The Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (B)
Dear brothers and sisters,
On April 23, 1886, Cardinal Simeoni said to then Deacon Augustus Tolton: “America has been called the most enlightened nation on earth. We will see if it deserves that honor. If the United States has never before seen a black priest, it must see one now.” The next morning Deacon Tolton was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ and sent back to his home here in Quincy.
The most enlightened nation on earth? I wonder, what did Father Gus think of that phrase? Born in slavery, he only became free after his mother made a harrowing escape with her three children when Gus was seven. Does an enlightened nation enslave people simply on the basis of the color of their skin?
When he enrolled at St. Boniface school in Quincy, many of the parents of the white children threatened to withdraw their children; young Gus – then ten years old – was the first black student there and withdrew himself. Does an enlightened nation discriminate against others because of the color of their skin? When he later enrolled in St. Peter school – at the insistence of the pastor, Gus found that, “As long as I was in that school, I was safe. Everyone was kind to me.”
Here, perhaps, we see something of an enlightened nation, but then we remember why Father Tolton left Quincy: the jealousy of Father Weiss, who told the first black priest in these United States that he could only minister to blacks and not to whites. Even so, writing to Cardinal Gibbons, Father Tolton wrote, “The white people in this little Gem City of Quincy, Ills are really good hearted charitable and nonprejudicial, no feelings of bitterness at all against a man on account of complexion.” Following his death in 1897 and, in keeping with his wishes, Father Tolton was buried here in Quincy where his body remains today.
History will judge whether or not the America of Father Tolton’s day was indeed an enlightened nation, but I wonder: Will history judge the America of our day to be enlightened?
Is a nation that would require people of faith to violate their consciences and provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs an enlightened nation? The recent federal mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services requires precisely this, in clear contradiction of our first amendment right of the free exercise of religion.
Is a nation that makes it illegal for a priest to baptize an illegal immigrant or even hear his confession an enlightened nation? Such a law was been passed in Alabama last year.
Is a nation that seeks to alter the very structure and organization of the Church and to determine who is and who is not a “religious minister” an enlightened nation? Such a restructuring was attempted in Connecticut in 2009.
Is a nation that tells student religious groups that people of a different faith must be able to be leaders of their religious groups an enlightened nation? This happened at the University Of California Hastings College Of Law in 2009 and at Vanderbilt University this year.
Is a nation that forces Catholic Charities out of foster care and adoptions simply because their faith tells them they cannot place children with same-sex or unmarried couples an enlightened nation? This happened this year in Illinois, in the District of Columbia in 2010, and in Boston and in San Francisco in 2006.
Is a nation that refuses to allow Christians to use public buildings but allows other groups to use the same buildings an enlightened nation? This happens routinely in New York City and elsewhere.
Is a nation that refuses contracts to the best organization helping with human trafficking because it will not provide abortions and contraception an enlightened nation? The federal government this year refused to renew contracts with the U.S. Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services for this very reason.
Is a nation that kills more than one million babies each year in their mother’s wombs an enlightened nation? Blessed Teresa of Calcutta shed light on the horror of abortion when she reminded us that “It is a poverty that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”
Is a nation that thinks more about its economic standing than even the right to life when deciding its future an enlightened nation? I dare say it is not. What good is a robust economy if few people may enjoy it?
Our Bishop wrote to us last week, saying, “you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.” Many people have reacted strongly against the Bishop’s reminder, but the truth of his words remains.
Thinking ourselves more enlightened than our ancestors, we like to think that either Hell does not exist or that no one will go there. The teaching of Jesus today stands starkly against such a notion. “It is better for you to enter into life maimed,” he says, “than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43). Those who make their way to Hell do so by their own choice, by their free rejection of Jesus Christ and the truth of his Gospel. Just as the Lord does not force us to be with him in this life, neither will he force anyone to be with him in eternity.
Those who make their way to eternal life, to heaven, to the presence of God, are those know that “the law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul,” that “the decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple” (Psalm 19:8, 10).
In their recent document highlighting the increasing threats against our religious freedom, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, our Bishops said:
As bishops we seek to bring the light of the Gospel to our public life, but the work of politics is properly that of committed and courageous lay Catholics. We exhort them to be both engaged and articulate in insisting that as Catholics and as Americans we do not have to choose between the two.
Society today is telling us that the most important issues of the upcoming election are jobs and the economy; this is simply not true. The most important issues of the upcoming election are the right to life and religious liberty. Without life, no other right matters. Without religious freedom, every other freedom will be taken away. “What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society – or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it.”
On the day of our Baptism, each of us was entrusted with the light of Christ and was told to keep it burning brightly. Each of us must bring this light to the public square so that the warmth of the Light of Word and the truth of his words may bring light to a world and a society darkened by sin.
Some will undoubtedly say, “Father, you’re crossing the line of separation of Church and State.” Such is not the case for what we are discussing is not a matter of Church and State but of faith and politics. “This ought not to be a partisan issue. The Constitution is not for Democrats or Republicans or Independents. It is for all of us.” We must remember that we are neither Republicans or Democrats or Independents; we are Catholics. No political party fully supports the truth of the Gospel or the mandate Jesus Christ has given us, though some parties are in greater alignment with it than others.
Faith requires something of us. It requires that we love both God and neighbor and that every decision we make, every word we speak, and every action we perform, be in keeping with the love of God and of neighbor, even in the voting booth. Faith can never be laid aside, for we are servants of the Lord at all times and in every place. If we remember this and live accordingly, America will truly be an enlightened nation.
In speaking these words some will praise me and others condemn me, but I speak these for neither praise nor condemnation; I speak them because they are true. I know that “the precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart” and I want you and every person to know this, as well (Psalm 19:9). Because these words are true I must speak them, for at the end of my life I want to say to the Divine Master, with honesty and sincerity, “I am an unprofitable servant; I have done what I was obliged to do” (cf. Luke 17:10). Amen.
 Roy Bauer, They Called Him Father Gus: The Life and Times of Augustine Tolton, First Black Priest in the U.S.A., Part Eight.
 Augustus Tolton, Letter to Cardinal Gibbons, July 24, 1888.
 Thomas John Paprocki, “Think and pray about your vote in upcoming election,” Catholic Times, September 23, 2012.
 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty, 9.
 Ibid., 4-5.
 Ibid., 10.