July 3, 2013
Bishop Terry R. LaValley’s homily for Mass for Fortnight for Freedom June 30 at St. Mary’s Cathedral
I recently read about a phrase that was new to me. The article said that in military history there is a thing known as the “forlorn hope.” This is a surprisingly honest phrase which was applied to the body of troops that was to lead an attack when there was very little chance of actually surviving. The soldiers themselves used this phrase.
Even more surprisingly, there were very often volunteers for this dangerous mission. There were several reasons: First, if you actually survived, there was a good chance of promotion. Those disappointed in love or who had disgraced themselves, or who owed a lot of money, often saw it as an honorable way out. In other cases, the emotionally unbalanced or the recklessly brave simply enjoyed the risk and chance of “glory.” Before the attack, the soldiers would often write a farewell letter and hand their valuables to their friends. They would “put their affairs in order.”
There is a just a hint of this “forlorn hope” in today’s Gospel. Jesus is going up to Jerusalem where He knows He will be killed in a most horrible manner. He tells the twelve apostles about this, and others try to volunteer to come with Him. There is, of course, on enormous difference. There is, in fact, nothing “forlorn” about this hope.
This incident takes place in the middle chapters of Luke’s Gospel and is a turning point in the whole drama. Jesus sets His face towards Jerusalem. In the similar passage in Mark’s Gospel, we learn that Jesus has explained to His apostles what is going to happen to Him in Jerusalem. This helps explain the urgency that fills this Gospel reading. This is the culmination of the whole of Jesus’ mission of love for the Father. The importance of the event is also emphasized in the original Greek where the word for “messengers” is the same as our word for “angels”. Jesus sends messengers or angels before Him. So what might seem slightly shocking at first sight--leaving the dead to bury the dead and leaving home without saying goodbye--is put into context by the urgency and importance of Jesus’ mission. This is, we could say, the most important journey anyone has ever taken.
There is also a double meaning in the word “Jerusalem.” On the literal level, it obviously means the earthly city of Jerusalem where Jesus will be killed and will rise from the dead. But it also refers to His ultimate destination, the heavenly Jerusalem which is the destination of all of us. The very last act of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel is His farewell to the apostles and His ascension into the heavenly Jerusalem.
In some ways, of course, we cannot apply all of the realities of our Gospel to our everyday lives. To begin with, this was a unique and unrepeatable event, Jesus going up to His Passion in Jerusalem. The majority of us simply cannot drop everything and literally go to Jerusalem. One thing we are called to do, however, is to follow Jesus not to the earthly Jerusalem, of course, but the heavenly Jerusalem. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus is the gate through which we must enter.
Today, in these United States, there is an urgency for us to refocus our sights and direction, toward the heavenly Jerusalem. We have lost our sights, our way, God’s way. We have allowed political correctness to run roughshod over what’s right and what’s wrong. Loyalty to one’s political party has trumped our faith. As there was an urgency in Jesus’ words en route to Jerusalem, that certain things must give way to the journey of faith, so too such partisanship and blind allegiance to political parties must give way, be informed by and reflect our faith.
A separation of Church and State does not mean that the State should silence Church and the practice of one’s faith. Historically, we know the horrific effect of such an ideology. It seems that more and more today the human person is living as if God does not exist. We act and make decisions without any reference to God. Tragically, many feel that the Church is selling a product that people don’t feel they need anymore: morals, salvation.
The Godlessness that is now invading society is impacting our ability to practice our faith. We are called “bigots” by some, even by fellow Catholics, because we take Christ at His Word. There has been a growing intrusion on religious liberty such as the government healthcare mandate that forces Catholics to violate our deeply held beliefs or face stiff fines.
This HHS mandate which was to go into effect on August 1st has, as of last Friday, been extended to January 1st for non-profit entities. The so-called “accommodations” that were proposed months ago by the administration to mute religious liberty concerns of religious organizations did not improve the situation. This isn’t about access to contraception, which is widely available. It’s about a government regulation forcing us to act against our timeless teachings. There is no accommodation for religious conscience.
Again, this isn’t about the Catholic Church trying to force its beliefs on others. It’s about religious freedom. It’s about the government trying to force its lack of belief on those who believe and desire to live their belief outside of the Church doors. In fact, a broad coalition of people with a wide range of beliefs opposes this mandate.
The final ruling by the government on the implementation of this law was issued late Friday evening, so we haven’t had the opportunity to study and carefully analyze this complex 110 page document yet. We pray that this final ruling will provide for religious liberty.
Other threats to religious freedom are ominously real and at hand: in some states, local Catholic Charities no longer provide adoption or foster-care services because these charities were forced to violate Catholic beliefs by placing children with same-sex couples or unmarried, cohabitating opposite-sex couples. Several states have passed laws that forbid what they see as the “harboring” of undocumented immigrants, and which the Church sees as its duty of Christian charity and pastoral care. Despite the great track record of the American Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services in helping victims of human trafficking, the federal government sought to require them to provide or refer clients for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching as a condition of receiving government contracts.
The Church cannot be silent in the face of such threats. Many Catholics complained that the Fortnight for Freedom held last year was an election ploy. This year, we continue this special prayer because the government cannot force us to choose between abandoning our most deeply held beliefs or face crippling fines. Our constitution and laws should protect us from this kind of coercion. America is at its best when religion has a place at the table. Today people of faith throughout our nation must stand together, leaving behind the idols of political parties, and reclaim their faith in the public square.
Jesus said, “Follow Me.” In the midst of a rudderless society, ours is not a forlorn hope because Jesus has shown us the way. Following Jesus is the most important journey we will ever take. People who blindly adhere to partisan party politics, whether Democrat, Republican, Tea Party or whatever, and turn a deaf ear to the teachings of Jesus do a great disservice to the common good and lead others astray. What is so tragic is to see so many Catholic legislators in the forefront opposing natural law and Church teaching. We need to inform them of this by tongue, letter and ballot.
Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father, a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters gathered in your Church in this decisive hour in the history of our nation, so that, with every trial withstood and every danger overcome, for the sake of our children, our grandchildren, and all who come after us, this great land will always be “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Amen.