Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.
This Sunday we celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. We do so because this feast is a solemnity, and when it falls on Sunday it replaces the normal Sunday Mass.
Why does the Church celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist in such a grand way? Well, he was the bridge between the Old and New Testaments, and the great prophet who prepared the way for Jesus Christ by preaching a baptism of repentance. As St. Luke’s Gospel relates, John the Baptist’s conception and birth were foretold by the Archangel Gabriel to Zechariah, his father. Also, as St. Augustinenotes, the birth of St. John the Baptist falls around the summer equinox, when the days begin to grow shorter. This leads up to the glorious Birth of Our Lord Christ, around the winter equinox, when the days begin to grow longer because Christ, the True Light, has entered the world.
We could say thatSt.John the Baptist is a timely figure for today. He was beheaded because he spoke out against the local ruler, King Herod Antipas, telling him that it was wrong for him to have married his brother’s wife, Herodias.
The persecution of those who speak the truth and follow their conscience has been a reality both before and after the coming of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, kings persecuted and put to death the prophets who told them what they did not want to hear.
In New Testament times government authorities have persecuted members of the Church throughout the centuries. For the first 300 years after Christ most of the pagan rulers put to death Christians who refused to abandon their belief in Jesus. It was not until Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century that Christianity was allowed to flourish without persecution.
But in the Middle Ages the Church still encountered problems with Catholic kings over issues such as who had the authority to appoint bishops or discipline clergy: the Pope or the King? St. Thomas Becket was put to death by King Henry II for asserting the rights of the Church against the King. By the way, one of my favorite movies is Becket, with Richard Burton playing Beckett and Peter O’Toole playing Henry II, who I think steals the show.
This past Friday we celebrated the feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, both of whom were put to death under King Henry VIII. The Pope had refused to grant Henry VIII an annulment with his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which Henry wanted in order to marry Catherine Boleyn, so Henry declared himself head of the Church in England rather than the Pope in order to have his way, and he required everyone to swear an oath recognizing him as head of the Church.
St. John Fisher was the only Bishop who refused to take the oath and he was beheaded. Likewise, St. Thomas More refused to take the oath. More had been the King’s close friend, and Lord Chancellor of England. As a good lawyer he was careful to tell no one why he would not take the oath. He would only say that taking the oath would violate his conscience.
The movie A Man for All Seasons – another one of my favorite movies – portrays a powerful scene in which St. Thomas More, played by Paul Schofield, appears before Cardinal Wolsey and others who are pressuring him to take the oath, “for fellowship,” because all the other government officials have taken the oath. St. Thomas responds: “For fellowship? When we die and stand before God, and you are sent to paradise for following your conscience, and I am damned for not following mine, will you join me, for ‘fellowship’?”
By the way, A Man for All Seasons won the Academy award for best picture in 1966. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth renting.
Now we fast forward to the 20th century. In that century there were more martyrs who were put to death and shed their blood for Christ than in all previous centuries combined. This was due to governments that opposed the Catholic Faith like the formerSoviet UnionandChinawhich promoted atheistic communism.
I’m going to read now an oath required of public school teachers:
“I, before the Federal Board of Education, solemnly declare without any reservation whatever, to accept the program of the Socialist School and to be its propagandist and defender; I declare myself an atheist, an irreconcilable enemy of the Roman, Apostolic, Catholic religion, and that I will exert my efforts to destroy it, . . . I likewise declare myself ready to . . . attack the Roman, Apostolic, Catholic religion wherever it manifests itself; also I will not permit in my home any religious practices of any kind whatever, nor will I permit any images; lastly, I will not permit any of my household to take part in any religious act whatever.” (Published in La rensa 2/23/1935).
In what country do you think this oath was required? CommunistRussia, orChina? No – this oath was required for teachers in theMexicanStateof Yukatan, in 1935.
There is a movie recently released called For Greater Glory which portrays the Cristero War in the 1920’s. During most of the twentieth century the Mexican government was controlled by Freemasons who hated the Catholic Church. In the mid-1920’s the president, Plutarco Calles, a Freemason and a socialist, tried to eradicate the Catholic Faith. OnAug. 1, 1926 all Catholic churches were ordered to be closed. Priests were put to death for offering Mass publicly, and in some areas in Mexico there was not one Catholic priest to be found – all were either killed or forced to flee.
Faithful Catholics – who called themselves Cristeros – took up arms against the government to fight for and defend their Catholic Faith and their families. The movie For Greater Glory shows that the Cristeros were successful in many battles, and basically forced the government to ease the persecution against the Church. The movie is still be playing at some local theaters. It’s very well done, although many of the critics did not like it, I think, because it is too Catholic. The movie has a number of stars: e.g., Andy Garcia plays the Cristero general, Eva Longoria plays his wife, and Peter O’Toole plays a Catholic priest who was put to death for the faith.
You can look up on the Internet to see how many martyrs have been either beatified or canonized from this era of Mexican persecution of the Faith.
Finally, we come to the present-dayUnited States. The Obama administration has initiated a Department of Health and Human Services mandate which requires Catholic institutions to pay for health insurance which includes abortion-causing drugs, contraception and sterilization – services which the Church, and we as Catholics, in conscience cannot support as these involve intrinsic evils.
In a statement issued in late May, the U.S. bishops say that Catholics should be prepared to engage in civil disobedience if the HHS mandate is not rescinded. “Some unjust laws impose such injustices on individuals and organizations that disobeying the laws may be justified,” say the bishops. “Every effort must be made to repeal them. When fundamental human goods, such as the right of conscience, are at stake, we may need to witness to the truth by resisting the law and incurring its penalties.”
The bishops go on to say: “For the first time in our history, the federal government will force religious institutions to fund and facilitate coverage of a drug or procedure contrary to their moral teaching, and purport to define which religious institutions are ‘religious enough’ to merit an exemption.”
In a recent letter, Archbishop Jerome Listecki says: “We will not permit any government entity or group to restrict the practice of our faith to worship services. Additionally, we will reject any attempts to remove religion from the marketplace of society or attempts to define who we are as faith communities. This is our God-given right, protected by the Constitution.”
The bishops in theUnited Stateshave urged us to participate in a spiritual response to this injustice, what they are calling a “Fortnight of Freedom.” For fourteen days, from June 21 to July 4, Independence Day, we are asked to pray and fast that this government mandate may be rescinded. I have a suggestion for a way to participate in this “Fortnight of Freedom” – to pray a Rosary each of these 14 days that remain; and to fast between meals, eating nothing between our three main meals of the day.
Finally, let us call upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, Patroness of our nation under her glorious title, the Immaculate Conception. O Mary, you who from your conception were preserved free from all stain of Original Sin and filled with grace, intercede for our country that the rights of religious liberty and freedom of conscience may be respected!