|Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples - Paolo Veronese, 1580|
1 Corinthians 9:16-19,22-23
“If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!”
Every time I hear this scripture passage I am forced to ask myself ‘Am I really preaching the Gospel?’ Do I always teach what Christ wants rather than what I want? Do I preach in a way that helps others understand the Gospel? And most importantly, do I preach the Gospel by simply loving every person that I meet?
As I reflect on those questions, I realize that I am not perfect and often fail in my own commissioning to preach the Gospel. I let myself get in the way of what Christ desires to speak and, more grievously, I fail to love as Jesus commands me. Although I fail at these things, though, the fact is that the mandate of Jesus Christ still remains. We must preach the Gospel of Christ, and most often that preaching comes in the form of actions, not words. As St. Francis of Assisi is often quoted, “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” The obligation to preach the Gospel is none other than the obligation Christ gave to His disciples: love one another as I have loved you. That is how we preach the Gospel – love.
This mandate of Christ has no restrictions or limits. We do not concern ourselves with gender, race, or social status. Nor do we limit ourselves to a particular religion or age range. We must simply love the person who stands before us, no matter their story. We simply love.
The problem is that this mandate to love others and serve them as Christ would is becoming increasingly difficult to fulfill in our country. At this moment, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is mandating that beginning August 2013, every employer – including Catholic social service agencies, hospitals, schools, and parishes – would be required to provide coverage for sterilization procedures, contraceptives, and abortion-inducing drugs. They’re reducing the gift of human life to a category of ‘preventative care’ alongside mammograms, flu shots, and the like; pregnancy is categorized as a disease. Until this point, the government has generally respected the beliefs and conscience of individuals, not forcing them to pay for or supply things that directly violated their religious beliefs. This ‘religious exemption’ has now been so narrowly set that as Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, noted, not even Jesus and the disciples would be exempt since it requires an institution to employ and serve only those of their particular faith community. In other words, the new rule would be ‘Not Catholic – Not welcome.’ In effect, we would no longer be able to serve the poor and the needy, nor welcome any non-Catholic. It goes against our Catholic faith – the word Catholic means universal! – and against the mandate of Christ to love.
To refuse to pay for these insurance policies, which is an option, is to incur fines of over $2,000 per employee per year, increasing annually as insurance costs increase. To put that in perspective, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana alone would pay several million dollars annually and Catholic Charities of America would pay around $140 Million. And that is just two of thousands of institutions throughout our country that are serving the poor and aged, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and educating people of all types.
The simple fact is that the current administration has effectively told Catholics and thousands of other Christians across America that the government has a say over what we can. If the government doesn’t approve of it, we can’t practice it in the public forum. We must leave our faith at the doorstep of our homes. And that’s a very dangerous line to cross because soon who is to say that they won’t continue to determine what we can believe and practice.
My brothers and sisters in the Lord, I don’t mean to be alarmist, but this is serious matter. 155 of the 183 Catholic diocese throughout the United States (nearly 85%) and all 53 of the (non-Catholic) Orthodox Bishops in America have publicly spoken out against this law and it is imperative that we all do the same. Write the president, write the head of the HHS, and write our representatives and other political leaders. Let them know that your right to practice your faith is being violated by this mandate. Let them know that it is unjust and needs to change. Certainly we must be pro-active. But most importantly, we must bring this before the Lord because it is the Lord that changes hearts. We can write and call frequently, which we should, but it is the Lord that will affect this change. We have numerous conversion stories in the scriptures, most notably St. Paul. Let us pray that the Lord will continue to convert the hearts of our nation’s leaders. However it looks for our, whether it’s time with the Blessed Sacrament, serving the poor, praying the rosary or a chaplet, praying the Scriptures, or offering up sacrifices and fasting, let us lift up our prayers to the Lord.
And as we gather here for this Eucharist, this feast of thanksgiving, may we have hearts that are grateful for the many blessings the Lord has poured out upon us. And by our prayers, may He continue to pour out blessings upon us that we, as Catholics, Christians, and Americans, might always be able to carry out the mandate of love, for in serving others we serve Christ Our Lord.
Thomas Peters at CatholicVote.org has a list of bishops/dioceses HERE who have spoken out on this, including links to most of the official statements that are well worth reading for more info.