The following is the text of Bishop Malooly’s homily during the Nov. 24 Holy Hour for the Year of Faith at 4 p.m. at the Church of the Holy Child in Wilmington.
The Year of Faith, called by Pope Benedict XVI in Oct. 2012 until the feast of Christ the King, this Nov. 24, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council. Dioceses in the United States scheduled holy hours and other services for religious freedom during the year.
In our first reading 2 Samuel, we hear, “You shall shepherd my people.” Last week, we, your bishops, did that when we had our annual meeting in Baltimore. Let me begin with part of our statement from last week.
“Pope Francis has reminded us that “in the context of society, there is only one thing which the church quite clearly demands: the freedom to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, even when it runs counter to the world, even when it goes against the tide.”
We stand together as pastors charged with proclaiming the Gospel in its entirety. That Gospel calls us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and educate the young, and in so doing witness to our faith in its fullness. Our great ministries of service and our clergy, religious sisters and brothers, and lay faithful, especially those involved in church apostolates, strive to answer this call every day, and the Constitution and the law protect our freedom to do so.
Yet with its coercive HHS mandate, the government is refusing to uphold its obligation to respect the rights of religious believers. Beginning in March 2012, in the statement “United for Religious Freedom,” we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.
[See the Bishop’s Homily here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQx7QjdO2So ]
Despite our repeated efforts to work and dialogue toward a solution, those problems remain. Not only does the mandate undermine our ministries’ ability to witness to our faith, which is their core mission, but the penalties it imposes also lay a great burden on those ministries, threatening their very ability to survive and to serve the many who rely on their care.
The current impasse is all the more frustrating because the Catholic Church has long been a leading provider of, and advocate for, accessible, life-affirming health care for all people for well over 100 years. We have advocated for this going back to the time of Cardinal Gibbons. We would have preferred to spend these recent past years working toward this shared goal instead of resisting this intrusion into our religious liberty. We have been forced to devote time and resources to a conflict we did not start nor seek.
As the government’s implementation of the mandate against us approaches, we bishops stand united in our resolve to resist this heavy burden and protect our religious freedom. Even as each bishop struggles to address the mandate, together we are striving to develop alternate avenues of response to this difficult situation. We seek to answer the Gospel call to serve our neighbors, meet our obligation to provide our people with just health insurance, protect our religious freedom and not be coerced to violate our consciences. We remain grateful for the unity we share in this endeavor with Americans of all other faiths, and even with those of no faith at all.
It is our hope that our ministries and lay faithful will be able to continue providing insurance in a manner consistent with the faith of our church. We will continue our efforts in Congress and especially with the promising initiatives in the courts to protect the religious freedom that ensures our ability to fulfill the Gospel by serving the common good.
As we spend time here in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, let us look at the Lord and let him look back deep within our hearts. Let us be connected and be one with him and trust that he will, in his way, shepherd us into doing what is good and right.
Each year at our youth pilgrimage on the Saturday before Palm Sunday we have adoration at St. Paul’s Church. Last year, 1,200 of our young people spent time together before the Lord much as we are doing this afternoon. When we celebrate Mass it is Jesus and all of us, not just me and Jesus. In adoration, it is my opportunity to focus directly on Jesus and have him look at me.
Once again, religious liberty is a fundamental human right rooted in the dignity of the human person and is our most cherished liberty. As the First Amendment to our Constitution, it is the foundation of all our freedoms, for if Americans are not free to exercise our consciences and practice our religious faith, then all our freedoms are fragile.
In today’s Gospel, we hear the wonderful dialogue between Jesus and the good thief. “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replies to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Let us ask Jesus to remember us now as we continue our struggle and may God bless America and keep our nation free.