Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore
June 21, 2016
Tonight we celebrate the opening Mass of the 2016 Fortnight for Freedom, returning to this, the first cathedral in the United States, a cathedral that was under construction even as “a new nation conceived in liberty” began to take shape. But we are not here tonight to argue a point of constitutional law nor are we here to re-argue what has already been persuasively argued in our courts. No, we are here to honor the martyrs, to celebrate the freedom to bear witness, beginning with Jesus Christ, “the faithful witness” of the Father’s love, for Christ and his sacrificial love are the very heart of the Eucharist we celebrate.
The Lord Jesus bore witness to his Father’s love in many ways. As the Word Incarnate, he proclaimed the Good News. As the Divine Physician, he healed the sick and raised the dead. And at length, when the hour of his own death had come, he was brought before Pilate who asked him, “Are you a king?” Jesus stood in that tribunal, which represented the authority of Caesar, not a rabble-rouser seeking confrontation with the state but rather as the very personification of the Beatitudes he once proclaimed on the mountainside. He came before Pilate in the sovereign freedom of the Father’s love: poor in spirit with few possessions and no visible means of defense; full of sorrow and anguish for our sins; meek and mild, the Lamb of God, seeking only the Father’s will; a man of singlehearted love who came to bring us the peace of God’s kingdom, and who was now being persecuted for the sake of righteousness. This is the Christ who stood before Pilate: at once meek and invincible. No decision Pilate could render would deter him from his mission. Caesar could not touch the things of God.
Many others would follow in the footsteps of Jesus, even unto death. There was Stephen, the first martyr, then the Apostles. There were the early Christian martyrs who led lives of deep charity yet found themselves accused by the Roman Empire of “hating humanity”. All these martyrs faced unjust judgment yet responded truthfully and respectfully to their accusers. All of them re-produced in their own flesh the sacrificial death of Christ, the ultimate testimony to the Father’s self-giving love. The relics of two such martyrs are with us tonight: St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. We are here to honor their memory and to draw from their example and prayers the wisdom we need to become “witnesses to freedom” in our time and place.
For his part, Sir Thomas More sought to withdraw from public life. He did not oppose the king publicly. He did not seek to foment controversy. Yet his well-formed conscience would not allow him to take the oath. Henry, for his part, could not abide either More’s discretion or his refusal and thus he was put on trial. More sought to defend himself, vigorously and cleverly, but also charitably. His letters to his daughter Meg, written during his imprisonment in the Tower of London, reveal the inner beauty of a soul preparing to die for Christ and his Church. On July 6, 1535 he was beheaded.
May God bless us and keep us always in his love!
Read more homilies and commentary from Archbishop Lori here.