I read part of it at Mass today: “[T]he government is refusing to uphold its obligation to respect the rights of religious believers. Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all. Despite our repeated efforts to work and dialogue toward a solution, those problems remain. Not only does the mandate undermine our ministries’ ability to witness to our faith, which is their core mission, but the penalties it imposes also lay a great burden on those ministries, threatening their very ability to survive and to serve the many who rely on their care.”
The ministries that suffer are feeding the poor, healing the sick, educating the young. If all the bishops of this country are correct—and I’d like to think they are—it brings to mind several questions: What is the hold up? Why has this persecution been happening for over an year and a half? Are we in denial that a persecution is actually happening? Maybe this is why about a year ago Francis Cardinal George of Chicago said: “I will die in my bed. My successor will die in prison. His successor will be martyred.” Back to the questions that come to mind: Is religious freedom not important any more? It was important to our founding fathers.
We have had a major election since March of 2012 when all this started. If Catholics are such a large voting block, why are the persecuting politicians still in office? Have we willingly forfeited the very basic human right of religious freedom in exchange for a promise of handouts of temporal goods? Is it too abstract? I hope not. It forces people to pay for the killing of human beings. It forces people to pay for the very things that have been proven to destroy families over the last 50 years.
There is Good News: Christ has a plan that works. The challenge is the same: Christ has a plan that works. The evil one and the culture of death do not want us to bring about his plan. The Lord tells us in today’s Gospel: “It will lead you to giving testimony.” The message is countercultural, and Catholic Christians will have to act in a countercultural way.
I wanted to preach on vocations today. The Archdiocese is celebrating Vocation Awareness Week. I love preaching on vocations. However, the more time I spent with this Gospel, the more I kept coming back to the Special Message of the Bishops. It reminds me of the thing the bishops have been saying over the past year and a half: We didn't ask for this fight. We would rather not be in it. We would rather be in the business of teaching, healing, feeding.
Are we up to the challenge of the Cross? Are we up to giving the Christian testimony to the next generation by our example? Christ has set the example for us. Now we are to set the example. Hopefully, the Lord’s words at the end of the Gospel will be consoling: “By your perseverance, you will secure your lives.”