Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 4, 2010

Readings: Is 66:10-14; Gal 6:14-18; Lk 10:1-9

It isn’t often that the 4th of July holiday falls on a Sunday, like it does this year. But this gives us a chance to reflect on the significance of the American Declaration of Independence for our Catholic Christian faith in the United States. That happens to be a major significance.

Most of the original American colonies were established in the 17th and 18th centuries by religious groups from Europe who wanted to find a place where they could practice their religion freely and openly. They wanted religious freedom—unfortunately, for most of them, they wanted religious freedom for themselves and no one else. There was a time in the early history of the American colonies where the only place one could legally attend a Catholic mass was the colony of Pennsylvania. That’s because Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn and the Quakers who did allow religious freedom to other groups. The colonial years in America were often difficult times for Catholics.

When our Founding Fathers decided to declare their independence from England, one of the freedoms they were asserting was the freedom of religious worship. A few years later, when the American Constitution was drawn up and accepted, it stated clearly that there would be no established religion in the newly-formed United States of America. People were free to worship publicly as they chose. That didn’t mean that Catholics and Protestants got along; most of the time they didn’t. Still July 4th and the Declaration of Independence was a great step forward for the Catholic Church in this country, and we should remember to be thankful for that as we celebrate this year.

One of the challenges that this situation of general religious freedom created was how these different faiths were going to relate to each other. That became a steamy history during the 19th and early 20th centuries. That century and a half was filled with a great deal of anti-Catholicism and anti-Protestantism in this country; some of it really got violent. It was still the case in 1960, just fifty years ago, that a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister would never appear on the same stage together.

Thankfully the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s began the dissolving of those bitter feelings. The Catholic Church made a strong effort to reach out and initiate a new attitude of mutual understanding and cooperation with other Christian churches. That was one of Pope John XXIII’s main reasons for calling the council in the first place. And that got written into many of the Council’s decrees. Listen to this passage from the Constitution on the Church: "The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, but do not profess the faith in its entirety. ... They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. ... They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits, in some true union with the Holy Spirit." (L.G. #15) That was a 180 degree turn from the direction that the Church had been moving for hundreds of year. These were shocking statements for many Catholics in the 1960s. I remember when we read these documents in the monastic dining room during dinner, some older monks were so shocked they stopped eating. They were too stunned to go on. But this is the teaching of the Catholic Church, and we are still trying to learn how to live this out as good Catholics.

But the Council went on and spoke, not just about other Christians, but also about other faiths and even those who have no faith at all. "Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is God who gives to all people life and breath and all good things. They also can attain to salvation...." L.G. #16) This is important to remember because we now live in a country that has significant numbers from many other world religions. On this July 4th we celebrate our religious freedom; we should also celebrate God’s freedom in offering salvation to all people.

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