27 June 2015

Homily - 28 June 2015

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,
Friday’s not unexpected decision of the Supreme Court Obergefell vs. Hodges stands as a stark reminder of why the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops chose the “Freedom to Bear Witness” as the theme for this year’s Fortnight for Freedom. In response to this decision which attempts to redefine the essential characteristics of marriage, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said,

Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.

The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the “integral ecology” that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children. The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home.

Jesus Christ, with great love, taught unambiguously that from the beginning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. As Catholic bishops, we follow our Lord and will continue to teach and to act according to this truth.[1]

Every moment of every day, our thoughts and our deeds demonstrate whom it is that we follow.

As those who bear the noble name of Christian, we claim to follow Christ Jesus, but would someone looking at our lives be able to know this? Would someone see in my actions the same yearning to draw close to Jesus, the same longing to experience his power, as we see in the woman afflicted with hemorrhages (see Mark 5:25-27)? Would someone reading my thoughts find the same confident trust in Jesus as we see in Jairus (see Mark 5:22-23)? At the end of the day, would someone see me with the majority of the crowd who once pressed in upon Jesus, but now stand apart from him, mocking and taunting him in rejection of his clear teachings, or would they find me gathered close to him? The manner in which we received Friday’s Supreme Court decision demonstrates whom it is that we follow. We cannot forget the words of Jesus himself that “he who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30).

Even Justice Kennedy, who wrote the opinion of the Court on behalf of the simple majority, acknowledged that this decision does not, as Archbishop Kurtz said, settle the question of marriage. Indeed, Justice Kennedy, after explaining the rationale of the decision, gave an important reminder that will likely receive very little consideration in the press or in society as a whole. He said:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.[2]

This statement of the Supreme Court notwithstanding, we can surely expect those who rejoice in the decision of Obergefell vs. Hodges to attempt to silence us whenever we speak of the truth of marriage as created by God as a means for one man and one woman to grow in holiness together. Just as many seek to use the Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade to silence our voices when we speak of the beauty and dignity of life, many will likewise seek to use this decision to silence our voices when we speak of the beauty and dignity of marriage and of the high calling a husband and wife receive from God to reflect his love to the world.

Indeed, we have already experienced such a move to silence us not too long ago. When the so-called Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act was being considered, we were assured it would in no way, shape, or form affect foster care and adoptions. Yet within six months of the bill being signed into law, the state of Illinois forced Catholic Charities out of foster care and adoption services. The next assault against the freedom of religion – the freedom to live out one’s faith in every aspect of life – will likely fall upon our schools because we cannot teach that so-called same-sex marriages are the same as marriages that adhere to the will of God. This will simply not be tolerated by those who oppose the Gospel.

What, then, are we to do? First, we must remember this advice of Saint Paul: “Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (II Timothy 2:23-24). Second, we must proclaim the Gospel in its fullness and invite everyone to embrace it in full, beginning even with ourselves.

The voice of the Church, and of her members, cannot be silenced. We cannot allow ourselves to be pushed out of the public square and relegated only to our homes and church buildings. We have received the Great Commission from the Lord Jesus to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew  28:19). We cannot shy away from this command.

What, then, should our response be when others attempt to silence our voices, our voices raised only in genuine love and the desire for the true and lasting good of all? We must, as Saint Paul instructs us today, know and excel in “the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (II Corinthians 8:9). Through these poetic words, the Apostle alludes to the Incarnation by which the only Son of God abandoned the glory of heaven, taking our frail humanity upon himself, to suffer and die for us. His is the most gracious act there ever was and no act can ever be more gracious. Even so, we, as those who claim to follow him, as those who bear his name, must strive to make all of our actions resemble this supreme act of grace.

Jesus gave everything he had because “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living” (Wisdom 1:13). As he ministered among us, he healed the sick and raised the dead to foreshadow the fruits of his own death on the Cross through which he destroyed the power of death and opened for us the way to life, to life without end! So it is that we can rightly sing, “O Lord, you brought me up from the netherworld; you preserved me from among those going down into the pit” (Psalm 30:3).

This life is promised us in Baptism, but we can reject this gift through a life lived in grave sin. The Church wants no one to lose this life and so calls everyone to follow Christ in fidelity, using his own words to do so: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

The Church insists on having the freedom to bear witness to the truth because of her desire – a desire that comes first from Christ - that no one remain in death but that everyone hear the invitation to life unending. The truth, we know, is not a thing to be studied but a person to be known, loved, and followed; the truth is Jesus Christ – who is also the way and the life – and no one can go to the Father except through him (see John 14:6). The Church desires to help everyone draw near to Christ to experience the power of his healing touch, but she can only do so if she is free to bear witness to the truth.

The founding fathers of these United States of America sought to protect this liberty of the Church and of her members in the first amendment to the Constitution. The “free exercise of religion” is our first and most cherished liberty, yet it is increasingly under attack on a great many fronts today. The Bishops have called us to this Fortnight for Freedom to study the growing infringements on religious liberty, to advocate for the protection of the freedom of religion, and to implore the Lord that this most cherished liberty will be maintained and strengthened.

The Holy Father Pope Francis has called us to a renewed evangelical zeal, to a deeper commitment to follow Christ faithfully in all things:

We must not be afraid of being Christian and living as Christians! We must have this courage to go and proclaim the Risen Christ, for he is our peace; he made peace with his love, with his forgiveness, with his blood and with his mercy.[3]

Let us take up the call of Pope Francis to imitate the gracious act of Christ, to imitate his act calls all people from darkness to light. Let us, with humility and love, help others to draw close to Christ, to reach out and touch his hand, so that they might be saved from death. Let us strive to bring others with us on the way of Christ, the only way that leads to true and lasting happiness, joy, and peace. Amen.

[1] Statement of Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, June 26, 2015. Accessed June 26, 2015. Available at http://www.usccb.org/news/2015/15-103.cfm.
[2] Obergefell vs. Hodges, IV.
[3] Pope Francis, Regina Caeli Address, 7 April 2013.

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