13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 2, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
This Tuesday is the 4th of July, when we Americans celebrate
our independence from Great Britain in 1776.
But really, we celebrate much more than this:
we celebrate the birth of our nation,
a nation that was, as Abraham Lincoln once famously said,
“conceived in Liberty.”
Liberty—it is a glorious thing.
And since its founding “America” has been a brightly shining light of “liberty”
and rightly so.
But, if we’re honest with ourselves,
even the most patriotic Americans have to admit
that our defense and practice of true liberty
has not always been what it should have been.
We can think of scores of examples of this failure.
Of course, perhaps what first comes to mind is the terrible enslavement
for over four score and seven years of so many Black Americans:
there was no liberty there.
But most people forget another abuse of liberty
that has reared its ugly head all too often in our nation’s history,
from our nation’s founding to today:
that is, the abuse of the religious liberty, especially against Catholics.
It wasn’t so long ago that many Protestants in America questioned whether
the loyalty of Catholics to 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 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 because they were Catholic.
So much so that political movements like the “Know Nothings”
rose up to try to oppress Catholics,
and laws like the so-called “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 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.
In his defense, 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 necessary and 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….”
…Reason 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
–not blind obedience, and never to obviously objectively unjust laws.
But still, we must be, generally, law abiding.
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 or culture
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 a President says it’s time to approve so-called “same-sex-marriage,”
many Catholic Americans go along.
But it cannot be that way.
As Jesus warns us in today’s Gospel:
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.”
If we’re supposed to love Jesus more than we love our parents,
certainly we’re supposed to love Jesus
more than we love our country’s government,
and certainly we must love Jesus
more than the immoral or unjust values of the rising culture.
Even if that means we have to take up the suffering of the cross
as we face persecution or oppression.
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 trying to impose those values on others,
but freely proposing them through
public discourse, debate and democratic elections,
and even codified in law when freely accepted
by the majority of our fellow Americans.
And when I say, “think like Catholics”, I don’t mean that all Catholics have to
have the same policy solution to every problem,
or agree in every judgment we make.
But as Catholics every moral choice we make
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
–that is a fundamental Catholic doctrine and principle
we must accept.
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
–that would deny a fundamental Catholic doctrine.
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 never 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 here we are today.
By coercion, especially through regulations and court orders issued
by unelected government officials
—officials We the People did not choose to represent us—
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 by a judge
to make a cake for a so-called “gay wedding” or lose his business;
to the Little Sister of the Poor who federal bureaucrats threatened
with millions of dollars in fines if they didn’t provide insurance
for the abortion-inducing drugs and contraception
of their employees;
to the unelected Supreme Court justices who in the case called “Obergefell”
first overturned laws protecting traditional marriage,
–laws passed U.S. senators and congressmen
who were elected by the We the people–
and then scolded those elected representatives of the People
because, their “purpose” was, [quote]
“to disparage and to injure” homosexuals.
How ironic, that the unelected justice who wrote the opinion
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.
As we now prepare to receive our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist,
the Sacrament of Unity and Communion with Christ, and so with each other,
let us pray that we may always hold, profess and live by
the teachings of Jesus Christ
passed down to us by His Catholic Church.
And as we approach the 241st anniversary of the founding of our great nation,
let us pray 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 resolve to always love Christ more than anything else,
and then 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.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.”
Praised be Jesus Christ….
God bless America. Amen.