Most Reverend John O. Barres Keynote June 28, 2017
Our theme for the 2017 Fortnight for Freedom is “Freedom for Mission.” As Catholics and Americans, we defend and promote the First Amendment Religious Liberty rights of all our fellow Americans.
I want to begin by thanking Bishop Murphy for his foresight in supporting the witness of Catholics for Freedom of Religion in the public square. The Liberty Bell may be physically located in Philadelphia but the members of Catholics for Freedom of Religion know that it is located on Long Island as well and you have been ringing it loudly.
“Freedom for Mission.” The very nature of the Catholic Church is missionary. The Second Vatican Council said that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the Universal Sacrament of Salvation, and our baptismal call to holiness and mission makes us instruments of dramatic missionary growth on Long Island and throughout the universal Church.
This evening in the universal Church we are celebrating the Vigil of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. In the late 1930s, Pope Pius XII commissioned an archaeological dig beneath the Vatican and the cemetery streets of ancient Rome to find the Bones of Saint Peter. The Italian word “Scavi” means excavation and so when we have had the opportunity to do a Scavi tour at the Vatican that leads us at the end to the Bones of St. Peter, we never say the Creed quite the same way again.
Similarly, in 2006, Vatican archaeologists, after conducting four years of analysis, confirmed the presence of a white marble sarcophagus beneath the altar at the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls. There was a traditional sense that Paul’s remains were under the main altar at the Basilica and the archaeologists through sophisticated 21st Century technology were able to verify it.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul this evening and tomorrow, I find it amazing that these precious relics of Peter and Paul were ever lost or forgotten about, but they were. They needed to be rediscovered through bold missionary archaeological expeditions.
I think there is a parallel with the truths of our Catholic faith. Sometimes in the course of history, certain dimensions of Catholic truth are not rejected but lost or neglected. Like the bones of St. Peter and the sarcophagus of St. Paul, we need to conduct archaeological expeditions to recover these truths.
I think that in recent times we have often lost sight of the world-changing truth that the Holy Spirit leads the Catholic Church to be the universal sacrament of salvation at every moment of history. That is its role today as surely as it was when St. Peter heard the words “Quo Vadis” and turned back to Rome and martyrdom.
There is a part of us deep down that does not believe that dramatic missionary growth in 21st Century America – in 21st Century Long Island – is at all possible. We have often heard slews of sociological data that say that the Catholic Church in the Northeast United States, and for that matter every religious body throughout the country, is shrinking and dying. That is what has been relentlessly proclaimed and some part of every one of us, including everyone present today, has bought into it. It is the age of aggressive secularism and faith is dying; after all facts are facts.
But do those claimed facts actually track the rhythm of history? The Romans, after all, knew for a fact, that Christ was dead and buried in a tomb. And so it appeared. But it turned out that they were wrong. It also turned out that His Resurrection spurred a scared and often bumbling follower who had denied Him three times, as well as an angry young Pharisee who detested him, to spend the rest of their lives spreading the Christian faith further than any could have ever imagined. And, in Rome, at the end of their travels, both refused to renounce Christ and were martyred. But far from destroying the faith their deaths ignited it as the Romans discovered the truth that the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
This evening, on this Vigil of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, we remember that the tombs and remains of those twin giants of the faith, were somehow lost for centuries. But they were not lost forever. Instead they were rediscovered through Catholic archaeology.
We, as Catholic Christians are called to do a doctrinal archaeology – an archaeology of the Holy Spirit that helps us to retrieve our belief that the Catholic Church is, and always has been, by its very nature missionary, and that you and I through our baptisms are called to be holy instruments of dramatic missionary growth on Long Island and throughout the world.
A key cornerstone of this dramatic missionary growth is a passionate ongoing wake up call to Catholics and all Americans to understand and identify the unprecedented assault against our 1st Amendment Religious Liberty rights in the United States–and in particular in New York State–and to mobilize our spiritual, educational and lobbying efforts to protect those rights.
In the spirit of Sts. Peter and Paul, we are called to marshal our courage and rise and meet the challenges posed by the HHS mandate for sterilization, contraception, and abortion-inducing drugs, the discriminatory practices against Catholic foster-care and adoption services, discriminatory immigration laws and policies, discrimination against small church congregations, discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services and the discrimination that exists on college campuses against openly Christian students. Catholics for Freedom of Religion has been at the vanguard nationally of educating students about their rights to religious expression in public schools.
Recent Court decisions may have given us a temporary reprieve from some of the worst-case scenarios in regard to the erosion of religious liberty in America but let us remember that the new Executive Order presidential culture being used by both major parties is unstable, unpredictable and unreliable.
What one President considers an assault against Religious Liberty can be overturned by the stroke of the pen of the next President who reasons that the real intent of the 1st Amendment is relevant to, at most, worship only and then only when it is contained within the structure of Church buildings. And even in our Church buildings there is no guarantee of freedom as some have insisted that both our scriptures and sermons must be subject to government oversight.
So many are trying to marginalize the Church and force all religious witness out of the public square. What a distortion of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
It is a distortion we should reject entirely. Can you imagine a Supreme Court justice who favors the rollback of 1st Amendment religious liberty rights having the nerve to tell Catholic Feminine Geniuses such as Dorothy Day or St. Teresa of Calcutta that “from now on your Catholic witness in the world is limited and restricted to worship in Church buildings?”
It is possible that they might have listened politely to such an injunction—though I’m not entirely convinced of that—but I am sure that they would have simply ignored the ridiculous statement and gone about their Holy Spirit driven outreach and mission in keeping with their Beatitudinal logic that turns the logic of the world upside down. Mystic humility always speaks truth to power.
On September 26, 2015, speaking at Independence Hall, not far from the Liberty Bell, Pope Francis said: “Our various religious traditions . . . remind us of the transcendent dimension of human existence and our irreducible freedom in the face of every claim to absolute power. We need but look at history, especially the history of the last century, to see the atrocities perpetrated by systems which claimed to build one or another ‘earthly paradise’ by dominating peoples, subjecting them to apparently indisputable principles and denying them any kind of rights. Our rich religious traditions seek to offer meaning and direction, ‘they have enduring power to open new horizons, to stimulate thought, to expand the mind and heart’ (EG 256). They call to conversion, reconciliation, concern for the future of society, self-sacrifice in the service of the common good, and compassion for those in need. At the heart of their spiritual mission is the proclamation of the truth and dignity of the human person and human rights.”
At Independence Hall, Pope Francis also addressed our Hispanic immigrant community. One might ask, what is the connection between Religious Liberty and immigration? Without attempting to speak for the Holy Father, let me advance the idea that there is a very powerful connection between the two. Religious Liberty is not simply an abstract idea that arises in the ether. Instead it is something that stems from the inherent God-given dignity of the human person; it is something that inherently belongs to us as human beings. When we defend religious liberty, we defend the dignity of the human person. When we defend religious liberty, we defend the sanctity of marriage, the family and human life. When we defend religious liberty, we begin to discern the outlines of a comprehensive immigration reform that is both just and charitable to all parties and that enlivens and reinvigorates American society and the public square of exchange and cooperation for the common good.
Human dignity encompasses all of that and more. It is the rightful place of governments to promote human dignity and the elevation of the human person and it is beyond the legitimate function of any government to degrade people into being mere instruments of the will of those holding power. Every single one of us is a person, who because of that very fact, has God-given rights that no government may rightfully deny or seek to take away.
In Redemptoris Missio, St. John Paul II said that the Church proposes, she imposes nothing. This is a time when the Church must propose boldly and humbly every dimension of her doctrinal and moral truth in service of the cause of Religious Liberty. As Bishop Brennan said in his inspirational Fortnight of Freedom homily at St. Agnes Cathedral on Sunday, we unite the Joy of the Gospel with the Splendor of Truth because living the objective truth ignites our joy.
This is a time for the Church to be a bold proponent of Religious Liberty and the principles of the Second Vatican Council document on Religious Liberty Dignitatis Humanae. And this is the time for each of us to be a bold proponent of Religious Liberty as well as an instrument of dramatic missionary growth as we both assert our rights as Americans and seek to bring the truth of Christ to our communities, our neighbors, our families and ourselves.
The logic of our Baptism is depth of holiness and a missionary spirit. How often have saints stepped up in the crossroads of history and in the crises of history to a sanctity that transformed the World and History?
It is our time – right here and now to be the saints that ring the Liberty Bell of History. And it is our time to be instruments of the Divine Mercy, the Splendor of Truth, the Joy of the Gospel and the dramatic missionary growth of Christ’s Church, the Universal Sacrament of Salvation.