Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass for Persecuted Christians
Beginning of the Fortnight for Freedom
June 21, 2014
2 Chron 24:17-25, Ps 89, Mt 6:24-34
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Jesus in the Gospel today tells us the simple truth that “no one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.” We can only have one God. We can only have one supreme desire or aspiration. Once we determine that, then everything else becomes relative to that absolute.
- This is something that tyrants have always grasped. In today’s first reading, we see such a tyrant. King Joash — who had started out as a really faithful son of David and had eliminated the worship of Ba’al throughout the kingdom of Judah — to ingratiate himself with the princes of Judah allowed at the end of his reign for the worship of the pagan sex fertility goddess Asherah — Ba’al’s consort — to be installed on the temple mount and he, with the Judean princes, and the people who followed them “forsook the temple of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and began to serve the sacred poles and the idols.” They wouldn’t listen to any of the prophets sent by the Lord to convert them or listen to any of their warnings about what would happen to them if they continued to serve a sex goddess rather than the Lord. Eventually Zechariah the prophet, the son of Jehoiada the priest who had been King Joash’s loyal helper, spoke up against the crowd for their abandoning the Lord. He was calling them to remember that they were to serve the Lord not the whims of the king or the debauched royal classes. And the leaders conspired against him to kill him. Chronicles tells us, “At the king’s order they stoned him to death in the court of the Lord’s temple.” They couldn’t tolerate anyone reminding them of their duties to God and they killed him in a place of worship. We see afterward that, weakened by their idolatry, none of the sex-crazed leaders and people could resist the invading Arameans, who with very few men wiped out Judah and Joash himself was killed.
- We’ve seen a similar type of behavior from other tyrants and tyrannical governments over the years. We saw it with the Nazis and the Communists. They couldn’t stand that people wouldn’t be loyal to the Reich or the Party and massacred millions who sought to obey a God whom followers said was condemning their evil. We saw it in England during the reign of King Henry VIII (1530s), when the saints whose deaths the Church commemorates tomorrow — Saints Thomas More and John Fisher — were imprisoned and then killed for refusing to swear an oath calling on God as their witness that Henry’s marriage to his second wife Anne Boleyn while his first wife Catherine of Aragon was alive was valid and that offspring would be legitimate heirs of the throne. Because they refused to assent to the King’s will as their master, even though they had served him faithfully up until Henry began to serve his own modern Asherah in Anne — just like Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had faithfully served King Joash — King Henry had them killed. One can’t serve two masters, he knew, and if someone were really going to serve the Lord then he needed to be eliminated. As St. Thomas More was about to be beheaded, he said that he was dying “the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” The best civil servants are always those who serve God first and who bring their virtues, their salt, light and leaven to the wider community. But Henry couldn’t take that someone would say that the Lord’s glory, kingdom and will be done rather than the king’s.
- We see the same thing happening today in our country and beyond with regard to those who won’t serve the gods pushed by their political leaders. That’s why today, united with Catholics across the country and led by our bishops, we are commencing the Fortnight for Freedom, a two-week period of intense prayer, fasting and public witness of the importance of religious freedom. In the past two years we have pondered the various ways in which believers’ freedom of conscience is being trampled by some state legislatures and in particular by the federal Affordable Care Act and the ways it is being implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services, coercing believers immorally to cooperate in other’s evil by forcing them to pay for others’ chemical abortions, contraception and sterilizations. No conscience exemptions are given in many places, for example, to those who want to serve others in the medical field but who don’t want to participate in abortion or prescribe drugs that cause evil. In order to serve others, believers are being told, they need to serve the masters of the government rather than serve God in conscience. To be more specific, believers are being told they must serve the new Asherah of the sexual revolution — with its push for sex without meaning or consequences, the redefinition of marriage and abortion on demand — or they’ll have to pay crippling fines, need to get out of business or lines of work, and eventually will need to suffer criminal penalties for the so-called “hate” that those who are pushing this agenda think is the only motivation behind Christian belief.
- This year the US Bishops have asked us all to focus on the “freedom to serve” others according to our consciences, the freedom to love others without having to violate our love for God. Can we help arrange adoptions without being compelled to violate our consciences and give children to situations that we don’t believe are consistent with their welfare? Can we serve sex trafficking victims without having to facilitate their abortions? Can Catholic hospitals serve the indigent poor free of charge without offering sterilizations? Can we feed the hungry without paying for free condoms and pills for everyone? The situation as it is seems like it’s about to worsen. Just yesterday, four Archbishops who chair important committees for the US Bishops’ Conference issued a statement expressing their “great concern” and calling the attention of citizens to news that President Obama is planning to issue an executive order banning discrimination against lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons by federal contractors. There’s no clarity on how “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are defined nor any word as to whether there will be any religious freedom protections. But what’s at stake is that Catholic agencies will not be able to receive a penny of our tax dollars to continue the work of charity we do so well as a public service. For example, the Diocese of Fall River’s Catholic Social Services Agency receives millions of dollars a year to implement programs for the homeless, senior citizens, and the hungry. The reason why this happens is because the federal government can’t do everything itself and so often implements its programs to get people the care they need by working through religious and charitable groups. But if this executive order happens, for example, Catholic Charities wouldn’t be able to say that the receptionist at their headquarters can’t be a cross dresser, or the president of the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” group that mocks Church teaching, or an out-of-the-closet gay who thinks Catholic teaching on sexuality is ridiculous. Now some might argue that the Church shouldn’t receive any tax dollars for anything, but that’s not really the issue about what’s at stake here. In order to try to prevent discrimination against those in the LGBT caucus, the executive order will be patently discriminating against any agency that wants to follow Christian teaching with regard to human sexuality and avoid setting a scandalous example — this despite religious freedom protections in the first Amendment.
- Yesterday, Pope Francis spoke in the Vatican to an International Congress on Religious Liberty. His words were very powerful. They refer not only to our situation here but to the far more drastic situation of the dearth of religious liberty in various places of the world, especially in communist, fundamentalist Muslim and aggressively secular situations. We should listen attentively to what Pope Francis said.
- “The debate about religious liberty has become very intense,” he began with understatement. “Reason recognizes in religious liberty a fundamental right of man that reflects his lofty dignity, that of being able to seek the truth and adhere to it, and it recognizes in it an indispensable condition to be able to display all his potential.” Are we as human beings free to follow our conscience, seek the truth and live the truth, or not? If we’re not, Pope Francis is saying, then we’re not capable of living according to our dignity.
- “Religious liberty,” he went on to say, “is not only that of thought or private worship. It is freedom to live according to ethical principles consequent upon the truth found, be it privately or publicly.” In both domestic policy and foreign policy, since 2009, the Obama Administration has been pushing a notion of religious liberty that is reduced simply to what we do in our Churches on Sunday, or Synagogues on Saturday, or Mosques on Friday. They think religious liberty means that we get to sing the hymns we want, or the readings or the preachers. What they don’t want to admit, both at home or abroad, is that religious belief should impact our behavior. Hillary Clinton was very clear in a 2009 talk at Georgetown that the reason to restrict religious freedom in this way is clear the path for people to “love” whoever they choose. In other words, in order to push a gay agenda, we need to restrict religious freedom, because we can’t both serve the God of revelation and the god of the sexual revolution. But Pope Francis is right. Religious freedom, that which was enshrined by our founding fathers in the bill of rights, involves the freedom to live according to the moral principles of the truth.
- The Holy Father went on to say, “This is a great challenge in the globalized world, where weak thought — which is like a sickness — also lowers the general ethical level, and in the name of a false concept of tolerance ends up by persecuting those who defend the truth about man and the ethical consequences.” This “weak thought” includes, along with nihilism, an intellectual and moral relativism, that doesn’t believe there are any absolutes. What happens, Pope Francis says, is that it begins with a push for “tolerance” but then ends in intolerance and persecution for those who don’t go beyond tolerance to the acceptance and approval of what was first asked to be tolerated. We’re seeing that now with the gay rights movement. At first, believers were asked simply to tolerate their difference. But now we’re in a circumstance where, for example, if you run a bakery and don’t want to make with two gay guys marrying, you can be sued and run out of business; where if you’re a successful CEO of Mozilla and gave $1,000 six years ago to defend marriage as the institution of one man and one woman for life in a California ballot referendum, you can now be pressured out of your job.
- “Therefore, the juridical, state and international regulations are called to recognize, guarantee and protect religious liberty, which is intrinsically inherent right to human nature, to its dignity of being free, and is also an indicator of a healthy democracy and one of the principal sources of the legitimacy of the State,” Pope Francis insists. Our democracy is health to the event that it recognizes, guarantees and protects religious liberty, and on that basis we can see that our own democratic republic is ill. “It is incomprehensible and worrying,” Pope Francis exclaims, “that, up to today, discriminations and restrictions of rights remain by the sole fact of belonging or professing publicly a determined faith. It is unacceptable that, in fact, real and proper persecutions subsist for reason of religious membership!”
- Pope Francis then said something that he’s said on many other occasions that many Catholics and media professionals haven’t adequately picked up on. “It is for me a reason for great sorrow to see that Christians in the world endure the greatest number of such discriminations. The persecution against Christians today is in fact stronger than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs than at that time. This is happening more than 1700 years after the Edict of Constantine, which granted freedom to Christians to profess their faith publicly.” Christians are persecuted now more than any other group, more than gays, more than lesbians, more than Muslims, more than women, more than blacks, but this isn’t getting anywhere near the attention it deserves. Right now in the Sudan there is a woman whose father was a Muslim but mother was a Christian, who was raised Christian and married a Christian, who is on death row because the Muslim fundamentalists are claiming that she apostatized from her Muslim identity by marrying a Christian. She’s in jail on death row nursing her baby and, despite pressure from Amnesty International and other humanitarian groups, is still slated to be killed once her baby is weaned. Churches are being bombed during liturgies in Kenya by the Boko Haram. Whole Christian villages are being wiped out in Syria and now in Iraq. If this were happening to gays, or to Jews, or even to spotted owls, we would likely be bombarded with press coverage, but since Christianophobia is the last acceptable prejudice, we hear little about this and it continues. Pope Francis is trying to help raise the attention not only of Catholics but of all people of good will to this phenomenon. More Christians died for their faith in the last century than in all 19 previous centuries combined.
- During this Fortnight, the US Bishops are asking us to pray — thank you for coming this morning! — to fast and to get involved as citizens in educating our neighbors and in working to promote and defend religious freedom. They want us to grape that in a democracy, we ultimately get the leaders we deserve. The sad truth is that we Catholics have put in office those who are now using the office to discriminate against us and our beliefs. We pray and fast for their conversion but these days are also meant to remind us of the importance of living by our faith so that we will always have the freedom to serve. It’s a chance for us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” to become more and more “God’s servant first” so that we can become better servants of the true good of our country.
- Jesus in the second half of today’s Gospel promised us that God the Father would always provide for us what we really need with regard to food, drink, clothing and housing. He’ll also give us all the resources we need to serve Him first even in an increasingly hostile environment. We may have to suffer for the truth like Zechariah, or Thomas More, or Jesus Christ himself, but that suffering might be the most effective way to help our society learn and convert. So we trust in him and in his providence as we commit ourselves to living in and spreading his kingdom, confident that even if we should need to imitate the martyrs, God not only will help us but bring us to share their eternal reward and glory.
- “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” As we prepare to receive Jesus Christ at this Mass, we ask him to strengthen us always to seek him and his holiness rather than the Asherah and horniness of our day, and help us boldly to show the path to reform, lest what happened to King Joash and the Judeans happen to President Obama and our nation.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
2 CHR 24:17-15
the princes of Judah came and paid homage to King Joash,
and the king then listened to them.
They forsook the temple of the LORD, the God of their fathers,
and began to serve the sacred poles and the idols;
and because of this crime of theirs,
wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem.
Although prophets were sent to them to convert them to the LORD,
the people would not listen to their warnings.
Then the Spirit of God possessed Zechariah,
son of Jehoiada the priest.
He took his stand above the people and said to them:
“God says, ‘Why are you transgressing the LORD’s commands,
so that you cannot prosper?
Because you have abandoned the LORD, he has abandoned you.’”
But they conspired against him,
and at the king’s order they stoned him to death
in the court of the LORD’s temple.
Thus King Joash was unmindful of the devotion shown him
by Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, and slew his son.
And as Zechariah was dying, he said, “May the LORD see and avenge.”At the turn of the year a force of Arameans came up against Joash.
They invaded Judah and Jerusalem,
did away with all the princes of the people,
and sent all their spoil to the king of Damascus.
Though the Aramean force came with few men,
the LORD surrendered a very large force into their power,
because Judah had abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers.
So punishment was meted out to Joash.
After the Arameans had departed from him,
leaving him in grievous suffering,
his servants conspired against him
because of the murder of the son of Jehoiada the priest.
He was buried in the City of David,
but not in the tombs of the kings.
PS 89:4-5, 29-30, 31-32, 33-34
“I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations.”
R. For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him,
and my covenant with him stands firm.
I will make his posterity endure forever
and his throne as the days of heaven.”
R. For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“If his sons forsake my law
and walk not according to my ordinances,
If they violate my statutes
and keep not my commands.”
R. For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“I will punish their crime with a rod
and their guilt with stripes.
Yet my mercy I will not take from him,
nor will I belie my faithfulness.”
R. For ever I will maintain my love for my servant.
“No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”