Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
June 24, 2012

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.
It’s a very unusual feast.
Usually when a saint’s feast day falls on a Sunday
we basically skip over it to celebrate the regular Sunday Mass
—the Lord’s Day.
Also, there are only 3 nativities—or birthdays—we celebrate:
Christmas, Mary’s Birthday, and this one.
Very unusual.
But we do this because St. John is a truly unique figure in salvation history.
He is the last of the Old Testament prophets
and the first of the New Testament
—a sign of the fulfillment of the promises to Israel in Christ and His Church.

And he’s also the first public disciple of Christ,
and so a model of Christian discipleship,
reminding us that every Christian is called
to proclaim Christ and his Gospel
to the world we live in,
even, if it means martyrdom,
as it did with St. John.

Given that, it seems extremely providential that this year
his feast falls on the first Sunday of the Fortnight for Freedom
—the 14 days from June 21 to July 4th,
that the American Bishops have asked us to set aside
as a period of concerted prayer and penance
for the defense of the Religious Liberty.
Of course this is in response to the Obama Administration’s regulations
requiring all employers, including Catholics,
to provide their employees with insurance covering
contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing-drugs,
even though this runs absolutely contrary
to 2000 years of Catholic moral teaching.
In short, they’re trying to force us to commit a mortal sin.

This is almost unprecedented in the history of our nation,
which was founded on the principle that:
“that all men are …endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
and who’s Constitution goes on to specify
the most important of these rights,
in its Bill of Rights, in order to guarantee them.

And the very first right it specifically guaranties is Religious liberty.
The very first words of the very first amendment say:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

For 221 years the definition of “the free exercise of religion”
have been given a very broad definition,
and whenever anyone tried to narrow that definition
either the congress, the courts or the president
eventually stepped in to slap it down.
But never has a president tried to so widely and overtly
try to narrow the definition to such an extreme extent as this.

In effect, the president’s regulations say that the term “religion”
only includes institutions of religion.
—in effect saying, individuals don’t have a freedom of religion,
except to the extent they belong and act inside of
an institution of religion.
So for example, when a Catholic priest speaks about his faith to non-Catholics,
according to the president, he is not practicing his religion.
Or when a group of Catholics form an organization to serve the poor,
regardless of what religion the poor belong to,
that is not practicing our Catholic religion.
Or when a group of Catholic individuals form a college, like Notre Dame,
and open the doors to people of all faiths,
that is not practicing their Catholic faith.
Or when a Catholic business man tries to run his business
consistent with his Catholic values,
like charity, honesty, and solidarity with the poor,
that has nothing to do with practicing his religion.

What?
Did Jesus say, “when I was a hungry Catholic, you gave me to eat”?
Or “When you did it to the least of my Catholic brothers, you did it to me?”

Some point out that the president later gave what he called an “accommodation.”
First of all, shouldn’t we “honor” the most basic human right
—not merely “accommodate” it?
But more importantly, the accommodation provided that
Catholic institutions wouldn’t have to pay for this coverage,
instead insurance companies would cover it for free.
How stupid do we look?
There is no such thing as a free lunch
—everyone knows insurance companies will pass the cost on to the Church.
But even if it were free,
the Church would still be forced to provide this immoral benefit
to its employees.
If the insurance company gave us free poisonous Kool-Aid
would that make it okay for us to hand it to our people and say,
“here, drink the Kool-Aid”?

And besides, most dioceses are self-insured
—they are the insurance company,
and so they will pay for it.
And what about actual Catholic insurance companies
—like the Knights of Columbus: are they supposed to pay for this?
And finally, it still doesn’t apply
to independent organizations
like Catholic universities or Catholic Charities,
or to individual Catholic-owned businesses.

And so the U.S. Bishops rightly responded with bold defiance:
“we cannot, we will not, obey this unjust law.”

But besides redefining religious liberty,
the president and his supporters are attempting
to demoted “religious liberty” to sort of a 2nd class liberty.
To them, even though religious liberty has been specifically listed
as the first right in the Constitution for over 220 years
they believe that it is easily trumped by a very recently invented liberty,
found nowhere in the actual words of the constitution
and not even in the craziest of dreams of the founders,
but only in the imaginary penumbras and emanations of lawyers
over the last 50 years.
It usually goes by various nice sounding names,
like “the right to privacy” or “the right to choose.”
But ultimately, the underlying liberty being pursued
is simply “sexual liberty”:
—the freedom do whatever, however, whenever you want.
In the end, the so-called rights to contracept and abort flow from this,
as do the so-called rights to homosexual activity and “gay marriage.”

2000 years ago huge crowds came out to listen to John the Baptist preach:
the gospels tell us that,
“[all of] Jerusalem and all Judea
and all the region about the Jordan”
went out to hear him.
One of the people who, as scripture says, “liked to listen to him,”
was King Herod.
But eventually St. John crossed the line with Herod
when he publically outted Herod for committing adultery
with his own brother’s wife, Herodias
And so, Herod beheaded St. John.

Even 2000 years ago, sexual liberty trumped religious liberty.

Something similar happened in the 16th century,
with another king and another saint.
The king was Henry VIII of England,
who had also gotten caught up in sexual libertinism
and wanted to divorce his wife in order to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.
And the saint was St. Thomas More,
whose feast we celebrated 2 days ago on Friday.
Thomas, a layman, was known throughout Europe
as one of the most brilliant of scholars, and greatest lawyers.
Like John the Baptist, he was also very popular:
people used to love to read his books,
or to come to listen to his arguments in court or Parliament.
And like Herod, King Henry also liked to listen to him
—in fact, he made Thomas one his most trusted counselors,
eventually appointing him Chancellor of England
—second only in power to the King Himself.
But then Thomas got in the way of Henry’s sexual freedom,
opposing his divorce and adultery,
not to mention his oppression of the Church when it refused the divorce.

And now we have the same problem with President Obama.
Oh, I know it’s not his own personal problem,
but it is his adamantly held position
that sexual liberty trumps everything.
Look at his support of gay rights,
including gays in the military, and now so-called gay marriage.
And his ultra-extreme positions on abortion,
including his barbaric support for partial birth abortion.
And now his all-or-nothing approach
to contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.

None of this bodes well for Catholicism and Christianity in America.
Defenders of the president have already raised the false alarm
that the bishops are leading a “war on women,”
Combine this with years of accusations that the Church “hates” homosexuals,
and we see a frightening pattern.
If religious liberty is overridden by absolute sexual liberty,
and if Christians can be portrayed as truly at war and hateful,
they’ll have every excuse they need to pursue even further oppression
of Christians, especially faithful Catholics.

And remember, after the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom
it immediately goes on to guarantee
freedom of speech, the press, and to peacefully assemble.
If sexual liberty can override the first liberty of the first amendment,
how long will it take for it to override the rest?
And then how far off is the day when Catholic priests
won’t be able to preach, even inside our own churches,
that adultery, fornication, contraception, abortion and sodomy
are mortal sins?
And how soon before Catholic parents won’t be able to say the same thing
to their own children in their own homes?
How soon before close your churches, arrest your priests,
or take your children from your homes because you’re not fit to be parents.

They’re already trying to do this in other western countries.
Earlier this month the Canadian Province of Ontario
passed a law forcing all Catholic Schools to have clubs
to support openly gay students.
And government officials, including the Premier, are threatening
to penalizing teachers and administrators
if they say anything in these clubs that is negative toward homosexuality.

It can’t happen here, right?
Tell that to Californians who voted back in 2008 to prohibit “gay marriage.”
only to have their vote thrown out by U.S. District Judge,
who wrote in his decision:
“Religious beliefs that gay…relationships are sinful …
harm gays and lesbians.”

If that’s how the courts see things, and if sexual liberty trumps religious liberty,
wouldn’t the next logical step be to do something
to stop Churches from hurting gay people?

We must defend our religious liberty.
And not just the freedom to serve fellow Catholics,
or to worship as we choose
but the freedom to feed the hungry and educate the ignorant,
to proclaim the Gospel,
and to reject sin, coercion, lies and injustice.

We must fight the good fight.
Some of us will fight like St. John the Baptist,
with fiery words and bold public chastisements.
Some will fight like St. Thomas More,
with persuasive reason and logic.
.
But all of us must fight.

Not a war against women, or against sexual libertines,
but against religious oppression, and false notions of liberty.
And not with violence or hate, but with reason and love,
even for our enemies.
The only swords we will wield are the swords of truth and the Word of God,
and our most important weapon will be simple but constant prayer.

Today we celebrate a unique feast of a unique saint, John the Baptist.
As we ponder his unique place in the history of salvation,
let’s also recall something else unique about him:
his birth was announced by an angel to two different people.
The first announcement was to his father Zechariah,
the second was to the Blessed Virgin, Mary.
And to Mary he said,
“in her old age [Elizabeth has] conceived a son;
…her who was called barren.
For nothing is impossible with God.”

As we go forward today in our defense of religious liberty,
inspired by the example of St. John and St. Thomas,
let us keep these words in mind.
Let us trust that the Lord will allow no one to most rob us
of the most basic right he alone has given us:
the freedom to love and follow him in faith,
the precious divine gift of religious liberty.
Let be charitable, let us be courageous, let us be faithful, let us be determined,
knowing that “Nothing is impossible with God.”

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