We belong to heaven first

This past Wednesday, June 21st, marked the start of the U.S. Bishops’ annual “Fortnight for Freedom”, a two-week campaign which will continue through July 4th, Independence Day. Begun in 2012, this annual campaign seeks to highlight America’s “first freedom”–religious liberty, encouraging Catholics to work for religious freedom both here and abroad.

As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia writes:

This year’s theme is “freedom for mission.” The reason should be obvious. Activist groups and public officials today increasingly try to force Church-related hospitals and social ministries to violate their Catholic identity. Catholic beliefs on marriage, family and the sanctity of life are targets in an on-going culture war against the biblical truths of human sexuality, nature and purpose.

The Church did not want this war and did not choose it. But she cannot in good conscience avoid it.1

At its core, it is a conflict over value—whether unborn, young, middle-aged or old; whether healthy, infirm, weak, strong or disabled; whether educated or uneducated; whether conservative, liberal or progressive; whether citizen, legal resident, visitor or illegal alien; whether rich, poor or middle-class; whether married, single, heterosexual, homosexual or trans; whether professor, politician, farmer, rancher, clergy or just an ordinary joe—in the end it boils down to one basic, fundamental issue: who determines the value of human life—God or man.

Today we heard Jesus tell us:

Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Yet, despite his admonition to “not be afraid,” most of us still harbor a degree of fear; some more than others. We fear for ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, neighbors, our nation and even our world.

We search for meaning and purpose, too often leaving God out of the equation. At some point in our lives we come to the inescapable conclusion that the answers to the most important questions are outside of and greater than ourselves. Yet, evermore, when we look beyond ourselves, we find ourselves opting for manmade solutions, looking for answers from the government rather than the enduring and unending bounty of God’s love.

We have become increasingly more reliant for our well-being on the state and less reliant on Almighty God. And this expanded welfare state, in turn, competes with the family as the dominant protector of the individual.

More people now expect their governments to perform tasks once assumed by sons, daughters, maiden aunts, and the like. As families have shrunk, disbanded, reformed, and otherwise come to reflect the reality that what were once permanent ties are now increasingly optional and fungible, Western men and women have ratcheted up the pressure on the state to operate as a family substitute—in particular, as a father substitute. … family change has been an engine fueling statism—and statism in turn has been an engine fueling family decline.2

Here is a fundamental truth: “All law involves the imposition of somebody’s beliefs about the nature of truth, charity and justice on everyone else.”

And here is another: “Hard cases make bad law.” This has been a legal principal in U.S. court decisions for at least 170 years. It is based on two premises: First, that laws should be made for the benefit of the general population, and second, that laws should reflect and regulate normal circumstances.

Good law is not based on exceptions—and especially not exceptions wrapped in emotion. The law should embody sound reasoning rooted in a desire for justice, not warm feelings.

The trouble comes when a good principle meets complicated reality. It comes when ‘exceptions’ become more the rule and less and less exceptional, and when enforcing a law does more damage than it fixes. …

If hard cases make bad law, the evidence is irrefutable that bad law makes hard cases; cases of real suffering with human faces.3

We conform our lives to what we truly believe. When we don’t, then we are only fooling ourselves, because God cannot be fooled. When or if we claim to be “Catholic” yet don’t conform our lives to what the Church teaches, especially in matters concerning the sanctity and inestimable value of the human person as the basis of law, then we are either confused or evasively foolish.

South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said that, ‘I’m always puzzled about what Bible people are reading when they say that religion and politics don’t mix.’ Of course they mix, because they both deal with struggles over the nature of right and wrong, justice and mercy. They’ve always mixed—and on matters of vital public interest, they should. People of religious faith need to act with charity and prudence, but they nonetheless need to demand from both political parties a real commitment to human dignity—always starting with the unborn child but never ending there; always starting with the unborn child, but always embracing the poor, the elderly, the hungry, the jobless, the immigrant and marginalized persons at every stage of human development.4

We need to remember that in the early Church, the words, ‘Jesus is Lord’ were—unintentionally but profoundly—a political statement. The emperor claimed to be Lord both in the private and public lives of the citizens of the empire. When Christians proclaimed Jesus as Lord, they were proclaiming the centrality of Jesus not only in their personal lives, but in their public lives and decision-making. That took courage. And it had huge consequences for their lives. Jesus was hung upon the cross because of his claim of Lordship. Christianity was illegal for the first 250 years of the Church’s life because Christians proclaimed, ‘Jesus is Lord.’

The President of our country deserves our respect, but he is not ‘Lord.’ Our political parties, whether Democratic or Republican, are not ‘Lord.’ Congress is not ‘Lord.’ The Supreme Court that gave us Roe and sacralized the right to kill unborn children is not ‘Lord.’ None of these people or things is Lord. Only God is God, and only Jesus Christ is Lord. And Christ’s relationship with each of us as individuals, and all of us as the believing Catholic community, should be the driving force of our personal lives and for all of our public witness, including our political witness on matters of human dignity.

God need not be on our lips every minute of every day. But he should be in our hearts from the moment we wake, to the moment we sleep. Only Jesus is Lord. The Church belongs to him; not to us, but to him. And we should never allow ourselves to be pushed from the public square by those who want someone else, or something else, to be Lord.5

Saint Augustine taught that political engagement and public service can be morally worthy but he also noted that all human structures are flawed by sin. The City of Man can never be the City of God.

Ultimately, it is not about finding meaning, purpose, or “our place” in this world; it is about our place in the next. Still, we have a duty and a responsibility to make this world, and especially the people around us, better for our passing through it. We cannot nor should we evade the challenges which come before us on this earth; as members of the human race and as Christians, we are called to be good citizens of this place we call home. But we cannot, we must not forget that our true citizenship and our true goal is heaven. We belong to heaven first.

Our nation is not Lord, it is not God, and it can never require our worship. It can never demand that we violate our religious identity and beliefs. The greatest witness, as citizens, which we can offer “is to speak, and to act on, and to organize our lives around, the words Jesus Christ is Lord. Defending our liberty to do that is why the ’fortnight for freedom’ matters.”6

May God bless us, Amen.

Homily #128
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Jeremiah 20:10-13
Romans 5:12-15
Matthew 10:26-33


1Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Piety and patriotism, CatholicPhilly.com, June 13, 2017.
2Mary Eberstadt, How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization, (Templeton Press, June 9, 2014), 15-16.
3Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Hard cases make bad law; bad law make hard cases, CatholicPhilly.com, May 30, 2017.
4Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Blessed John XXIII And The Meaning Of Peace, February 20, 2014.
5Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Roe v. Wade And Christian Witness, 41 Years Later, January 15, 2014.
6Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Piety and patriotism, CatholicPhilly.com, June 13, 2017.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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