Last night, St. Paul Catholic Church in Tampa was almost full with those who came out to the Fortnight for Freedom Mass. I thank those who came and everyone who has been praying for the protection of our religious liberty.
I’ve included the text of my homily below. The video taken of my homily is also below if you would rather watch than read. You can read a PDF copy of my homily by clicking here.
There are a few photos from the Mass included after the text of my homily below. You can see more photos from the Mass by clicking here.
Brothers and Sisters,
An often overlooked call to prayer, which in older times was called the Introit and since the Second Vatican Council called the “Entrance Antiphon,” tonight introduces the liturgy and this homily with these words: “These are the ones who, living in the flesh, planted the Church with their blood; they drank the chalice of the Lord and became the friends of God.”
Peter and Paul, far from perfect men as we know so well, rose with courage to plant the seeds of faith in the early Church and then sprinkled it with the blood of martyrdom. Peter, imprisoned in tonight’s first reading, by the same King Herod who out of sheer jealousy had ordered the slaying of countless Holy Innocents and John the Baptist, finds himself in chains. From the depth of his faith in Jesus Christ, Peter would not allow his voice to be silenced by an agent of the state.
Paul, time after time thrown in jail, tortured and beaten, simply because those in power, civic or religious, could not and would not brook a challenge to the established order, the introduction of a new way of life focused on a Jew crucified as a too-often purveyor of a message of love in a culture of doubt, suspicion. Or put another way, an advocate of a new faith rooted in a new covenant between God and humankind. Paul’s comfort in his final days on earth, before his beheading (a manner of death experienced sixteen centuries later in England and visited upon St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More who parted company with their king over their Church’s view of the indissolubility of marriage) was found in that in running the race, at least in later life he had fought the good fight.
I chose this evening to call us to prayer at a moment when a dark cloud hangs over the future exercise of freedom of religion in our beloved country. The climate and culture of this moment in human history creates a welcoming environment for an attack on religion. Slowly but surely, this nation, founded as “one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all,” which we pledge alliance to, is becoming more and more Godless. How sad! Without God there can be little hope that is true and lasting hope. In his final days in Rome, Paul was not surrounded by a clamoring crowd yelling, “tell us more, tell us more.” Rather, he might have looked upon his efforts as singularly unsuccessful. But, listen to his words of confidence before his death: “I have kept the faith. From now on, the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” Now there is a man of hope.
Likewise, the clumsy, impetuous and sometimes even imprudent Peter never gives up hope in God and in Jesus Christ. One can take on the prevailing opinion when one is personally comfortable that in so doing we are following in the footsteps and riding the shoulders of those who have gone before like Peter, Paul, John, Thomas, and the Baptist, all of whose feasts we have observed during this fortnight.
As a more modern example, the Carroll brothers of Maryland – one a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the other the first bishop on this soil. Fighting in the revolution for the freedom we til this time have enjoyed, Bishop John Carroll often found himself defending to his superiors the American experiment of democracy and true freedom of religion. He and the other Catholics of the colonies found the first amendment to the Constitution to offer solid, sustainable hope for the future. Countless other bishops and laity over the succeeding years rose to defend the American ideals because of the hope which they had in their new land and its leaders. Even a less than zealous man of faith like Jefferson of Virginia argued strenuously for true free exercise of religious liberty because it was not just one of the basic pillars of this new land, but its first privilege, its first right.
Tonight I seek your support in prayer to God who is both the source of our hope and inspiration to see what is at stake at this moment. Carroll, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, and Lincoln would and could never have envisioned the federal government defining what is a religious exercise and what is not. They fought and many spilled their blood for the contrary. Left to stand, the language of regulation of a single department of the executive branch of government would define Tampa Catholic High School, Jesuit High School, the Academy of the Holy Names, Saint Joseph and Saint Anthony Hospital, Catholic Charities and our homes for those with HIV-AIDS and Pinellas Hope (to name but a few) as not Catholic ministry because more than ten percent of the staff and the recipients of the education, healing ministry, homeless shelter are not Catholic. I repeat the line of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, “we do not assist people because they are Catholic, but precisely because we are Catholic.” They can’t regulate our freedom to be who we are and destroy our very Catholic DNA which derives from the two great commandments, love of our God and love our neighbor. It is the Gospel which defines who we are, not a single agency of our government.
What we are praying for tonight and throughout these days in our parishes and homes is simply this: let us define our mission, our purpose, our purview, free of outside influence while in harmony with the foundational ideals of our great nation and we will continue to be those in our neighborhoods who teach our children to be good citizens, who reach out to those who have either fallen through the safety net of previously government responsibility or who have no access to the safety net, who heal those sick and dying, who care for widows and orphans, who fight alongside others for freedom when called for, and fight for peace always.
Brothers and sisters, failure to uphold our freedom of faith and liberty of practice is not an option even if the general culture of our society sinks into a religion of secularism. Others may chose other paths, but we pray that this great nation will allow us to continue to walk the road less travelled by if that should become the case. Catholics love this country, have spilt their blood for this country, and have risen to serve others in this county and tonight we pray for the continued ability to live free as Catholic Americans.
Finally, it may well be a long walk to reinforce religious freedom. But it was a long walk for Peter and Paul. One could and did say “I have competed well; I have finished the race.” The other could and did say Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod. . .” On this feast day, let us all be women and men of the Church and become at this moment in history to be the ones living in the flesh” seeking and working for the same freedom of religious liberty purchased some 237 years ago at the price of our ancestors’ blood. We shall not go quietly into this dark night.