The original homily that inspired “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith”

Following is the full text of the homily by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, that inspired “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith.” It was delivered during a Mass on the grounds of the Erin Feis Irish festival in downtown Peoria on Sunday, Aug. 24, 2003.

I am about to say something that may seem a bit radical but which I am afraid is quite true; namely, that the pervasive culture of 21st century America is basically at war with Jesus Christ and living in direct opposition to the truth of his Gospel and is aggressively hostile to his Church.

The convinced secularists are actually a minority of Americans, yet from the command posts of American culture — such as the national media, the entertainment industry, and most sadly at many colleges and universities — they have managed to promote a moral code totally incompatible with the moral code of Christianity.

Secularists either consciously or unconsciously reject all ideas of purpose in human existence. They deny the uniqueness of humanity, and therefore subvert the notion of any inherent human dignity as the norm for how we relate to one another.

Following the lead of the great masters of religious suspicion — Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche — they promote the idea that this world has no intrinsic purpose or any significant meaning.

What they propose is an enormous reduction of human desire, because they believe humanity’s deeper dreams are absurd. They specifically reject the possibility of ever fulfilling any of the transcendent hopes of the human heart.

They oppose all obligations not freely and autonomously chosen, such as those demanded by God or nature, or the good example of others, or one’s own given identity or gender, or derived from one’s membership in a family, a people, a culture or a religious tradition.

Secularists propose a humanity that is totally free from any given moral convictions. According to this view all human choice should be determined only according to personal preference.

Secularists have worked successfully to win acceptance for easy divorce, premarital sex, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock birth, abortion and euthanasia. Look at TV, look what is showing in the movies, and read the editorial pages and even the so-called news stories.

This secularist world view stands in stark opposition to the Catholic world view of what constitutes human freedom. Catholic Christianity strongly asserts that true human freedom doesn’t reside in doing anything we want, any time we want to do it, but rather in the free human choice of moral truths, community values, religious faith and social obligation. These humane and communal loyalties are derived from a whole network of religious commitments, political tradition, shared friendships and family ties.

Catholicism is convinced that there can be no absolute autonomous self apart from our essential connection with a community, no personal freedom without obligation to other people — especially children and the elderly, the weak and the defenseless. Absolute personal freedom without regard for the needs of others, and a commitment to justice and service, always ends up as a kind of bondage, a slavery to impulse to violence and degradation.

We have to decide. We must choose. We have to take a stand. Are we with the Lord or are we going to fit right in to a pagan culture hostile to Jesus Christ?

In today’s First Reading we encounter mighty Joshua, the successor of the great lawgiver Moses. Joshua had assembled all the tribes of Israel at the Shrine of the Lord. He summoned their elders, their leaders, their judges and their officers.

Joshua addressed all the people standing in ranks before the altar: If it does not please you to serve the Lord your God, and instead you want to serve the pagan gods of Canaan and embrace their immoral culture and live like animals, then now is the time to decide one way or the other. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

In today’s Gospel Jesus had just shared his great teaching about the Eucharist, about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and many of the people who had at first been enthusiastic now began to speak against him. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat? This is a hard saying. Who can accept it?”

Even many of those who had been his disciples, according to the text of the Gospel, returned to their former way of life. They abandoned Jesus Christ whose every word was Spirit and Life, and would no longer be a part of his company.

Jesus turned to his Apostles and directly challenged them. “Do you also want to leave?” Now is the time to decide.

Peter, who sometimes got things wrong, on this occasion got it absolutely right. He spoke up boldly in the name of the Twelve. “Master to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life. We have come to believe, we are absolutely convinced that you are the Messiah the Holy One of God.”

I would like to believe that this Erin Feis is more than just an annual occasion to drink Guinness, listen to wonderful Irish music and eat Irish soda bread. From the time of St. Patrick, the Irish people have been Catholic. Even the Vikings could not destroy their rich and magnificent culture of faith.

Oliver Cromwell and all his armies could not turn them into Presbyterians. The harsh penal laws and cruel land laws of Great Britain, which for centuries denied education, security and dignity to the Irish people, did not succeed in weakening their unswerving loyalty to the faith and tradition of the Roman Church.

Even a genocidal famine that reduced the total population of Ireland by at least two thirds, aided and abetted by the policies of a royal government that let the people starve while land owners exported grain for profit — even in the face of that horrific injustice and brutality, the Irish people would not and did not abandon their faith.

In this country the Irish dug the canals, built the railroads, fought America’s wars and resisted native hatred. With enormous effort and great personal sacrifice, the Irish built their churches and schools, their hospitals and seminaries, and passed on the faith of saints and scholars to their children.

As an old Irish Catholic hymn celebrates: “For hundreds of years in sorrow and tears, our faith has been with us, our shield and our staff.” Will the Irish of the 21st century in their daily practice abandon that True Faith and that True Church their ancestors died for? Will American materialism and gross pagan immorality, disguised as personal autonomy and moral neutrality, finally succeed and win the hearts of the Irish, where Oliver Cromwell and Great Britain failed?

At every Mass we stand before a reality infinitely more holy than the ancient shrine at Shechem. The holy name of Jesus is actually a kind of shortened version of the ancient Hebrew name Joshua. But the Lord Jesus Christ is incomparably greater than Joshua of old. He is greater than the patriarchs. He is greater than the judges and prophets. He is greater than the sages and kings.

He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the Holy One of God as confessed by the Apostle Peter. He is the Son of God and the High Priest of his One True Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.

And Jesus asks each and every one of us today: Are you with me or against me? Are you in my company a confessing member of my Holy Church, or would you prefer to sell me out to a world that is going straight to hell?

Are you ready and willing to defend the faith? Are you absolutely committed with care and determination to pass that faith on undiminished to your children and to your children’s children?

Will you tolerate the holiest things of our religion on a daily basis being mocked and ridiculed on TV in the press in the movies? What do you say, what will you do, when commentators attack our saintly and heroic pope? What do you say, what will you do, when even the Most Blessed and Glorious Mother of God becomes a joke for comedians and sports writers?

Why is it, in this era of political correctness, that it is perfectly okay to viciously attack Catholicism and nobody else? How can any politician without any fear of consequence, de-certify our Catholic schools in Illinois that do so much enormous good for the whole state and save taxpayers an absolute fortune? And why do we as Catholics not stand up and fight, and defend our faith? What will it take to finally get us mad?

So at this Erin Feis, Irish-American Catholics — and Catholics of all nationalities — I urge you rise up and become more militant about what you say you believe.

Like Joshua of old and our first pope the holy Apostle Peter, like St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Columba and all the holy saints of Ireland, let us all intentionally and deliberately stand with our God.

Speaking as the Bishop of Peoria, as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

The readings to which he refers are Joshua 24:1-2a,15-17, 18b and the
Gospel John 6:60-69

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