TEXT: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 2, 2023

July 2, 2023 Father De Celles Homily

The 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 2, 2023

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

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 with our loyalty to America.

After all, just 160 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 over a billion 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 disciplinary matters.

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 1700s, 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.

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,

         bending 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,

         and say:

         “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

         was a loyal Catholic (if imperfect) and was also a loyal American.

But he shouldn’t have had to do that.

There is no opposition between being a faithful Catholic and a 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

         on 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….”

…[R]eason 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 obedience 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 of 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 when the Supreme Court said abortion is okay,

         many Catholic Americans thought 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. 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 themthrough

public discourse, debate, 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 unjust 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 fifty 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, from both elected and 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.

Thanks be to God, there are many promising signs

that the Founders’ great and inspired gift to us, of the US Constitution,

may, by God’s grace, once again be allowed to protect our rights

as the very words of that Constitutions guarantee.

Consider the Supreme Court’s huge decisions in the last week

that boldly go against the tide of the woke and leftist culture

to defend our constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty:

protecting a Christian business from state coercion

to cooperate with a “gay wedding”,

and defending a Christian postal worker

from being forced to work on the Sabbath.


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 247th 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 to 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.