Father Kastl's July 4th Homily
After having been unplugged from any sort of world wide news source for a couple of weeks, I launched the CNN website to catch up on the scuttle going on both in our county and abroad… I was taken by one article that appeared under the world news section…
“Italy will fight Wednesday against a European court ruling that crucifixes in classrooms violate students rights to freedom of religion. The European Court of Human Rights found unanimously last November that the display of a particular religious symbol- such as the Christian cross- in a classroom restricted the rights of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions and rights of children to believe or not to believe.”
In reflecting on my adverse feelings to this story, I have come to the conclusion that in many ways, Christians from the United States have often looked to our European brothers and sisters for inspiration on how to live in such a way that faith and the public sphere can be commingled. For centuries Christianity has shaped and formed the life and culture of many European Countries, most especially Italy which is the mother country of Catholicism.
As we all know, in this great country that was founded as one nation, under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all, we have truly struggled as of late to understand the relationship between Church and State.
This calls to pause for a moment and ask a very basic question…What is the sum total of our Nation or State, what is the sum total of Church… In essence, although both are institutions with their own laws and expectations of living, neither of them are anything without the people, for it is the citizens, it is the faithful that make a nation, that make a Church, and if this is the case, explain to me how one can be truly separated from the other especially among those of who claim to belong to Christ first and the world second… for if we are Christians first, than that Cross bearing identity, just like our temperaments and passions should then dictate how we, Catholic Christians come together as a nation. The cross we received at the font of baptism hypothetically becomes the precursor to all we do in the public sphere.
Sounds simple and pretty black and white to me, yet we know, we know too well, within this wonderful land of the brave and the free, of liberty and justice for all, that all of us struggle to make it a reality… We have seen, just as the Italians and other EU countries the slow erosion and taking away of Christian principles and morals from our school systems, court rulings and other public venues. So what is the answer, how do we deal with this difficult situation, this difficult question?
As the Holy Spirit would have it, our readings are very direct in answering this question, especially on this July 4th weekend when we celebrate our Independence Day.
Our first reading from Isaiah 66 speaks beautifully and tenderly of the role of Jerusalem in God's plan of salvation. It is easy for us to be consoled by this reading of motherly comfort that God promises to the Holy City and her inhabitants, yet just as in many scripture readings, there is more than meets the eyes. The Hebrew word for comfort which is being used over and again in this reading, finds its origin in the root word for “repent” or “regret” or “to be sorry.” You could say that God has placed a condition on His comfort that is being channeled through Holy Jerusalem, a conditional comfort that depends on the obedience of His sons and daughters to follow in His way.
If we recall, Jerusalem, the place of the temple, was in the minds of God's chosen people the supreme place of encounter with God, yet in the collective memory of God and his people, they had strayed, they had defiled this Holy of Holies, and so we see God once again saying come back to me, repent, be renewed in the covenant that was established when I brought you out of Egypt… repent and come back to me and in doing so I promise you my comfort. He says, "Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent. As a nursling, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap, as a mother comforts her child so will I comfort you, in Jerusalem you will find comfort.” Beautiful and hopeful words to a nation that had strayed away from the principles in which she was founded upon…"come back to me, come back to me…"
In essence God is calling them to a life of obedience to the Torah, to the commands received and to the way of life that had been established to authentically live in the world, not of the world, rather as God's chosen people.
So that was then. How does this story affect us, people living in the US in 2010, a time when many people have come to believe they have nothing to repent from, nothing to turn away from, nothing to change from…thinking of the church more as a place to get their Jesus pill, a Holy Spirit shot in the arm once a week, not to interfere or challenge any other way of living in their lives. Some people have asked me, "When is the Church going to let go of her antiquated teachings and expectations in regards to life issues, voting with a Catholic Conscience, birth control, living together before you get married, premarital and other casual sexual activity, preaching against the intrusion of secular influences shaping families, mass attendance on Sunday’s…How can these teachings that no longer seem applicable in an advanced and scientifically acute society still be held up?"
These musings make me think of a statement someone from Europe said to me not long ago. He said, “We have always looked to the States as a herald of a good life… a life rooted in faith in God, yet a life rooted in a solid democracy, but today, many of us see you as a frog unknowingly being boiled in a pot of water. Just like a frog who will not jump out of the water if the heat is turned up slowly to the point of being boiled to death, so it is with your citizens. Things are changing ever so slowly around them, in the government, in their families, in their understanding of faith and morals, they are embracing secular trends and ideas so fast and before long they are going to be boiled. The life, liberty, faith, democracy and justice that they knew and loved… it will be dead.”
Obedience and vigilance to the teachings of Jesus my friends is the antidote to maintaining a holy Jerusalem in our midst.
St. Paul who lived in a time that rejected the full message of Jesus Christ said it well in our second reading from the 6th chapter of Galatians:
“Brothers and sisters may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”
In essence St. Paul is speaking to his responsibility to be a Christian leaven to the world even when the social trends do not accept the message of Jesus Christ. St. Paul is speaking to the courage it takes to be obedient to the full message of salvation of Jesus Christ in the face of people who think it crazy or outdated, or not applicable in certain stratas of life. In the face of the rejection he received he said, “The world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” In other words, as the message is spit back in his face, he becomes all the more convicted to be true to the cross he received in baptism, true to the calling to be the herald of Jesus Christ to those who consistently reject it.
Imagine for a moment if we took on the mind of St. Paul in every dimension of our lives. I am the first to say, it's easier when we are in a group of like minded people to cling to the teachings of Christ which have been passed down through the teachings of the Church, yet once the group is diluted with non-believers and skeptics, it's easy for us to fold and morph into the public opinion rather than the opinion of Jesus Christ.
What does our Gospel say about all of this?
We hear, “At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others who he sent in pairs.” Scholars say the appointment of seventy-two represents the missionary vision of the Gospel message to the whole world.
Jesus says, “The Harvest is abundant but the laborers are few... so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”
This particular line from the 10th chapter of Luke’s Gospel has often been associated with the need for more priests, deacons, sisters and brothers to be the harvest gathers. Yes, this is the case, but what the Church needs more than anything else, what Christianity needs more than anything else, what our nation and world needs more than anything else, is you, the faithful, priest, prophets and kings by virtue of your baptism, to rise up, pick up your mats and go into the world with the blaring cross as your guide, establishing and maintaining Christian virtues and morality in your own place, to fulfill what our late Pope John Paul the II called "the New Evangelization."
Now more than ever my friends we must be vigilant, courageous and persistent that each decision made in our families, within this Church community, within our local, state and national governments are rooted in Christian principles, principles that respect the unborn, principles that respect the immigrant, principles that safeguard Christian marriage and the family, principles that guarantee the right to worship without apologies, principles that ultimately reflect the living presence of God in our midst, principles that speak to the eternal life we all await.
On this 4th of July weekend, we must give thanks to God for our wonderful nation, and for all who have worked and died unselfishly to guarantee life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, but we my friends, its Christian residents, must also be on guard, must be ready to maintain that we are one Nation Under God. Strengthened by the Eucharist may we go out and bring in the harvest of the Lord! Amen and God Bless America!