Fortnight for Freedom Homily

Fortnight for Freedom 2016

We pray and fast during this Fortnight for Freedom for one precise purpose: that our Church would enjoy the liberty to do the work we need to do, the work our divine Founder has commanded us to do. [Click para leer en español.]

We hear in our Sunday gospel reading how the Lord passed through Samaritan territory on His way to Jerusalem.  The straight way from Galilee passed through lands occupied by the remnants of the northern tribes of the Hebrew people.  Nearly 1,000 years of history had passed since all the children of Jacob had been united in religion and government.  The northern tribes had never accepted Jerusalem as a capital or site for the Temple.

Although Jesus grew up in the north, He belonged to the tribe of Judah, the southern tribe whose land included Jerusalem.  Galilean Jews like Him usually crossed to the east side of the Jordan River to travel south by a safer and more welcoming road, in order to reach the Temple for the annual feasts in Jerusalem.  In other words, they generally took the long way, in order to bypass hostile Samaritan territory.

But for His own mysterious reasons, the Lord decided on this particular trip to take the more direct route, straight through Samaria.  Which meant risking harsh treatment and rejection at the hands of the unsympathetic natives.

Trump-Taco-BowlI think maybe we can relate to the emotions that the Apostles experienced when the Samaritans mistreated them.  It is a particularly painful, agonizing thing to be mistreated when you are a stranger and a sojourner in a land that is not your own.

Anyway, as we read, the Lord would have none of the Apostles’ angry reaction to this.  He insisted that everyone stay focused on the one thing necessary:  to keep moving toward the goal.

Now, honest and good people can disagree about the particulars of immigration policy.  There is no easy prescription for resolving all the problems involved.  But I think we can safely say we find ourselves at a crossroads as a nation.  Will we continue to welcome immigrants?  If we speak about immigrants with fear and defensiveness, we will not prosper.  America has prospered precisely because we have been a country that welcomes Jesus and His companions, when they wander among us as strangers.

Now, maybe we Catholics are just silly idealists on this subject?  After all, here in the halls of the Church, we exercise no border controls at all.  Every baptized person belongs.  Every baptized person belongs.  And any unbaptized person can join our church by receiving Holy Baptism.  There are no other criteria for membership.  If you’re baptized, you’re a member of our church.

As you know, we read the same Sunday readings every three years.  Three summers ago, the US Congress labored through the summer on “immigration reform.”  A lot of people of good will spent a lot of energy—me included—to try to find a solution to the problem of immigrants living in the shadows here in America, utterly unprotected by our laws, because they don’t have certain ‘papers.’

Now, three years later, I think it’s fair to say that we find ourselves in a much, much bleaker situation.

Manhattan New YorkWhat kind of nation are we?  Do we think that two wrongs can make a right?  Is it right to respond to craven acts of violence by defensively imagining that we can seal ourselves off from danger?  If we think deporting immigrants and shutting our borders will keep us safe, we utterly delude ourselves.  The more closed-off and self-centered we try to become as a country, the more violence will find its way to us.

What we need is real faith.  Faith in the sure and loving hand of God.  Over and over again I find myself stunned by the technocratic impulse of these times.  When the shooting happened in Orlando, before the dead were even all identified, much less peacefully buried–before we stopped to pray in silence for the repose of their souls–the shouting about how to “fix” it erupted.

But, before we get all depressed about our political situation, let’s remember this:  Here on earth we have no lasting city.

A whirlwind carried the prophet Elijah from this world up to heaven.  Our Savior, when He walked the earth, had no home in which to lay His head.  He revealed to us what our life here really is:  a pilgrimage.  An arduous journey toward a goal.  All Americans are immigrants, to be sure.  But even more so:  All Christians are emigrants.  We are on our way somewhere else.

We do not see our destination.  We believe in it.  Why can’t we see it?  Why can’t we see the heavenly Jerusalem?  Because it is invisible?  No.  The angels know how brightly that city shines—a million times more splendid than the Manhattan skyline on a starry night.  We can’t see the heavenly homeland now because our eyes do not possess adequate seeing power.  Our minds, that see by faith—our minds perceive reality more comprehensively than our eyes.  That is, provided we live by the Spirit and not by the flesh.

Let’s pray and fast this Fortnight for the freedom to love our neighbors with pure hearts.  In the heavenly Jerusalem, chaste and true love is the very light and air by which everyone sees and breathes.  We pray for our own interior freedom, and we pray for our country, that our laws will always serve the cause of justice, protect the innocent, and foster the peace and tranquility of brotherly love.

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Peter, Paul, Rome, and Us

peterpaulEvery year we keep a solemnity in honor of the founders of the church in Rome. Every five or six years, this feast day falls on a Sunday. This year, the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul not only falls on Sunday, it falls on a Sunday during… Well, during two things.

1. Each summer now for three summers, we have prayed and fasted for two weeks, a fortnight. For freedom of religion in America.

The ancient Romans believed supernatural powers upheld their vast empire. The emperor encouraged everyone to believe that he was divine as well as human. And it annoyed him immensely when events occurred that made him look weak in the supernatural department. Things like military defeats. Or like the city of Rome burning down in a massive fire. How to explain such cruel luck when a divine emperor ruled? Well, it must have happened because the Christians refused to offer the customary pagan sacrifices.

Continue reading “Peter, Paul, Rome, and Us”

King Josiah Consolation

koc action religious freedomIn the first reading at today’s Holy Mass:

The image of King Josiah discovering the Law of God, and repenting on behalf of the whole nation for Israel’s infidelity to the law–this picture consoles us with hope and promise during our fortnight of prayer and fasting for religious freedom.

We pray for peace and harmony between our lives as Christians dedicated to obeying God in everything, and our lives as citizens of our beloved country.

We have to strive more and more for genuine unity and integrity of purpose, doing our duty as ctizens by following our Lord Jesus as faithful disciples.

May God give our nation the kind of peace that He gave to Israel under the reign of King Josiah: The peace that comes from humble submission to God’s laws.

Fortnight For Freedom: Which of the Two will Land Me in Jail?

Yay Corpus Christi procession! (Sunday in the humble cluster) photo credit:  Daniel Shanahan
Yay Corpus Christi procession! (Sunday in the humble cluster) photo credit: Daniel Shanahan

Today, in honor of St. John the Baptist’s birth, we present: Father Versace’s Fortnight-for-Freedom jeremiad.

My spiritual life, so far as it goes, consists in: trying to do my duty as a parish priest (which includes a fair amount of praying), visiting the Blessed Sacrament as often as possible, spending a day in total solitude whenever I can, and spiritual reading and mental prayer early each morning.

I hope and pray that this lame little spiritual life will suffice to prepare me adequately to go to prison, when the time comes. Because it seems to me that the question is not whether I will have to spend time in jail. The question is: For which of the two possible reasons will I actually wind up getting arrested, in the end?

Lately, in the early hours, I have been reading St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles, one chapter per day. Chapter 83 of Book IV goes a long way towards helping us understand our position in the Fortnight for Freedom. Book IV covers salvation. In the latter part of the book, St. Thomas explains life after the general resurrection.

st-thomas-aqPlease God we find ourselves among the saved, rather than the damned, we will live in a state of universal brotherhood, perfectly united with God. There will be no more of a lot of things. One of the the things there will be no more of: sex.

Let’s consider universal brotherhood first.

On the news the other day, I heard a “border-security” pundit say, “The officials of this administration, in their heart of hearts, don’t believe that we have a right to keep people out of this country. People who are not murderers or drug-dealers, who just want a job.”

Then an administration official they had on the show immediately denied it. But I wanted to say to the first guy: You got it, brother! Whether or not the administration officials believe it is a secondary issue. The primary thing is: It’s true. No human authority possesses the right to keep peaceful, law-abiding migrants from moving from one place on God’s earth to another, if such be their will.

The fact that the U.S. tries to impede perfectly legitimate migration indicates a major lapse in our Christian perspective on things. It calls into question whether we, as a nation, can really claim to have a Christian perspective on things.

When people migrate into his land, a Christian does not wonder whether or not the migrants have a good reason for migrating. The Christian assumes, as a decent human being, that they must have a good reason. Why would a law-abiding person leave his or her homeland? Must have been forced by extreme hardship and/or grave danger.

ICA FarmvilleSo the Christian thinks, What can I do to help?

The idea that a migrant doesn’t belong here? Again, this is something that just does not occur to a Christian mind. This land belongs to God, not the Dept. of Homeland Security.

Of course, God gives us the duty of maintaining law and order. But migrants in search of a stable and peaceful life do not disturb law and order. To the contrary, they have talent and can make contributions that we need in order to have the vigorous society that we want to have.

So: What kind of trouble will we find ourselves in, brothers and sisters in the Lord, because we cannot and do not accept one of the pretensions to authority that the federal government fondles for itself? What kind of trouble will we find ourselves in because we say that the border-control juggernaut operates like an un-Christian, inhumane racket?

Forgive me. I sat in the waiting room at the detention center in Farmville last Tuesday evening, while they were bringing Enrique from the dining hall to the visitors’ area. I saw a shift-change take place. Well-meaning young officers going home, more well-meaning young officers coming on duty. I do not criticize them; they need a good job, just like everyone else.

But: Why? Why does this barbed-wire-fenced compound, holding several hundred good, hard-working people–keeping them away from their families and their jobs–why does it exist? I don’t mean to be cynical. But the border-control business is a racket.

Maybe, though, I will wind up in jail for reason #2.

In chapter 83 of Book II of Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas carefully considers whether we will have sex with each other after the general resurrection at the end of time. We will no longer need to keep the human race going by procreation, because we will no longer die. Ergo, no good reason for sex.

What about having sex just for the pleasure of it? St. Thomas replies:

To indulge in the pleasure of sex without a good reason for having sex reduces a human being to the level of animals. God made sex pleasurable, just like He made eating pleasurable, in order to encourage us to do it, when a good reason presents itself. But when there is no good reason to have sex, it is beneath the dignity of man to indulge just for the sake of fleshly pleasure.

Of course, St. Thomas has the authority of the Lord Jesus Himself behind him here. In the kingdom of heaven, saith the Lord, they will not marry; they will be like angels.

mlk birmingham jail cellSo:

“You’re interested in having children together? Great,” say I, the priest. “Come in to my office and we’ll work on preparing you to get married!” Or: “Ok, not intending to have children? No problem. Live a beautiful single life, like so many great saints have done!”

I have no problem with “gay” people, per se; I have no problem with teenagers who claim to be in love; I have no problem with successful professionals who honestly believe the Lord has something other than baby-making in mind for them, at least for the moment. Great.

But no one in any of these situations has a legitimate reason for taking their pants off with anyone else in the same room. All of us have more important, more constructive, and more dignified things to do than engaging in fruitless sex.

From one perspective, ‘gay marriage’ and the HHS contraceptive mandate appear to present separate political problems for the Church in the United States. But it seems to me that these problems stem from the same fundamental Christian point-of-view, which St. Thomas outlined.

If someone says, “I want to be married, or do married things, but bearing children isn’t one of them,” then I, the priest, representing the Church as an institution, and as an employer, am like: “Um, no entiendo. How can you possibly imagine that I could do anything for you? Other than encourage you to repent of your sins and try to lead a more reasonable, healthy, and holy life?”

Let’s pray. I don’t particularly want to go to jail. I can’t imagine that any of you do, either.

Let’s pray that everyone will calm down and thereby see things more clearly. Let’s pray that none of us have to go to jail simply because we see life from a Christian point-of-view, which governs all our interactions with other people.

Let’s pray that all of us here on earth will receive the grace to repent of our sins and get to heaven together, where we will live in universal brotherhood, with angel-like chastity, gazing upon the unbounded glory of God.

Freedom Requires Hard Penance

Today we bring the Fortnight for Freedom to a close—our two weeks of prayer and fasting for the cause of religious freedom in America.

We have benefited greatly from Kyle’s insightful talks here in our parish cluster. But, indeed, embracing two weeks of penance can be difficult. It gets easier when we meditate on what our forefathers and foremothers endured.

koc action religious freedomAs the Church in America sings today at Mass, our Lord Jesus Christ’s message of peace and fraternity took form in the vision of the founding fathers of our nation. They kept many fortnights for freedom, risking life and limb, putting everything on the line, in order to establish a nation where we could be free to live our holy Catholic faith.

But, as the Church in America also prays today, much more work still remains. Our nation has always held the ideal of religious freedom. But, in practice, we have often found ourselves shackled in one way or another as a Church. We know that suspicion of Catholicism has run deep in these lands, ever since the first Fourth of July. The contempt we face is nothing new.

Therefore, in every generation, we American Catholics must do penance and purify ourselves. We claim freedom to operate as a Church according to our own norms; we claim this as our due, since we are Americans. But this claim of ours will only resonate when we ourselves turn to God and live fully in the truth.

american-flagIf we claim immunity from subsidizing immoral contraceptive practices, then we ourselves must strive always to live chaste lives. If we claim freedom to consecrate only those marriages which we can recognize, and no others, then our own marriages must be faithful, fruitful, and altogether Christian. If we assert our prerogative to welcome the immigrant into our midst, no matter how the civil law classifies him, then we must in fact help him best by showing him our example of obedience to law.

Now, to be honest with you, the Lord has been pleased to give me a very penitential fortnight. I have neither eaten nor slept much these two weeks, owing to local pastoral problems. These unexpected problems have consumed my heart and mind. They have weighed me down with some of the bitterest sorrow I have known in a long time. I have repeatedly found myself joking with Kyle about running away to the Trappists.

But, of course—as I said—it is nothing compared to what our forefathers have suffered for our sakes. Today we can eat hamburgers together in peace because of the blood spilled in this land for the noble cause of freedom.

May God guide us always. May He turn the freedoms we enjoy into opportunities for us to spend ourselves in His service.

Welcome Here

We pray and fast during this Fortnight for Freedom for one precise purpose: that our Church would enjoy the liberty to do the work we need to do, the work our divine Founder has commanded us to do.

We hear in our gospel reading how the Lord passed through Samaritan territory on His way to Jerusalem. The straight way from Galilee passed through lands occupied by the remnants of the northern tribes of the Hebrew people. Nearly 1,000 years of history had passed since all the children of Jacob had been united in religion and government. The northern tribes had never accepted Jerusalem as a capital or site for the Temple.

koc action religious freedomAlthough Jesus grew up in the north, He belonged to the tribe of Judah, the southern tribe whose land included Jerusalem. Galilean Jews like Him usually crossed to the east side of the Jordan to travel south by a safer and more welcoming road, in order to reach the Temple for the annual feasts in Jerusalem. In other words, they generally took the long way, in order to bypass hostile Samaritan territory.

But for His own mysterious reasons, the Lord decided on this particular trip to take the more direct route, straight through Samaria. Which meant risking harsh treatment and rejection at the hands of the unsympathetic natives.

I think maybe we can relate to the emotions that the Apostles experienced when the Samaritans mistreated them. It is a particularly painful, agonizing thing to be mistreated when you are a stranger and a sojourner in a land that is not your own. Maybe some of us can relate to that. I daresay some of us have experienced similar mistreatment from unsympathetic natives, when we traveled, at some point in our lives.

Continue reading “Welcome Here”

No Legal Crisis, We Pray

koc action religious freedom

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily… Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it, says the Lord. (Luke 9:23-24)

At the end of the Fortnight for Freedom last year, the Archbishop of Philadelphia said: “Religious liberty is not an end in itself. We defend religious liberty in order to live the deeper freedom that is discipleship in Jesus Christ.” We need religious freedom because we need God.

You may remember that we prayed and fasted last summer, for two weeks between the feast of St. Thomas More and Independence Day. We prayed and fasted that the enemies of the Church might receive the grace to repent—and thereby avert a legal crisis in our country. We, the Catholic Church—we simply cannot condone the use of artificial contraceptives. We cannot condone acts of sodomy, unnatural sex acts between members of the same sex. When we hear the phrase “gay marriage,” we cannot take it seriously. Also, we insist on our freedom to embrace our brothers and sisters, regardless of their immigration status.

Continue reading “No Legal Crisis, We Pray”

Basic Marriage

In one week we will start our Fortnight for Freedom.

I think we can safely simplify the religious-freedom threats by naming three “what-counts-as”-es: what counts as health care, what counts as a genuinely American immigration policy, and what counts as marriage.

Today let’s focus briefly on marriage, since our Lord teaches us about it in the gospel reading at today’s Holy Mass.

HL Mencken and Christ agree on the subject of divorce
HL Mencken and Christ agree on the subject of divorce
Apparently everyone agrees that marriage involves two things: 1) an expression of irrevocable consent, and 2) sexual intercourse.

Two distinctive characteristics of marriage, which make marriage marriage: Both parties publicly acknowledge their intention to share the conjugal life permanently. Then they actually do so. That’s a marriage.

Thing is: the Lord Jesus humbly and frankly points out for us that the simple and commonly understood facts about marriage clearly render divorce impossible. Divorce is impossible not simply as a matter of obedience to an external law given by God—though, of course, God, through the prophet Hosea, said: “I hate divorce.”

No, the impossibility of divorce is not just a matter of obeying God’s laws. It is more fundamentally a matter of genuine personal integrity.

koc action religious freedomI give myself to someone for life by words and then by conjugal deeds. I can’t go back on that without doing genuine violence to myself. To be married means a true physical union with my spouse.

I have to acknowledge the physical reality: My spouse has become a part of me and I a part of my spouse. Like two vines that have grown into each other on a trellis. If I try to pull myself loose, I will rip myself apart. I simply won’t be myself anymore.

What distinguishes marriage as marriage is not that it provides an automatic best friend. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Nor does marriage provide an automatic source of delight and enchantment. It might provide that; it might not. The truth is, sometimes marriage winds up being the heaviest cross that a person has to carry in life. Marriage has one simple distinguishing characteristic: “The two become one flesh.”

God, in His incomprehensible wisdom, made this simple and basic thing, marriage, to be a sign of salvation. God made marriage—commitment and physical union—for many reasons, some obvious, some beyond us. But He has revealed the most fundamental reason why He made us male and female: to give us an image of His loving union with us.

Unbreakable commitment. Inextricable physical intertwine-ment. Between man and woman. And between God and man in Christ.

Backyard-barbecue, Catholic American

If you would offer me burnt offerings, then let justice surge like water,

saith the Lord, through the prophet Amos. If you would barbecue your beef outdoors and make a pleasing aroma, then let justice surge like water.

Thank you, Lord, for giving us this admonition on our national barbecue day. We know that You love and bless the United States of America. You do not hesitate to address the words of Your prophet to us directly, to remind us that we must seek justice—if we would eat our hamburgers in peace, with untroubled souls.

The prophet Amos warned the Israelites against wishing that Judgment Day would come. He reminded them that the reckoning would prove more fierce and terrifying than they could imagine. Just do good and avoid evil. Live honestly. Eat your humble hamburger in peace, having wronged no man, and let God be God.

God has indeed done something in this 236-year-old country that hardly anyone could have anticipated. Even 75 years ago, I think, it would have been hard to imagine the peaceful middle-class life that most of us English-speaking American Catholics now enjoy. We love the Pope; we love the United States; we try hard to do our best by both. –The American Catholic, 2012, eating his hamburger—and maybe fanning himself with his church bulletin, because there’s a 15% chance he doesn’t have electricity, owing to the recent storms. He’s at peace on this soil.

Could Thomas Jefferson have imagined us easy-going Catholic Americans? Could King Henry VIII have imagined us? I don’t think so. God has accomplished an amazing thing.

So, having kept our Fortnight for Freedom, let’s eat our hamburgers and relax.

But hopefully, during this fortnight, we have learned something about how fragile this backyard-barbecue, Catholic-American peace really is. Without the daily struggle to do good and avoid evil, without the long, arduous pursuit of justice—without the virtues upon which our Church was founded, and the virtues upon which our nation was founded; without faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude; without these hard-won jewels of our spiritual treasury, we will not have peace.

Even with them, we may have a rough time. Can we reasonably doubt that we Catholic Americans have enemies? People who hate us, precisely because we stand for what we stand for. Because we love the Pope and his teachings, and we will do everything in our power not only to live by them, but also to teach them to others.

When you have courage and clarity, you have enemies—just like the Lord Jesus did. Which means you have the golden opportunity to love your enemies. To pray for them, listen to them, make sacrifices for them, and do every honorable thing to win them over as friends.

May God be pleased to keep us at peace—our little miracle of backyard-barbecue, easy-going Catholic America. May our children inherit this peace—if such be the divine will.

But may the Lord also be pleased to stoke our hearts with the fire of divine love. May that fire keep us humble, faithful, and true—through whatever battles may come.

Universal Destination of Goods, Evil Cults, Bad Hands, Etc.

I have to say that I think Chief Justice Roberts has illuminated something important for us. Governments do have some authority over the money our economy produces. So, dear ones, the loyal opposition speaks…

Our assertion: Catholic Church will not pay for contraceptives / abortifacients / sterilizations.

Reasonable response: Fair enough. Granted. But there is no question of Catholic Church, Inc., paying for objectionables. Because the $$$ to be used for these—and all other healthcare items involved in the ACA (Obamacare) regime—the money does not belong to the Catholic Church.

Ergo: No formal co-operation with evil. No material co-operation. No co-operation at all. Ain’t yo’ money, homes.

Continue reading “Universal Destination of Goods, Evil Cults, Bad Hands, Etc.”