Is 49:1-6                                       Acts 13:22-26                              Lk 1:57-66, 80

Dear friends! John’s birth was not a mere biological exception, but a special favor granted by God. Through his birth and mission, the power of God was guiding human history. God chose John to be the herald of the Redeemer of the world, to be the voice to announce the eternal Word, and to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus. He was fully convinced of his mission and was totally committed to it.  John is a shining example of humility, simplicity and truthfulness, of courage, conviction and commitment. If we are to live in communion with Christ, then we should constantly heed John’s exhortation to prepare the way of the Lord and to make his paths straight (Lk 3:4).

He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30). Those simple, direct words of St. John the Baptist, summarize the life of the Christian disciple. In all things, we want Jesus to increase; in my heart, in my prayer, in my family, in my parish, in my work, in my study, in my leisure, in my entertainment – may the Lord Jesus increase!

In our common life together as Americans, in our civil society, in our politics –may the Lord Jesus increase! In the time of Jesus, the king decreased the space for the things of God; he did not want to hear the voice of religious truth, he did not want to permit the preachers the freedom to preach. St. John the Baptist refused to accede to the king’s unjust demands. For his fidelity he was imprisoned and beheaded. The Lord Jesus tells us that John the Baptist is the greatest of all born of woman (cf. Matthew 11:11). Perhaps his greatest virtue was his fortitude. He was truly fearless in his preaching. John the Baptist was martyred for speaking the truth about the king, and from him we have much to learn about fortitude in defense of our faith, and in defense of our freedoms.

The Catholic Bishops of the United States have declared a Fortnight for freedom, asking Catholics to engage in a “great hymn of prayer for our country” and a “national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty”. Our Bishops have asked us to look to the great saints of Catholic history whose courage we can emulate. Religious freedom is the first freedom enumerated in the First Amendment. It is the foundation of all our freedoms, for if Americans are not free in their consciences, in their religious faith, in their corporal works of mercy, then all our freedoms are fragile. When the government commands us to do what God commands us not to do, the American heritage of freedom is imperiled. And the response of the Christian citizen, as we learned vividly in the example of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is to refuse to obey an unjust law.

Our Bishops have identified several attacks on religious liberty. The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services that all employers, including Catholic agencies, provide health insurance for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, is a national assault on religious liberty without precedent in our history. There are other worrying measures at the state and local level too, notably laws which prohibit the spiritual and charitable assistance given by the Church to undocumented immigrants.

When the government says that we must do what our faith forbids us to do, or when it says we cannot do what our faith mandates us to do – then we too might be called to have the courage of John the Baptist to refuse those unjust orders. It is a stark question that we face: Shall the government increase, and Jesus decrease?

We pray then today, calling upon the intercession of John the Baptist, for all branches and levels of government, that our religious liberties be kept intact.

Prayer for Religious Liberty: Almighty God, Father of all nations, For freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:1). We praise and bless you for the gift of religious liberty, the foundation of human rights, justice, and the common good. Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect and promote our liberties; By your grace may we have the courage to defend them, for ourselves and for all those who live in this blessed land. We ask this through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our patroness, and in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, with whom you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.