding of right and wrong, good and evil,
justice and oppression
be respected and protected.
Never imposed, but proposed by debate and democratic elections,
and even codified in law when accepted
by the majority of our fellow Americans.
And when I say “think like Catholics”, I don’t mean that we all have to
have the same policy solution to every problem,
or agree in every judgment we make.
But as Catholics every moral choice,
must always be rooted in and consistent with the principles and doctrines
of our Catholic faith and morals
—because they express the teaching of Jesus,
the Word of God, himself.
Again, for example, we can NOT say we’re Catholics
if we deny that we are obliged, in some real way, to take care of the poor.
But you and I can disagree,
and we can even disagree with our Bishops and even our Pope,
on the best way, practically speaking, to take care of the poor.
And we can disagree, for example, on just how
to protect people from unjust discrimination,
but as Catholics we can never say that it is discrimination to hold that
marriage can only be the union of one man and one woman.
Sadly, in recent years the old prejudices against Catholicism
have crept back into the American ethos,
as many demand that Catholics leave their morals and principles
at home or in the pew and not bring them
into the public square or the voting booth.
In fact, it’s ironic that this demand is also being made
against the children of Protestants who questioned the loyalty of Catholics
like John Kennedy 50 years ago.
More irony: Kennedy, in that same speech warned this would happen:
“Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you —
until the whole fabric of our harmonious society
is ripped at a time of great national peril.”
And so were are here today.
By coercion, especially through regulations and court orders issued
by unelected government officials,
secularist ideologues increasingly try to force us to accept their values,
or face ruinous fines or even imprisonment.
From the Christian baker who is forced to make a cake for a “gay wedding”
or lose his business;
to the Little Sister of the Poor who are threatened
with millions of dollars in fines if they don’t provide insurance
for the abortion-inducing drugs and contraception
of their employees;
to the U.S. senators and congressmen elected by the American people,
who were scolded last year by an unelected Supreme Court justice, for protecting traditional marriage, because, their “purpose” was,
as he put it, “to disparage and to injure” “gay” people.
How ironic, that the justice was another Catholic named Kennedy.
Since our founding,
some have questioned the loyalty of Catholics to our great nation.
But there is no conflict between being a loyal Catholic and a loyal American.
On this feast of St. Peter and St. Paul,
as we celebrate the unity of the Church throughout the world,
let us pray that we may always hold profess and live by
the teachings of Jesus Christ
passed down to us by his apostles and their successors,
especially the successors of St. Peter, our Popes.
And as we approach the 238th anniversary of the founding of our great nation,
let us pray that that America may remain true to the values of our founders,
including the God-given right to religious liberty.
And as we leave here today
let us strive as good and faithful Catholics
to be good and loyal Americans,
by working with all Americans of goodwill,
to protect our nation from those who would
deny the rights of “we the people” to govern ourselves
according the values that we hold most sacred.