2nd Sunday of Easter

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.  With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all.”

That was the early Church.  That was the Church that Jesus envisioned when He gave the keys to the kingdom to Saint Peter, the first Holy Father.  There’s no reason to think that He ever wanted that vision of His Church to change.  He wants all believers, that means you and me, to be of one heart and mind.  Luke tells us that the apostles had great power and that great favor was accorded to them.

But even with their great power, our Gospel story, finds the apostles locked in one room, “for fear of the Jews.” Even in the very beginning, the Church the Jesus’ Church suffered from persecution.  But the strength of the believers and the power of the Apostles, passed on to their successors, has always allowed the Church to survive.  As Jesus said, even the gates of hell would never stop His Church.

We know what the Church teaches and we believe in it because we’re all called on to be of one heart and one mind.  When the Holy Father speaks the world listens.  When the local bishop or archbishop speaks the members of his flock listen.  When the US Bishops speak American Catholics listen.

Lately the US Bishops together and individually have been speaking out against our government’s attempts to curtail our religious freedom.

This week the Bishops issued a statement called “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty—A Statement on Religious Liberty”.  It’s fairly long, thirteen pages, but it’s well worth your time to read.  Frankly, I don’t think most of us really understand how serious this attack on our religious freedom is.  I hope you’ll take the time to read it this document.

It begins, “We are Catholics.  We are Americans.  We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens.  To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other.  Our allegiances are distinct, but they need not be contradictory, and should be complementary.”  That’s a key point.  It’s perfectly reasonable, in fact it’s guaranteed in our Constitution, that we can be Catholics and Americans at the same time.

Some may say that the Bishops are overreacting to this HHS mandate but the document points out that this isn’t the only government attack on our religious freedom.  It’s just the latest and most publicized.  In our neighboring state of Illinois, also in Boston, San Francisco, and in Washington DC, Catholic Charities have been driven out of the business of providing adoption and foster care services.  Why?  Because they won’t place children with homosexual couples or cohabitating couples as Church teaching requires.

Several states have recently enacted laws that forbid what the government calls “harboring” undocumented immigrants.  Don’t misunderstand.  Actually harboring law breakers should be a crime.  But what these new laws call harboring includes baptizing children of illegal immigrants; hearing their confessions;  and anointing the sick.  Administering any of the sacraments, counseling them in time of loss, even allowing them to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings held on church property are illegal.

At the University of California Hastings college of law, the Christian Legal Society has been denied the use of campus facilities because it requires members to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.  The CLS is the only group ever to have been denied access by the school.

This is my personal favorite.  Catholic Imigration and Refugee Services have aided thousands of legal immigrants.  The federal government has changed its policies to insist that abortion and birth control services must be provided.  In a bizarre ruling, a federal court in Massachusetts ruled that the government violates the First Amendment by allowing the Church to follow its religious beliefs.

There’s so much in this document that I could talk about it for a long time, but I know you don’t want that.  But there are a couple of key points here that I want you to think about and especially to pray about.  The Bishops quote Doctor Martin Luther King on the subject of “unjust laws”.  A just law is a manmade law that is in line with moral law or the law of God.  An unjust law violates natural law.

To quote the Bishops, “An unjust law cannot be obeyed.  In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought.”  They go on to say that Catholics, “in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them.”  That’s called “civil disobedience”.  It was the foundation of the civil rights movement.

Please pay attention to this.  The Bishops aren’t telling Catholics that they MAY refuse to follow an unjust law.  They’re telling us we MUST refuse.  People, this is serious stuff.  They’re saying that Catholic institutions have to refuse to follow the HHS mandate.  They can stop providing health insurance, or they can continue to provide it, not following the HHS mandate, and pay the consequences.  Or, they can close their doors.

They’re telling us that we must speak out and do whatever we must to end religious persecution.  They’re telling Catholic clergy that we must do all we can to lead you in defending not just our faith, but people of all faiths whose freedom is being trampled.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations issued a statement about the administration’s contraception and sterilization mandate.  They pointed out that it seems that if a religious entity reaches out to serve members of all faiths, then it loses its religious identity.  “This is deeply disappointing.”

This is not a Catholic issue.  This is not a Jewish issue.  This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue.  It is an American issue.

Trust me, you’re going to be hearing much more about it in the coming weeks and months.  There’s a lot at stake here.  If we lose this fight, the door is open to unrestricted government interference with our religious freedoms.  You and I must remember what Saint Luke wrote in today’s 1st reading.

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind.”

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