August 25, 2013

Last week’s column about Holydays and Church law sparked some interesting discussions with parishioners, which, in turn, brought up some other related questions about Church law. So it occurred to me that it might be helpful to discuss some of these in my column. I hope this doesn’t come across as being legalistic. It just seems that a greater awareness of these norms that may affect you or your family will help you to live peacefully and happily with Christ, His Church and your fellow Catholics.

Ecclesiastic Law. Since the first century the Church has recognized the need to enact laws to govern the communal life of the Church and assist Catholics in applying the Divine Law (what God reveals in Scripture or Sacred Tradition) and Natural Law (what God reveals in nature) to their day to day lives. Different laws have different purposes: to provide good order, protect rights, clarify responsibilities, etc.. As such, while all Church (or “ecclesiastic”) laws are important and should not lightly be set aside, some are more critical than others. Using civil law as an example, you should almost always obey stop signs, but might not in a real emergency; but you may never commit murder.

The Precepts of the Church. Over the centuries certain laws have been widely recognized as the most critical of the ecclesiastic laws, and have come to be called the “Precepts of the Church,” or even the “Commandments of the Church.” Although they are not directly received from God they are meant to serve Divine and Natural Law. While traditionally listed as anywhere from 5 to 10 in number, no one official list has ever been definitively proclaimed by a particular pope or ecumenical council. Rather, each individual precept derives its authority from being historically widely and universally recognized by popes, bishops, councils, doctors, and great theologians as being of fundamental importance. As such, all Catholics have a grave responsibility to keep them.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (at 2042 and 2043) lists five:
–“The first precept…You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor…”
–“The second precept…You shall confess your sins at least once a year…” [This is understood to apply only if we are aware of that we have a mortal sin to confess.]
–“The third precept…You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season…”
–“The fourth precept…You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church…”
–“The fifth precept…You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church…”

Most historical lists also include the Sixth Precept: “To observe the laws of the Church concerning marriage.” Its omission from the CCC does not mean that it is no longer a precept or critically important. In fact, it is very surprising that it was omitted, given the decline in awareness of these ecclesiastic laws, and that ignoring them can invalidate a marriage and cause couples to find themselves in a mortally sinful lifestyle.

The Church’s Laws on Marriage. The Sixth Precept refers specifically to those ecclesiastic laws that govern how a Catholic goes about entering a valid Catholic marriage—i.e., a true marriage in the eyes of God. Considering how important marriage is—to God, to the Church and to couples in love—all Catholics should be aware of certain basic requirements of the law before they consider marriage, and should seek to comply with all the marriage laws when they become aware of them.

To help with this, let me give a brief list of some of the ecclesiastic laws on marriage all Catholics should be aware of. Note that some of these directly reflect Divine and/or Natural Law, and are therefore not “merely” Church law.

First, laws that effect the validity of a marriage (if these are not obeyed, the marriage is invalid):
–Catholics normally must be married in a Catholic ceremony before a Catholic priest or deacon; attempts to marry in any other sort of ceremony (e.g., before a justice of the peace, in a Protestant church, etc.), are usually not valid.
–A Catholic may not marry if either of the couple has been married before and not received an “annulment” from the Catholic Church. Note: non-Catholics do not have to be married by a Catholic priest, so we usually recognize the marriage of two non-Catholics before a justice of the peace, etc.. Note also: the Church will consider a petition for annulment even of a previous marriage between two non-Catholics.
–A Catholic wishing to marry a non-Catholic must make two promises (and inform his/her non-Catholic fiancé): 1) to do everything in his/her power to raise all the children from the marriage as Catholics, and 2) that this marriage will not lead him/her away from the Catholic faith.
–Couples must:
–accept and intend the three “goods of marriage”: 1) permanence (i.e., no divorce), 2) fidelity (faithful all throughout their marriage) and 3) procreation (open to the birth of children);
–give free consent to the marriage, without force or fear;
–have “sufficient use of reason,” not “suffer from a grave lack of discretionary judgment,” and/or be psychologically able to “assume the essential obligations of marriage”;
–not be impotent at the time of the marriage.
–There are also very specific rules regarding which priest may validly officiate at marriages.

(An invalid marriage can often be easily “remedied”: assuming no complicating factors (e.g., need for annulment of a previous marriage), after a period of preparation with a priest, the couple can be married in a simple Catholic ceremony.)

There are other important ecclesiastic laws that effect the liceity (legality) of the wedding. Disobeying these norms does not make the marriage invalid, but they still bind us, normally under pain of sin.
–Catholics normally must:
–be married in a Catholic church or chapel;
–be Confirmed before marriage, unless this can’t “be done without grave inconvenience”;
–go through a period (usually 6 months) of preparation and investigation before the marriage can take place;
–be married in the parish which they lawfully belong to;
–coordinate with and receive necessary permissions from their lawful pastor.

I hope this is helpful.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

June 30, 2013

Marriage and the Supreme Court. As I write this on Wednesday (due to bulletin deadlines) news of the Supreme Court of the United States’ (“SCOTUS”) 5-4 decision on “gay marriage” is being announced. Although there is still much to digest in this ruling, it seems clear that it is a split decision: SCOTUS has partially struck down and partially left intact the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”). Specifically, it has struck down the requirement that the federal government recognize only traditional male-female marriage in applying federal law, finding that the federal government is bound to abide by the definition of marriage as determined by the particular states. This means that the federal tax dollars paid by citizens of the 38 states that reject “gay marriage” will go to support the “gay marriages” from the 12 states that allow them. For example, your tax dollars will go to pay Social Security and military survivor’s benefits to “gay surviving spouses.”

It is important to note that the court stopped short of finding a federal constitutional right to “gay marriage,” so that it left intact that part of DOMA that allows the states to not be bound by other states’ laws allowing “gay marriages.” I suppose we should be grateful that SCOTUS restrained itself in this way, but this restraint seems to indicate only a temporary reprieve. Consider that Justice Kennedy, who wrote the opinion and was the swing vote, wrote that:

“…no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom [a particular state], by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity… treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others….”

This seems to say that the constitution prohibits the federal government from respecting “gay marriage” less than traditional (male-female) marriage, and that to do so unconstitutionally “injures” “gays.” While it wraps itself in a “states’ rights” argument, it strikes me that this type of logic sets the stage for lower federal courts to soon discover a right to “gay marriage” in the constitution.

[In a related case SCOTUS passed the buck on the California “Proposition 8” case. Based on a technicality it said it could not rule on the case itself and so left intact the U.S. District Court’s decision that rejected the California’s voter’s decision to ban “gay marriage.” Recall that the government of the State of California had decided not to appeal the District Court’s ruling. SCOTUS ruled that the citizens’ organization that had attempted to appeal the case lacked “standing” to appeal. The net effect is that in spite of the voters’ decision, “gay marriage” is permitted in California.]

It seems we’re fighting a rear guard action as we’re slowly being beaten back from the battle. But we must keep fighting the good fight, and praying for Divine intervention. Remember, the George Washington’s army waged war for years against an overwhelmingly superior force, sustaining multiple defeats and causalities with only a handful of victories, and suffered catastrophic mutinies and desertions. But in the end, by God’s providence, we prevailed.

Fortnight for Freedom. All this, of course, takes place during the Church’s “fortnight for freedom”—two weeks of prayer, sacrifice and action to defend our religious liberty. The issue of “gay marriage” is part of this struggle, especially as SCOTUS argues that to stand against “gay marriage” is “to disparage and injure” “gay” people. Even now faithful Catholics are viciously attacked by many in the “mainstream” of American life, calling us “hateful” and “intolerant” because our stand in support of traditional/natural marriage. How long before the courts or legislatures agree, and enshrine this and other rising examples of anti-Catholicism in our laws ?

Anti-Catholicism has always been around in America, but it’s been on a steady rise for the last 5 decades, and especially in last five years as Catholic values that had once been part of our truly common American values have been thrown aside, and their moral opposites installed by our government as now “sacred.”

This anti-Catholicism came to a head in January of last year as our President and his Secretary of Health and Human Services issued regulations (as part of Obamacare) that would force Catholic business owners, charitable organizations, schools, colleges and even, in many cases, the Catholic Church itself, to provide all their employees with health insurance that covers contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

But don’t be misled: this is not about political parties. In my homily last Sunday (available on our website) I went into detail discussing how in 1875 the Republican Party, controlling most of the federal government, tried to force Catholics to attend government-run public schools, where they could be indoctrinated with Protestant values and teachings. The party that was founded just 20 years earlier principally to fight the oppression of people of different races (slavery), went on to promote the oppression of people of different religions, i.e., Catholics.

Now, in 2012, the Democrat Party, controlling most of the federal government, is trying to force secular humanist values on Catholics. The party that not so long ago was the main party of faithful Catholics and which has lately been a champion of equal rights for all races, has now has become the champion of the oppression of faithful Catholics. But make no mistake—all too many Republics join them in this anti-Catholicism.

Through all this we find our would-be oppressors wrapping themselves in the flag, and calling for “unity.” But unity with what, and with whom? St. Paul tells us: “you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

For Catholics, when it comes down to following Christ, we can neither be Republican or Democrat, American or non-American. We should proudly waive the Stars and Stripes, but we must first truly “clothe” ourselves in the teaching of Christ and His Church.

Our bishops have called on us to defend our Religious Liberty at all times,
but especially during the ““Fortnight for Freedom,” these 2 weeks between June 21, the vigil of the Feast of St. Thomas More, and July 4, the day Americans declared war to defend our God-given liberties.

In each of these last days of the Fortnight please join me in defending liberty by daily: praying the “Prayer for Religious Freedom”; praying the Rosary; praying the Novena to St. Thomas More; and offering special penances/sacrifices (including abstaining from meat on Wednesday). Most especially I ask you to join me at the remaining evening Holy Hours this week (see below) and Mass on July the 4th.

As we begin this week celebrating American Freedom, let us stand up as Americans in word and deed against those who would take away our Religious Liberty, even as we kneel down as Catholics in prayer and adoration before the God who sets us truly free.

February 3, 2013

Last Week’s Bulletin. I apologize that we were not able to distribute the complete 6 page bulletin to you last week. I hope the single-sheet “abbreviated bulletin” we threw together was helpful, and I’m sorry if any group felt short changed if something they had running in the full bulletin was omitted. By now I hope you all received your copy of that full bulletin, mailed to each parish household courtesy of the bulletin company.

Lent Series. Lent is just around the corner and we will soon give you details about the Lenten schedule. But I wanted to announce early on that Fr. Paul Scalia (Bishop’s Delegate for Clergy) will be giving a Lenten series on five Thursday evenings, beginning Feb. 21. Father’s topic: “The Beatitudes.” Fr. Scalia is a bright and gifted speaker, and I am delighted he has agreed to speak. Please mark your calendar.

“Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.” As I wrote in last week’s column, St. Raymond’s will take part in the United States Bishops’ “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.” I hope you will be able to actively participate in all 5 parts:
1) Monthly Eucharistic Holy Hour on every last Wednesday of the Month, from 6pm to 7pm.
2) Daily Rosary.
3) Praying for life, marriage and religious liberty at every Mass, both privately and in every Sunday’s Prayer of the Faithful.
4) Meatless Fridays: abstaining from meat of any kind (other than fish) on all Fridays of the year.
5) Observing a Second Fortnight for Freedom in the two weeks before the Fourth of July, much as we did last summer.

BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA AND “GAYS.” Perhaps you’ve heard by now that after years of courageously fighting off efforts by gay activists the Boy Scouts of America is now considering repealing their national policy prohibiting membership by openly “gay” people (both at the scout and adult leader levels) and leaving it to the local chartering organizations (e.g., St. Raymond’s) to set policy for their particular troops. BSA’s statement reads in part:

Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.

The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.

This change in policy is greatly disappointing: another huge loss for common sense, morality, Christianity and America. And although the proposed BSA policy change would allow troops like the one at St. Raymond’s to determine its own policy in this regard, Scout troops do not operate in a vacuum, but rather in conjunction and cooperation with other troops locally, statewide and nationally. On a practical level that means, for example, that since not all troops would keep the ban in place, our own local/parish policy would be useless any time our boys took part in any of the many activities open to other troops.

But there is more to this than the “practical.” What does it say when a group dedicated to forming men to fulfill their “duty to God and country” and to be “morally straight” doesn’t understand one of the most basic concepts of morality and human nature? What does it say when a group for years strenuously fights the forces of immorality, and then one day simply capitulates? What does it say that we continue as members of this group?

Consider the words of Jesus: “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” First “gay” activists just wanted their basic rights protected, and we agreed because it was only just. Then they wanted special laws to protect them from hate, and since Christians are against hate, we agreed. But then they said that if we call what they do or feel a “disorder” or a “sin,” then we are the haters, and no organization can be tolerated that takes a position they deem to be “hateful” toward them. And now they demand that we call their perverted relationships by the sacred name of “marriage.”

The modus operandi is clear. If they win this victory at BSA, they will not stop there. Why should they? The next step will be to use this victory to attack the local chartering organizations, like the troop at St. Raymond’s.

Well, as for me, as pastor and the one responsible for the troop, who signs the charter agreement every year, if this change is made I will not let our parish be associated with this group or provide the opportunity for my spiritual children to be.

So if this policy change goes through, St. Raymond’s will severe its relationship with BSA. No more compromising with the devil.

Now, lets’ be clear: I very much want to keep Scouting at St. Raymond’s, and the change has not been made yet. But the BSA board meets this coming Tuesday to make a decision. So it’s not too late to do something , but we must act quickly. Please call the BSA at 972-580-2000 to tell them that this change must not be made. You might also contact them through their website, http://www.scouting.org/ContactUs.aspx. You can also contact The Catholic Committee on Scouting at NCCS@scouting.org.

But most of all, pray. Pray that God will spare this organization that has done so much for so many young men, to teach them to be dutifully serve God and country, and to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. And pray, through the intercession of St. George (patron of scouting) and St. Raymond, that we will be able to continue to offer our boys the benefits of scouting.

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles

January 27, 2013

Back from South Bend. As I wrote in my last column, I was out of town last weekend, officiating at a family wedding in South Bend, IN. It was a great weekend, not only because of the wedding, but also since I was able to visit with all my brothers and sisters and most of my nieces , nephews, grand-nephews and grand-nieces. But I have to apologize: it seems I brought the frigid cold weather back with me to NoVa. Sorry.

Fighting the Good Fight. This last week we witnessed 2 important events on the National Mall in Washington: on Monday it was the second inauguration of President Obama and on Friday it was the March for Life. It is a sad thing that these 2 events stand in opposition to each other, but they do, since the first involves the retaining of the most pro-abortion president in our nation’s history, and the second involved, necessarily, standing in opposition to that president.

But even though Christians may find themselves feeling discouraged at the inauguration of a this man who is not only strongly pro-abortion but also actively promotes contraception, “gay marriage,” and oppression of religious liberty, we should also take heart. First, we remember that every presidential inauguration also celebrates the peaceful passing of power according to the free election of the people. So that it refreshes our hope that the “game is not up,” and we redouble our efforts to win the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens, and look forward to seeing that bear fruit in future inaugurations. And second, with the gathering of hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers in the same location just 4 days after this inauguration we remember that we are not alone and are not defeated. Rather, with faith in Christ and in His grace, we begin again to “fight the good fight.”

“Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.” As part of this “good fight” I am inviting all St. Raymond parishioners to join me in taking part in the United States Bishops’ “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.” This initiative involves 5 parts:

1) Monthly Eucharistic Holy Hour: Every Last Wednesday of the Month we will have a Holy Hour from 6pm to 7pm, and offer special prayers for life, marriage and religious liberty. This will take place during the last hour of the currently regularly scheduled Wednesday Exposition and Adoration. The first “Holy Hour for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty” will take place this coming Wednesday, January 30, at 6pm.

2) Daily Rosary: All parishioners are asked to pray the Daily Rosary, either individually or as a family, for life, marriage and religious liberty.

3) Intentions at Mass: We will continue to include petitions for the protection of life, marriage and religious liberty in every Sunday’s Prayer of the Faithful, and I ask that those who attend weekday Mass keep these intentions in your prayers at those Masses.

4) Meatless Fridays: As I have often reminded you, the Lord taught his apostles that some terrible evils are conquered only through acts of penance: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29). With that in mind, and following the Bishops’ current initiative, I encourage all parishioners to abstain from meat of any kind (other than fish) on all Fridays of the year. (Of course, Catholics are required to do some form of penance every Friday of the year. Traditionally, the penance normally offered on Fridays is abstinence from meat, although most Catholics either replace it with another form of penance [which is permitted] or neglect to offer any penance at all [not permitted]. During Lent abstinence from meat is absolutely required on every Friday for all Catholics over 13 years of age. Note, however, except in Lent, failure to do Friday penance does not constitute a mortal sin).

5) This summer we will observe a Second Fortnight for Freedom in the 2 weeks before the Fourth of July, much as we did last summer.

These are just a few small things we can do to help keep up the good fight for life, marriage and religious liberty in our parish and our country. I add to this list my own continuing invitation to parishioners to join me in abstaining from meat and praying the Rosary (at least) every Wednesday as well. And while all these small efforts will be effective in their own way, they also serve as reminders that we must constantly look for new ways to promote and encourage others in the truth, always charitably, respectfully and peacefully.

Next Sunday, Blessing of the Throats. As most of you know, every year on February 3, the Feast of St. Blaise, the Church provides a special “Blessing of Throats.” This year February 3 falls on a Sunday, so the Feast of St. Blaise is suppressed, but the Blessing of Throats will still take place in abbreviated form. Because of the large number of people at Sunday Mass, rather than giving individual Blessings with the candles, the Blessing will be given once for all present at each Mass as part of the final blessing at all Sunday Masses.

A Note from Deacon Barnes. Our good seminarian-deacon asked me to publish the following note to you all. Let us keep him in our prayers.

I am extremely grateful and humbled by everyone at St. Raymond’s for their prayers and support over these past six years as I near the completion of my formation for the priesthood. In particular, as some of you may know, I received the very generous and gracious offer from the parish to buy my first Mass vestment. Fr. De Celles has been so kind to me and has assisted me greatly in this process. A first Mass vestment is very special and important. You will see me use it when I, please God, celebrate my first Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Raymond’s on June 9. Celebrating Mass for the first time is something deeply treasured by anyone preparing for the priesthood, and it is made all the more special by this gift. Now that the vestment is finished and paid for, I wanted to express how thankful I am that the parish would do this for me. It is a stunningly beautiful vestment but more than that, it will be a great and undeserved honor to wear it and to pray with and for you as a priest of Jesus Christ. I will always think of all of you whenever I will use it. My hope is that my first Mass will also be an occasion which inspires more young men and women from our parish to answer the Lord’s tremendous call to serve Him and His Church as a priest or as a consecrated religious. Your generous support will certainly play a significant role in that regard. May God Bless you and thank you so much, Deacon Nicholas Barnes.

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

October 21, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

You know, one of the great consolations of being a priest here at St. Raymond’s
is the kindness of our parishioners.
But sometimes people, even very kind people, complain about what I do.
And I understand that and I try not to let it bother me,
because first of all I know I screw up,
and second, well, I know that you can’t please all the people all the time.
Besides, I’m a big boy, I can handle,
especially when criticisms are presented with charity.

Sometimes, though, it can be a little frustrating.
Especially when I get comments that go in exactly the opposite directions.
For example, a few weeks ago I got a number of notes from parishioners
telling me my homily was absolutely beautiful and powerful,
well organized, clear, methodical and moving.
And the same day I got a couple of notes from other parishioners telling me
it was the worst homily they’d ever heard, it was hurtful, rambling, and cold;
and that I should be ashamed of myself.

What do you do with that?
Sometimes it kind of reminds me of today’s Gospel,
where John and James come up to Jesus and say:
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

Even so, lately the number of complaints
about my homilies have gone up noticeably.
And even though the number of compliments have also gone way up,
way more than the number of complaints,
I still feel I need to consider the concerns at the core
of some of the complaints.

In particular, that I’m preaching too much about politics,
and that I use language that is too direct and too passionate.
And that I seem to be “telling people how to vote.”

Let me begin by saying, in everything a priest does
he should take to heart what Jesus says to his apostles today:
“whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;…
For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.”
We are not to “lord” our authority over our people, but to humbly serve them.

But the thing is, notice what Jesus says to John and James today:
“to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
His Father had already decided who would sit where in the Kingdom,
so even though Jesus came to serve us, beginning with his apostles,
he came to serve His Father first—to be obedient to his Father’s plan.

Also, remember what John and James call Jesus.
Before they tell him what they want him to do for them, they first call him: ,
“Teacher.”
Jesus is a servant, who serves by teaching.
How well does a teacher serve his students, if he tells them just what they hear.
So, Jesus serves by teaching them what they need to hear,
what his Father wants them to hear.

So, as a priest, that’s my job: to serve you by teaching;
to teach not what you want to hear,
or what I want you to hear,
but what Jesus and his Father want you to hear.

Now lately some have been upset that I’m preaching too much about politics.
But I’m not really preaching about politics.
I’ve been preaching about Christ’s teaching, the Church’s teaching,
and calling attention to the obvious conflicts
between the world and that teaching.
Some say, but Father, what about the wall of separation of Church and state?
But should the Church be silent when the state makes immoral laws,
or when candidates are in favor of immoral laws?
Good lord, how many times has the church been criticized for remaining silent
and letting immoral laws stand unquestioned?

For example…
In the year 1839 Pope Gregory XVI issued a document called “In Supremo,”
reiterating the Church’s ancient teaching against slavery,
specifically reproaching those who:
“dare to …reduce to slavery
Indians, Blacks or other such peoples….
as if they were not humans but rather mere animals.”

Unfortunately, some Catholics, in particular, some American bishops and priests
—especially Southern bishops and priests—
tried to argue that the doctrine didn’t apply to American slavery,
because somehow it was “different.”
It seems they got caught up in the prevailing attitude of the culture around them
and were influenced more by what their people wanted them to say,
than what Christ and the Church demanded that they say,
and so either twisted papal teaching into something it was not,
or simply chose to remain silent.

This, of course, led the laity to be confused about the morality of slavery.
And that confusion led to a terrible social disaster just a few years later,
when in 1857, a supposedly “devout Catholic” named Roger Taney,
writing as the fifth Chief Justice of the United States,
wrote the opinion in the Supreme Court case known as “Dred Scott,”
upholding the institution of slavery in the America.

This is what happens when bishops and priests
fail to clearly point out laws that are evil in the sight of Christ.
And so slavery continued, and 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War,
and millions of Black Americans suffered racial oppression
for a 100 years after that.
And while their parishioners may have been happy in their pews,
we are ashamed of the failures of those southern priests and bishops.

But when priests and bishop speak up,
and serve their people by teach the truth,
even when people get tired of hearing it,
wonderful things can happen.
Almost exactly a century after the Dred Scott case, in 1956,
an American Catholic bishop served his people
by stubbornly repeating the teaching of the Church,
and even in the face of the mockery and violence,
even by his own people,
refused to conform himself to public sentiment,
refused to accept some artificial line between Church and state
that would defend the racial segregation of the deep South.
His name was Francis Rummel, the Archbishop of New Orleans,
and what he did was desegregate the Catholic schools of his archdiocese. And when large groups of Catholic lay people continued to try to block his efforts,
after ample warning, he excommunicated their leaders.

Imagine if the American Catholic bishops of the mid-1800’s
had been as courageous as Archbishop Rummel:
if they had stood united against slavery,
banging the drum of justice over and over again
so their people would finally listen, and understand. Maybe the Dred Scott case would have been decided the same way.
But maybe it would have been without Catholic Justice Roger Taney’s help.

Now, some say if the Catholic bishops and priests in the South
had actively opposed slavery they would been both marginalized
and actively persecuted.
Maybe.
Some say all southern Catholics would’ve been persecuted,
or that southerners would have left the Catholic Church in droves.
Maybe.

But then again, isn’t that what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel
when he asks: “Can you drink the cup that I drink”?
He’s talking about the same cup he talks about in the garden of Gethsemane:
“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;
nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
The cup of suffering, the cup of the Cross, the cup of his blood poured out.
“For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Acceptance of suffering is part of being a Christian.

Of course slavery is behind us, but unfortunately,
many Catholics now accept an even greater social evil.
Because while it’s horrible to take away an innocent person’s freedom,
it is clearly even worse to take away an innocent person’s life.
And so we face the abomination of the 21st century: abortion.

Yet the popes in our time have taught very clearly on this as well:
the Church has constantly and infallibly condemned abortion
as a grave evil—a mortal sin.
As Pope John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae, in 1995:
“by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors
….I declare that direct abortion
… always constitutes a grave moral disorder,
since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.”

Fortunately, virtually all the American bishops, and most priests,
see this very clearly.
Maybe they don’t all always speak up about it as they might.
Still, one wonders if they imitated Archbishop Rummel,
acting a bit more forcefully,
not worried about pleasing their people
but about serving their people by teaching them the truth,
one wonders if there wouldn’t be less confusion among Catholics
about abortion today.
One wonders if Catholics wouldn’t abandon any party or candidate
who publically supported the killing of innocent human beings by abortion,
just as (today) they would surely abandon any party or candidate
who publicly supported the oppression of innocent human beings
by slavery or unjust discrimination.

But this not just about abortion.
The pope has reminded us, time and again that we must defend,
both the right to life
and traditional marriage (one man/one woman),
and that these are, in his words, “not negotiable.”
And it’s also about religious freedom, especially here in America.
As the pope reminded American Catholics just last January:
“It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States
come to realize the grave threats
to the Church’s public moral witness…
The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated…
Of particular concern are …attempts …to limit
that most cherished of American freedoms,
the freedom of religion.”

And so the bishops and priests cannot, will not, be silent
about these 3 non-negotiables: life, marriage and religious liberty.
Even if it means a little suffering.
If I suffer from a few harsh complaints
or feeling I’ve let you down by being a poor preacher.
Or if you suffer through a homily that makes you feel uncomfortable or bored.
Or even if the Church suffers the loss of parishioners
who refuse to drink from the cup of Christ’s suffering
and instead to go to a church that will make they feel good.
What matters is that we are servants of God,
and learn from God how to rightly serve each other.

All this is not about politics.
And it’s not about telling you how to vote.
It’s about the truth and the teaching of Christ and his Church.
About learning from the terrible mistakes of the past
in order not to repeat those mistakes today.
It’s about warning you against those who embrace intrinsic evils
that will destroy America.
It’s about being a servant of Jesus Christ,
even when it’s difficult, even when it means drinking of the cup of suffering.