TEXT: 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 25, 2017

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 25, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“…do not be afraid of those who kill the body …;

rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy

                   both soul and body in Hell.”

Our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel seem extremely pertinent today

as we continue to observe the “Fortnight for Religious Freedom”

—the fourteen days of prayer, fasting and reflecting

on the meaning of and current threats to

Religious Liberty in our nation.

 

These 14 days end on July 4, Independence Day,

but they began on June 21 the Vigil of the Feast of St. Thomas More.

St. Thomas is, of course, the primary patron of our Diocese of Arlington,

but he is also, in so many ways,

an excellent patron of the cause of Religious Liberty,

as we recall his last words before his beheading:

“I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

 

Although he lived in 15th and 16th centuries,

Thomas More was, in so many ways, very much like many of us

—in so many ways an ordinary man.

Like many among us today, he was a husband, a father, a worker, a friend,

a patriot, and a Catholic layman.

But in doing all those ordinary things, he did them in extraordinary ways.

 

As a husband, he loved his wife dearly, was attentive to her, teased her,

shared ideas with her, and was affectionate with her.

In so many ways, like an ordinary husband today.

But in an age when wives were often not respected as they should be,

Thomas was noted for the great respect he gave his Alice,

and his efforts to further her education.

 

And he was an ordinary father of five children.

He loved his children very much, spent a lot of time with them,

and provided for their needs, education, and Catholic formation.

But while his peers often spent time seeking favor at the royal court,

or entertaining themselves with the amusements of the rich,

Thomas would rush off to be with his children every evening he could.

And he not only had them educated, he carefully chose their instructors,

and often personally supervised their lessons,

pressing them to learn all they could, the best they could.

So much so that one of his daughters, Margaret,

went on to be a noted scholar and theologian

—almost unheard of in a woman of the 16th century.

 

And he was a friend: he loved to laugh, and joke and entertain guests

like an ordinary guy.

But as a friend, he wasn’t simply liked, he was loved a cherished by his friends

for his extraordinary kindness, generosity, humor, counsel and loyalty.

 

And at work, he worked hard every day like an ordinary father.

But in his work as a lawyer, he was extraordinarily brilliant.

More than that, he was particularly famous for

being exceedingly wise, fair, just and honest.

 

And he was a patriot: like most people in this room,

he served and deeply loved his country.

But his extraordinary gifts led him to rise above others

in the service of his country,

first to become a judge and a member of Parliament,

and then a councilor to the king, and then, finally Chancellor of England,

second only to the King himself in authority.

 

And he was a Catholic: like almost all of us her today,

he went to Mass and confession, said his prayers, did penance,

and tried to live according to the teachings of the Church.

But he went to Mass not only every Sunday, but every day of the week he could.

And he prayed not only every day, but for hours every day,

often in the private chapel he built on his property.

And he not only did the little penances like not eating meat on Fridays,

but he wore an irritating hair shirt under his clothes every day,

and even occasionally whipped himself for his sins.

And he not only knew the faith,

but became one of the great theologians of his day.

But more than all that, even as he rose to power,

he was known by all of England

as an extraordinarily charitable and holy man.

 

An ordinary man, living an ordinary life, but in extraordinary ways.

As an extraordinary man, he loved and believed in and knew about

Jesus and the Catholic Church,

with an intensity and clarity that all of us would stand in awe of.

But as an ordinary man, like you and me,

he never sought to be or saw himself as a martyr:

he had no desire whatsoever to die for his faith

As he told his wife, Alice, once, pointing to himself with a laugh:

“this is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.”

 

And so he avidly avoided martyrdom—just like most of us would probably do.

For years he boldly and publicly, though carefully and prudently,

worked to save King Henry VIII from stepping off the cliff of heresy and schism,

and taking England with him.

But when the King and Parliament passed laws sealing that fate,

he quietly resigned from office and retired altogether from public life.

 

Again, like most of us if we were in his situation,

he wanted to live freely, he had no desire to be imprisoned or beheaded.

But Thomas was no coward:

[he was cautious of threats, but took to heart Jesus’ command: “Fear no one.”]

 

Rather, he wanted to live, because he thought that was God’s will:

God gave him his life,

and he had given him the extraordinary cleverness,

to preserve that life,

and so he felt a strong duty to do so.

 

And not primarily for himself.

Remember he was an ordinary husband and father,

so like any good husband and father

he wanted to live to take care of his family.

And like the good Catholic he was,

he wanted to live to continue to bear witness to his faith.

And like a good patriot and good friend,

he wanted to live to fight another day:

he never gave up on trying to change the hearts

of his friends at Court and in Parliament, especially King Henry.

 

Just like most good Catholics, Thomas loved Jesus and His Church.

but had no burning desire to die for His faith.

But, he knew that if he was called to, he must be willing to be a martyr.

 

I wonder if you and I could be like him—extraordinary Catholic that he was—

and so graciously and willingly accept martyrdom

when it that or abandoning his faith.

How many of us could go to the gallows saying:

“I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

 

_____

With all that, St. Thomas More was truly a martyr for Religious Liberty.

Now, let me be clear.

More was not an advocate for religious plurality in England.

He was no a promoter of what modern Americans now call “religious freedom.”

But he lived in a much different world,

a world in which virtually everyone was Christian,

and in which “Christianity” had, for 15 centuries, meant “Catholicism”;

and so, where being a loyal Englishman meant being a faithful Catholic.

So that when anyone lived or taught something contrary to the Catholic faith

it was a huge shock to everyone,

and those who became known as first Protestants

were initially considered as renouncing Christianity itself.

Heresy meant disunity and rebellion against the social order and justice,

and treason against the King and England.

 

But when all that collapsed, things changed.

The Protestants in England were no longer traitors

as they manipulated King Henry’s sinful weaknesses,

to seize control of the government.

 

But in the end, while the whole idea of “Catholic England” was being set aside,

King Henry really didn’t care too much about Protestantism

—he just wanted to free himself of the Catholic prohibition

against divorce and remarriage.

So that it was the King and Parliament–the English government itself—

that took away St. Thomas’ liberty,

impoverishing him, imprisoning him, and eventually beheading him.

 

This is not the end that the ordinary man, Thomas More, sought.

But in the end, he could not bend to the will of the Government

and [remembering Christ’s words,

“whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father”,]

the extraordinary Catholic, Thomas More,

embraced his martyrdom as the only way

to be true to Christ, and to himself.

 

_____

And so, this ordinary man becomes an extraordinary model for us

in defending Religious Liberty:

peacefully, but with passion and conviction;

charitably, but with clarity and boldness;

hopefully, but with prudence and resignation;

                    reasonably, but with unbending faith in Christ, the Church

and the Truth.

Enjoying the good things in life that God gives us,

but willing to lose it all—family, friends, wealth, prestige, power, respect—

for the sake of our love for Jesus,

the God who gave us all those good things in the first place.

 

For these reasons, St. Thomas is a model and patron of Religious Liberty.

But those aren’t the only reasons.

He’s also a model of Religious Liberty

in that his life teaches us how to make good use of that liberty:

what good is religious liberty if we don’t exercise that liberty

by faithful living out our religion in daily lives?

What’s the use of being free to be a Catholic

if we constantly compromise our Catholic faith,

either by sinning

or by simply conforming to the norms of the prevalent culture?

 

When Thomas confronted the changing culture in the 16th century,

he refused to compromise with its teachings and values.

So, that when one of his dearest friends begged him to

“come with us, for fellowship?”,

Thomas could only respond:

“And when we die,

and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience,

and I am sent to hell for not doing mine,

will you come with me [to hell], for fellowship?”

 

Yet how many times do we compromise—for fellowship sake?

For over 200 years, Catholics in America, especially newly arrived immigrants,

have too often compromised with the prevalent culture, just to fit in.

The thing is, we can be good Americans without compromising our Catholicism

as long as we don’t confuse being a good American

with embracing the values or priorities of the popular culture.

Especially today, as the dominant culture around us

is more and more secularist and atheist,

rejecting all sorts of basic Christian values.

 

But we cannot compromise living our faith.

Rather, like St. Thomas, we must follow his example of Catholic living,

placing Christ and His Catholic Church right at the center of our lives.

And living out their teachings with your spouses, children, friends, coworkers

and fellow countrymen.

Keeping the commandments, in their fullness

as Christ explained them and as the Church has applied them.

Loving God above all things, and loving our neighbor—even our enemy

—as Christ himself loved us,

even by dying for us on the Cross.

Giving our lives totally and completely to Christ every day.

 

In short, enjoy and appreciate the blessings of America, but do so as a Catholic.

Otherwise, what’s the point of our religious liberty?

 

_____

Today Our Lord warns us:

“…do not be afraid of those who kill the body …;

rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy

both soul and body in Hell.”

In the course of our ordinary lives, it’s so easy and seemingly natural

to fear death or even the loss of the daily comforts of the good things in life.

It is the lot of ordinary men.

But God had called us all to live our ordinary lives in extraordinary ways,

by the power of His grace, and with our fellowship with the saints.

 

As we now move more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass,

and we are joined by the presence of all the saints and angels of heaven,

at the foot of the Cross of Christ made present to us in the Holy Eucharist,

let us accept the Grace of this Blessed Sacrament

to imitate our great Patron, St. Thomas More,

and live our ordinary lives with extraordinary dedication to Christ.

And through the power of Christ’s sacrifice

let us pray that our nation will once again protect religious liberty,

and that all Americans may come to know, love and follow Jesus Christ,

and live and die,

“the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

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