Summary: The fortnight for religious freedom is a time to get back to basics and understand our history, our worship, and our mission to the world
June 24, 2013
Today we celebrate, with a solemnity, one of the three critical birthdays recognized by the Church. These nativities are those of Jesus–of course–the Blessed Virgin Mary, and now St. John the Baptist. I’ve noted in other homilies that the birth of Jesus is placed by the Church at the winter solstice, and the birth of John at the summer solstice. Remember that it was John who said, to paraphrase, “Christ must increase; I must decrease.” After the winter solstice, in the northern hemisphere where Christianity arose, the days get longer; after the Baptist’s feast, the days get shorter. In the liturgical year, we live out in our time the historical redemptive mysteries of John and Mary and Jesus. Christ must increase; we must decrease.
This year, it is particularly appropriate to articulate that truth. We are in the fourth day of the bishops’ “fortnight of freedom,” when we pray for the protection of conscience and religious liberty. On Saturday we celebrated the martyrdom of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, who defended the Gospel truth and the unity of the Church from the tyrant Henry VIII. Today, we celebrate the birth of John, who not only pointed out the Messiah, Jesus, but died defending the sanctity of marriage from the tyrant Herod Antipas. Later this week we remember St. Irenaeus, who was murdered by a tyrannical Roman government because he would not bow down to Caesar and other so-called “gods.” And next weekend we commemorate St Peter and St Paul, founders of the Church of Rome, who died at the hands of the madman Nero after leading the expansion of the Holy Church throughout the Roman world. The purpose of this two weeks of prayer is to defend our religious liberty, natural marriage and the rights of conscience from the greatest onslaught in American history. We pray that the names of nominal Catholics Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sibelius will not be added to the list of anti-religious tyrants like Nero and Henry VIII. We pray for their conversion, and, indeed, for the members of the Supreme Court who are being asked to perform the supreme arrogance–redefining marriage to include sexual abuse.
We are indebted to the Fathers of the Council, as they considered the renewal of our liturgy, that they began at the beginning with the story of our salvation. They wrote: “God who ‘wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4), ‘who in many and various ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets’ (Heb. 1:1), when the fullness of time had come sent His Son, the Word made flesh, anointed by the Holy Spirit, to preach the the gospel to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart, to be a ‘bodily and spiritual medicine’, the Mediator between God and man. For His humanity, united with the person of the Word, was the instrument of our salvation. Therefore in Christ ‘the perfect achievement of our reconciliation came forth, and the fullness of divine worship was given to us’.
The wonderful works of God among the people of the Old Testament were but a prelude to the work of Christ the Lord in redeeming mankind and giving perfect glory to God. He achieved His task principally by the paschal mystery of His blessed passion, resurrection from the dead, and the glorious ascension, whereby ‘dying, he destroyed our death and, rising, he restored our life’ For it was from the side of Christ as He slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth ‘the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church’ Just as Christ was sent by the Father, so also He sent the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit. This He did that, by preaching the gospel to every creature they might proclaim that the Son of God, by His death and resurrection, had freed us from the power of Satan and from death, and brought us into the kingdom of His Father. His purpose also was that they might accomplish the work of salvation which they had proclaimed, by means of sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves. Thus by baptism men are plunged into the paschal mystery of Christ: they die with Him, are buried with Him, and rise with Him they receive the spirit of adoption as sons ‘in which we cry: Abba, Father’( Rom. 8 :15), and thus become true adorers whom the Father seeks. In like manner, as often as they eat the supper of the Lord they proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes. For that reason, on the very day of Pentecost, when the Church appeared before the world, ‘those who received the word’ of Peter ‘were baptized.’”