Sunday, January 29, 2012

Jesus the True Authority

Homily from the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

This year, we’ll hear from the Gospel of Mark for much of Ordinary Time.  And thus far, we’ve heard a kind of introduction or set-up to Jesus’ public ministry.  Over the last few weeks, we heard about the ministry of John the Baptist who prepares the way for Jesus.  The baptism of Jesus, in which he is announced as the Son and Lamb of God.  We hear the theme of Jesus’ preaching, the coming of the Kingdom of God.  And we see him call his disciples who would eventually carry on his work.

Today, we hear the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  And it’s interesting to note that at this beginning, when people hear Jesus speak and see him act, they immediately notice something is very different about this Jesus than anyone else they’ve heard or seen before.

Today’s Gospel can be divided into two halves: Jesus speaking and Jesus acting and he does both with authority.  In the first half of the Gospel, Jesus speaks.  He enters the synagogue and teaches.  And the people are astonished because he teaches not as one of the scribes, but as one with authority.

Scribes would teach by quoting well-known Rabbis. They would pass on the words of another.  But Jesus does not pass on the words of another.  He teaches with his own words  With authority in the literal sense of the word.  As he is the author of the teaching.  We hear Jesus do this also in his Sermon on the Mount when he first quotes the Law of Moses and then rewrites it himself.  “You have heard… you shall not kill… but I say to you, [you shall not even be] angry with [your] brother.” (Mt 5:21-22)

In the second half of the Gospel, Jesus acts.  A man with an unclean spirit enters the synagogue.  Jesus casts the demon out of the man.  And the people react to this action the same way they reacted to Jesus’ teaching: with amazement.  Because, they say, Jesus casts out the demon with authority.

Jesus does not call upon the power of another God to cast out this demon.  He uses his own power.  He is able to act with authority in the literal sense of the word.  Because, again, he is the author of everything that is going on.  Just as Jesus was the author of his own teaching, so too he is the author of the life of this demon he casts out.  For God is the Creator of all things, visible and invisible.  Everything on earth and in heaven, including the angels and even the fallen angels demons.  So, since he is the author of this demon’s life, when Jesus says “Git!” the demon gits!

This is good authority. Very good authority.  Because it is authentic authority. Authority used according to it’s author.

Authority is not a word or concept that is always met with joy.  Sometimes you’ll hear it said of someone, “They have a real problem with authority.”  Monsignor says that of me on occasion!  Perhaps that’s because authority is often abused.

Take for example, the Department of Health and Human Services order that all employers and health care insurers, including Catholic employers and insurers, must soon offer contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, in violation of our religious beliefs and religious freedom.  I’ve got a real problem with that abuse of authority.

Authority, used rightly, is one of the greatest gifts at our disposal.  Because all authority, exercised properly, derives from the authority of God.  Any law enacted in this country, or any other for that matter, is only just if it is derived from the Eternal Law of God.

Our own Declaration of Independence, the very first words uttered by our infant nation, speak of the Eternal Law of God.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”  Our Founding Fathers recognized that God Himself has gifted “certain unalienable Rights” to his creatures; that God Himself is the author of these Rights and therefore, is the ultimate authority.

As Catholics, we recognize this authority not in a teaching, or a philosophy, or even a Constitution.  Rather, this authority is a person: Jesus Christ.  When Jesus and his disciples were in Caesarea Phillipi, he asked them, “Who do the people say that I am?” (Mt 16:13)  Notice he didn’t say “What are the people saying about my teachings?” Or, what are the people saying about my miracles?” He said, “Who do the people say that I am?”  He is the author of all that exists. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the true authority.

And he continues to exercise his authority today, guiding each of us in our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.  Doing so through the Church which he established.  After Jesus asked the disciples who the people said he was, he then asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.  Peter recognized Jesus as the true authority and thus worthy to possess this same authority.  Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church… I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Before leaving this earth and ascending to his Father in Heaven, Jesus asked the disciples to exercise not their own authority, but his: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [Teach all nations] to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:18-19)  Then “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and who sins you retain are retained.”

The first and final authority over our lives is the one who speaks and acts with authority.  The one who talks the talk and walks the walk: Jesus Christ.  He will never lead us astray or demand more of us than we can handle.  For he is a good and loving author.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

March for Life and Religious Liberty

Homily from the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

I have some very good news to share with you today as well as some very bad news.

First, the good news.

Today, a number of our teens did not attend Mass at St. Vincent’s.  Ordinarily this would not be good news.  But today it is. Because today, instead of attending Mass at St. Vincent’s, a number of teens from our parish and the diocese are attending Mass in Washington D.C. with Bishop Rhoades as they prepare to take part in the annual March for Life tomorrow.

Tomorrow marks the 39th anniversary of the infamous Roe Vs. Wade decision by the Supreme Court legalizing abortion in our country.  And sadly, since that decision, over 50 million American lives – unborn children in the womb, have been legally killed in our nation. 

Today, our nation’s population is approximately 312 million.  So do the math: one sixth of our nation’s population has been eradicated by abortion.

I’m so very proud of our young people, and Sarah Hill, our Life Teen youth minister, who will be sleeping on the floors of church gymnasiums throughout the Washington D.C. metro area.  I dearly wish I could be with them. I’ve been on 4 marches.  However, as Monsignor is visiting our sister parish in Honduras, I must be here.

The March for Life is truly one of the greatest displays of witness for the dignity of human life in our country.  Our teens will join over 400,000 people from across our nation on the march tomorrow.

And all of us must realize our Christian responsibility to defend with concrete action, and not mere sentiment, all human life from conception until natural death as well as our responsibility to reach out in love to mother’s and father’s who suffer the wound of an abortion; to let them know we have a merciful and loving God who offers forgiveness and healing.

So, the courageous and enthusiastic witness of our teens is very good news indeed.

However, as I mentioned I must also convey some very bad news.

Two days ago, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it is ordering nearly every employer and insurer in the country to provide in its health care plans sterilization, contraception and even drugs which induce abortions.

Furthermore, and this is most egregious point of all, the administration announced that it would not expand an exemption to religious employers who object to this move on the grounds of conscience.

Meaning that the federal government may be forcing many religious employers including Catholic hospitals, universities and other institutions to offer such things as sterilization, contraception, and abortion inducing drugs free of charge against their will, conscience and beliefs.

Now a religious exemption is offered. However, it is so narrow, to call it an exemption is laughable.  The federal government says that in order to qualify for a religious exemption, a religious employer must employ and serve primarily members of their own faith and must exist for the purpose of teaching religious values.

Of course, you can see how this so-called exemption is laughable.

A Catholic hospital for example does not, by mission, employ and serve primarily members of only their own faith.  A Catholic hospital serves all people regardless of faith.  Likewise, Catholic universities and other agencies provide education, health care and other services to people of all religions.

But nevertheless, the administration has stated that faith-based entities like hospitals and universities will have until August 1, 2013 to provide free birth control, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs as part of their health care plans.

Click here to see Cardinal-elect Dolan's video response.
The bishops of our nation, led by Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan of New York have vowed to fight this unconscionable decision by our administration and I hope and pray you will too.

Last September, Fr. John Jenkins, President of the University of Notre Dame, wrote Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services objecting to this mandated government interference.

He pointed out, correctly, that the federal government is placing the University of Notre Dame and similar Catholic institutions in the “impossible position” of having to violate our Catholic beliefs, no matter what we do.

He stated that this mandate, “would compel Notre Dame to either pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the church’s moral teaching, or to discontinue our employee and student health care plan’s in violation of the church’s social teaching.”

This is a clear attack on the First Amendment of our Constitution which guarantees religious freedom.  With this action, the federal government is saying it can force us to violate our religious beliefs.

So, let's do something so this can turn into good news.  Do not just sit back and watch.  Do what the Apostles do in today's Gospel: they hear the voice of Christ and they literally drop everything they are doing and follow him.  Do something today to speak out against this gross attack on your religious beliefs and freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

Write your Congressman Marlin Stutzman tonight.  The contact page of his web site is here.

Write Senator Dick Lugar.  The contact page of his web site is here.

Write Senator Dan Coates.  The contact page of his web site is here.

Write the Department of Health and Human Services.  Their address is 200 Independence Ave, S.W. – Washington D.C. 20201.  Their contact page of their web site is here.

Write the President of the United States.  He lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W. – Washington D.C. 20500.  The contact page of the White House’s web site is here.

And between now and Election Day in November, give very thoughtful and prayerful consideration to voting for a candidate who will honor and respect your religious liberty and who will protect and defend the Constitution of the United States which they have sworn to do.

Click here to read an article about the HHS mandate.