Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
June 24, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
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.
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 Sunday of Religious Freedom Week
—the week from June 22 to June 29,
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.
We are in an unprecedented moment in the history of our nation,
which was founded on the principle:
“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:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
For 229 years the definition of “the free exercise of religion”
has been interpreted very broadly,
and whenever anyone tried to narrow that definition
either the congress, the courts or the president
eventually stepped in to slap it down.
But in recent years the federal and state governments,
have tried to narrow the definition to extreme extents.
Take as an example the case of the Colorado Baker
who refused to make a wedding cake for a so-called “same sex marriage,” on the grounds that it was contrary to his Christian faith.
The State of Colorado found him guilty of illegal discrimination,
and ruled that the so-called “gay rights” of the same-sex couple
were more important than the Baker’s religious beliefs.
Thank goodness the Supreme Court just overturned the state’s ruling,
but it did so on a very narrow finding that the State
had exercised a specific bias against the religious beliefs of the Baker.
In other words, the Supreme Court didn’t insist,
as the constitution does, that you,
“shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise …” of “religion”’.
Instead, they just said, ‘the state can’t show a bias against religion,’
as they clearly did when they, the Colorado officials, had said things like,
“freedom of religion has been used
to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history,
whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust.”
But that means that the Court left open the question
of whether the “right to gay-marry” can outweigh the freedom of religion.
Even so, a win is a win.
But it also means we still have a fight on our hands going forward.
Thank goodness we now have a president, love him or hate him,
who is trying to defend our religious liberty,
appointing a strong pro-religious liberty Justice to the Supreme Court,
and overturning the prior president’s anti-religious liberty policies,
especially in health insurance and education.
But a lot of folks out there,
including many congressmen, judges and state and school board members,
continue to try to demote “religious liberty” to sort of a 2nd class liberty.
Even though 229 years ago our founders
refused to approve our Constitution unless it specifically guaranteed
the fundament right to religious liberty,
these government officials today believe that it is easily overridden
by a very recently invented liberty,
not found even in the craziest of nightmares of the founders.
This newly minted liberty usually goes by various nice sounding names,
like “the right to privacy” or “to choose.”
But ultimately, the underlying liberty being pursued
is simply “sexual liberty”:
—the right do whatever, you want,
however, whenever and with whomever you want.
In the end, the so-called rights to contraception, abortion, and “gay marriage”
flow from this.
Rights which our founding fathers would have called not “liberty” but “libertinism,”
which they unanimously condemned.
2000 years ago huge crowds came out to listen to John the Baptist preach.
One of the people who scripture says, “liked to listen to him,” was King Herod.
But eventually St. John offended Herod when he publicly accused him of adultery.
And so, Herod beheaded St. John.
Even 2000 years ago, sexual libertinism overrode 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.
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, Thomas was one his most trusted friends and counselors.
But then Thomas got in the way of Henry’s sexual liberty,
opposing his divorce and adultery,
and then his oppression of the Church when it refused the divorce.
And now we have the same problem with so many government officials today.
But this time it’s not the personal problems of individual officials,
but it is their adamantly held position
that sexual liberty overrides everything else.
From states trying to force Christian florists and bakers
to participate in gay weddings,
to school boards deciding that clergy are no longer “trusted adults”
that children should talk to about their sexuality.
And don’t forget how Obamacare threatened to stop the Little Sister of the Poor
from taking care of our poor senior citizens
if they refused to pay for employee insurances providing for
contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.
None of this bodes well for Catholicism and Christianity in America.
Combine this with years of accusations that the Church “demeans women”
and “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 demeaning and hateful,
they’ll have every excuse they need to pursue even further oppression
of Christians, especially faithful Catholics.
And remember, right after the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom
it immediately goes on to guarantee
freedom of speech, the press, and peaceful assembly.
If sexual liberty can override the first liberty of the first amendment,
that means it will soon override those liberties as well.
And then how far off is the day when priests
won’t have the freedom to speak about Catholic morality,
even inside our own churches?
And how soon before Catholic parents will lose the freedom
to speak about it to their own children in their own homes?
How soon before governments close your churches, arrest your priests,
or take your children from your homes because you’re not fit to be parents.
It can’t happen here, right?
Tell that to the Supreme Court who in 2015 wrote that
the reason states had outlawed same sex “marriage was, [quote]:
“to disparage and to injure” homosexuals.
If the Court sees opposition to “same sex marriage” as an attempt to “injure,”
and if sexual liberty overrides religious liberty,
wouldn’t the next logical step be to do something
to stop Churches from “injuring” homosexuals?
We must defend and fight for our religious liberty.
And the fight is winnable.
Yes, St. John the Baptist and St. Thomas More were beheaded,
but sometimes a we find a happier outcome.
In the year 1293 the 93-year-old St. Raymond of Peñafort
was invited by King James I of Spain to join him on a trip to Majorca,
an island off the coast of Spain that the King had recently recaptured
from the Moors, or Muslims.
Like Herod and St. John,
King James liked to listen to St. Raymond preach,
and like Henry VIII and St. Thomas,
King James was actually a pretty good Catholic
and a close friend of St. Raymond.
But there was a problem: like King Herod and King Henry,
sometimes King James let his sexual appetite get the best of him.
And when St. Raymond arrived in Majorca to preach
he discovered that King James had brought his mistress along.
The Saint begged and pleaded and exhorted the King
to repent and send her away, but the King refused.
So in response, Raymond announced he was leaving Majorca
and going back to Spain immediately.
The problem was, they were on and island,
and the King threatened to jail anyone who allowed Raymond board a ship.
But Raymond was undaunted: he simply walked down to the beach,
said a prayer,
took off the large Dominican cape,
stepped on one end and held the other end out to catch the wind.
And off he went out across the water, sailing 160 miles back to Spain
using his cape as both his skiff and his sail.
And hundreds of eyewitnesses testified to the fact—both in Majorca and Spain.
And the king repented, sent his girlfriend away and went back to his wife.
Sometimes we seem to win, sometimes we seem to lose.
Sometimes we make a convert, sometimes WE are made a martyr.
But all of us must fight for religious liberty.
Not a war against persons,
but a war 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, St. Thomas, and St. Raymond,
let us keep these words in mind.
Let us trust that the Lord will allow no one to most rob us
of one of the most basic rights He alone has given us:
the freedom to 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.”