"Religion is the source of all the problems in the world." This is a sentiment that often gets expressed when people become disconcerted with the church. Undoubtedly, there have been many grave abuses of power in the name of religion over the years....the Inquisition, religious wars, immorality, and so on. To categorically reject religion as a source for good is to deny the marvelous history of the Catholic Church, specifically in this country. The reason you and I are able to worship in this space today is because Jesuits from France risked their lives to bring Christianity to North America. Many of them, including St. Isaac Jogues, risked their lives to spread the good news. If you ever travel in Central New York stop into the North American Martyrs shrine in Auriesville. It is a beautiful, peaceful place overlooking the Mohawk River valley.
Religion, and specifically the Catholic Church has been a tremendous source of good for the country and the world. Fr. Michael J. McGiveny founded the Knights of Columbus at St. Mary's Church in New Haven, CT. He saw the need to offer concrete specific aid to widows who were in financial difficulty because of a death of a spouse. St. Elizabeth Seton established the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, MD and their successors now run one of the largest Healthcare systems in the country. St. John Neumann travelled the Pennslvania countryside establishing schools. Dorothy Day experienced a profound conversion and established the Catholic Worker movement. On and on the list goes. There have also been some inspiring witnesses to truth who died rather than violate church teachings. St. Thomas More, friend to King Henry VIII, was put to death in the London Tower because he would not and could not support the King's decision to divorce his wife. St. John Fisher died just at the same time because he refused to accept that King Henry VIII could make himself head of the church. St Catherine of Siena was able to get dissenting popes in Avignon, France, to come back to Rome and more recently we had the wonderful example of Archbishop Romero in El Salvador. When Romero was appointed he was of a gentle, timid nature. He was quite friendly with the wealthy establishment and military in the country. However, when Jesuit priests began to show him the horrors of poverty and killing being undertaken by the Government, he began to speak out. Speaking out cost him his life. While celebrating mass at a convent one day a gunmen came into the chapel and shot him just at the moment of consecration.
Today I am encouraging you to be public witnesses. Live your life courageously in the public square. Much of the material I will now share comes from a book titled Unspeakable by Os Guinness. Guinness was born in China and fled the country during the Chinese revolution.
I would like for us to consider Davy Crockett. Remember him? Soldier, hunter, woodsman, storyteller, marksman, backwoods statesman-he was a man who had become a legend in his own lifetime. We all knew his signature coonskin cap. What set Crockett apart was that...he was a congressman with a conscience. Every age has its civil rights issues. The chalice I use belongs to my mother's uncle, Fr Paul Mullaney, who hosted Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Selma march. In college I remember shantytowns protesting the Harvard Corporation's investment in Businesses that supported Apartheid in South Africa. The civil right question in the day of Davy Crockett was the Cherokee question. It was a long festering sore. You see, the last 15,000 of the Cherokees were settled in a part of the nation who were living on their own ancestral lands. The Georgia Cherokees fought with General Jackson on the side of the Union against the Creek Indians. Gold was discovered where the Cherokee lived, and would-be settlers were eager to get their hands on it. The whole situation was a glaring contradiction of the Declaration of Independence. Many of the greatest voices in the country-Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, President Andrew Jackson, and John C. Calhoun were openly in favor of Indian removal or could be quoted favorably by those who were. Powerful voices were raised against the removal-Chief Justice John Marshall, Daniel Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson. In the U.S. Congress the loudest voice in opposition to the President from Tennessee was a congressman from Tennessee-Davy Crockett. The pressure on him was intense. As he described it later when Jackson's Indian bill was brought forward, his colleagues in the House gathered around, told him that they loved him, but warned him that they were ruining himself. "They said this was a favorite measure of the President, and I ought to vote for it." Crockett told his colleagues-"I believed it was a wicked, unjust measure, and I should go against it, let the cost to myself be what it might; that I was willing to go in with General Jackson in everything I believed was honest and right; but further than this I wouldn't go for any other man in the whole of creation. I voted against the Indian bill and my conscience yet tells me that I gave a good, honest vote, and that I believe will not make me ashamed in the day of judgement."
The outcome was brutal. Crockett lost his seat after three terms, the Cherokee nation lost its land after a thousand years, and many Cherokees lost their lives. In May 1838, General Winfield Scott and 7,000 U.S. soldiers invaded the Cherokee nation, forcibly rounded up all the men, women, and children and drove them out on a thousand mile march with too little food and shelter. By the time they arrived in Oklahoma that winter, four thousand had died on the way and the journey became known as the Trail of Tears. Nearly two centuries after Davy Crockett's stand, the Cherokee rose is the official flower of Georgia, but many Cherokees would rather caryy two ten-dollar bills than carry a single twenty dollar bill bearing the face of president Jackson. For many native Americans Jackson is the worst President ever and Davy Crockett is the hero who stood up for them at the cost of his political career. But the principle for which he stood-living and acting "under God" and therefore not being "ashamed in the day of judgement" has become a cliche and a controversy in America today.
Davy Crockett's stand, the ground on which he took it, and its disappearance today lead to the second great modern transformation of evil. The modern world has marginalized traditional responses to evil-by dismissing traditional categories and sidelining traditional ways of responding. The categories in which we speak about evil have been transformed: "sin" became "crime" which in turn became "sickness" which in turn became "dysfunction." When men dare not call it evil, evil does not disappear-it is all the freer to surprise us and do its deadly work. Solzhenitsyn, who saw first hand the evils of an atheistic society in Russia, calls this "the tilt of freedom toward evil."
Just in recent years we have seen some amazing footage of people standing up to dictatorships. Remember the one young person standing in front of the tank in Tianenmen Square in China? Remember Cardinal Sin going on the radio in the Phillippines and encouraging citizens to come out and protest against Ferdinand Marco? Hundreds of thousands jammed the streets of Manilla praying the rosary. The Government was overthrown and not one shot was fired! Today religious liberty is under attack. Our country was founded on the principle of Freedom of Religion.....not Freedom from Religion. Cardinal Dolan just spoke with reference to the HHS mandate that Catholics have one year before they must violate their consciences and submit to the mandate. Just this weekend Carinal George from Chicago said that within two years every Catholic healthcare institution will be forced to close because they will not comply with the mandate! That is roughly 17% of all healthcare facilities in this country. Pope Benedict warned the Bishops at their ad limina that rising secularism in this country is a danger to religious liberty.
Benjamin Franklin once said "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God." The challenge for our country is not to win freedom, or even to order freedom; the challenge is to sustain freedom. In the words of Benjamin Franklin-"only a virtuous people are capable of freedom." To be a virtuous people we need God.
We need more people to be like Davy Crockett. Perhaps you don't feel you have the right words or the education to speak on these issues. Don't worry, the Holy Spirit will give you the words. Be courageous. Be Faithful. Be full of life, and as today's second reading so beautifully says "If God is for us who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31).