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Homily Nativity of St. John the Baptist (June 24, 2012): Church v. State, Religious Liberty & Conscience

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!

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Homily Pentecost Sunday 2012

Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.

Ten days ago we celebrated the Ascension of Our Lord into heavenly glory. If you will recall, before Jesus ascended His Apostles asked Him, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom now?” His Apostles, even after having been with Jesus for forty days, still did not grasp the true meaning of His mission. They viewed Jesus’ mission on earth in all too earthly terms, thinking that He had come to restore the former glory of thekingdomofIsrael. Before he ascended, Jesus told them to pray and to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Today, ten days after the Ascension and fifty days after the Resurrection, we celebrate Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles just as Jesus had promised. With the coming of the Holy Spirit the Apostles received enlightenment, through the Gift of Understanding, which enabled them to fully grasp the meaning and purpose of Jesus’ mission.

And what was it that the Apostles were now able to see and understand? Precisely this:  that Jesus, the Son of God by nature, became man not only to redeem us from our sins by His suffering and death on the Cross, but also to sanctify us, to transform those who believe in Him into adopted sons of the heavenly Father. In other words, Jesus died on the Cross in order that we might receive the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, and thereby be raised from a natural to a supernatural state, to be made sharers in the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4) and thereby to become deified, God-like, divinized, and thus enter into true friendship with God – something not possible in our fallen, natural state. “God becoming man, became a friend of man. Man being made God-like by the Holy Spirit becomes a friend of God.” [Edward Leen, The Holy Ghost, p. 99.]

The Apostles were unable to grasp this truth as long as Jesus was with them, for they viewed Jesus in an all too human and natural way. Jesus had to be taken from them in order for them to properly understand the purpose of His mission. At the Last Supper Our Lord told them:  “It is expedient that I go, for if I do not go the Paraclete will not come to you” (Jn. 16:7). Now, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, they are enlightened; they now grasp that Jesus accomplished His redemptive work in order to communicate the Holy Spirit to us so that we can become partakers in the very life of God.

How does this happen? At Baptism the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, accomplishes the most amazing of feats: He begins to dwell in the soul of the baptized person. In theology we call this the “Divine Indwelling.” And because the Holy Spirit is one in substance with the Father and the Son, the effect of the Spirit’s dwelling in us is that the very life of Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – lives within the baptized soul, habitually, that is, continuously, as long as a person remains free from mortal sin. Jesus speaks of this Divine Indwelling in today’s Gospel when He says: “If anyone love me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and will make our abode with him” (Jn. 14:23). It is then that we become deified, God-like. “The Holy Spirit, in the work of the Incarnation, brought God down to man. He crowns this wonder by one more dazzling still. He raises man up to God.” [Leen, ibid., p. 98.]

By means of the Divine Indwelling, and the charity of God which the Holy Spirit pours forth into our souls (cf. Rom. 5:5), we are enabled to live and act no longer on a natural level, but on a supernatural level; we are empowered to live and to love in a God-like manner, in imitation of Christ Himself. In fact, the Holy Spirit enables us to make Christ’s life on earth our own. The great Solemnity of Pentecost which closes the Easter season should move us to reflect upon this profound truth.

As with Jesus while He was on earth, the Holy Spirit must become the principle of our thoughts and affections, of our will and our actions, of all that we think, say and do. Each and every day we must strive to identify ourselves with Christ’s life; His thoughts, words, affections and actions must become our own. WithSt. Paulwe must say: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal.2:20). The Holy Spirit, who was the principle of all Christ’s human actions, must become the principle of ours as well so that we can imitate Jesus more perfectly.

On this Pentecost Sunday, I propose two ways to accomplish this.

The first is by imitating the Blessed Virgin Mary. The spiritual tradition of the Church refers to her as the “spouse” of the Holy Spirit. After Jesus, no one followed the promptings and inspirations of the Holy Spirit as perfectly as did Our Lady; the Holy Ghost was her guiding Light in all things. AsSt.John of the Cross says, no created form ever entered her mind or imagination or was impressed upon her memory; rather, her entire live was governed completely by the Holy Spirit. The more we imitate Mary in her total responsiveness and free submission to the movements of the Holy Spirit, the more completely we will conform our lives to Christ’s life and accept His Kingship, His reign, over us.

The second way for the Holy Spirit to become the active principle in our lives is to develop a personal relationship with the Him; and for this we need pray to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit tends to be, I think, the neglected Person in the Trinity. This is due, in part, to the difficulty in conceptualizing the Holy Spirit as a Person. The truth is that the Holy Spirit is not fire, or a dove, or wind or some impersonal “force”; rather, He is a Divine Person, the Third Person in the Blessed Trinity, who proceeds from the mutual love that flows eternally between the Father and the Son, and who “with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,” as we profess in our Creed every Sunday.

To cultivate a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit we must carve out time for prayer to God each day. If we don’t set a time for daily prayer, the end of the day comes and we find we did not pray. Perhaps these words of the famous Primate of Belgium, Désiré Joseph Cardinal Mercier, will prove helpful here:  “I am going to reveal to you the secret of sanctity and happiness. Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to the things of sense and your ears to the noises of the world in order to enter into yourself. Then, in the sanctity of your baptized soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit), speak to that Divine Spirit.

Additionally, in our daily dialogue with God we must incorporate prayer to the Holy Spirit. AsSt.Paul says, when we know not how to pray the Holy Spirit assists us in our weakness and makes intercession for us with “inexpressible groanings” (cf. Rom.8:26).

I’ll end here by quoting from one of my favorite prayers. I came across it a number of years ago; it’s from a prayer of consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus which the Apostleship of Prayer promotes. The second half of the prayer addresses the Holy Spirit:

Come, Holy Spirit, make my body Your temple. Come, and abide with me forever. Give me the deepest love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus in order to serve Him with my whole heart, soul, mind and strength. Take possession of all my faculties of body and soul. Regulate all my passions: feelings and emotions. Take possession of my intellect, understanding and will; my memory and imagination. O Holy Spirit of Love, give me an abundance of Your efficacious graces. Give me the fullness of all the virtues; enrich my faith, strengthen my hope, increase my trust, and inflame my love. Give me the fullness of your sevenfold gifts, fruits and beatitudes. O Holy Trinity, make my soul Your sanctuary. 

(Full prayer avail. from the Apostleship of Prayer: http://apostleshipofprayer.org/otherPrayers.html.)

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