July 13, 2012

The Church evangelizes in all it does, Bishop Coyne says in fortnight homily

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne(Editor’s note: Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator, delivered this homily during a July 1 Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.)

We have gathered here in this cathedral on the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time in the midst of the national “Fortnight for Freedom.”

Over the course of these 14 days—beginning a week ago Thursday and ending this Wednesday, the Fourth of July—we have been asked as a Catholic community to pray in thanksgiving for the religious freedom we know in this country, and to pray that it will continue to be a free and unimpeded right for all citizens.

What has provoked these 14 days of prayer is an intentional effort on the part of the government to limit this expression of religious freedom by the imposition of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate on Catholic institutions.

Let me be clear here that the issue for us as a Church is not so much the specifics of the mandate—namely, what is or what is not to be covered under our employee health care policies—but the greater fact that Catholic institutions like hospitals and universities are now being defined by the government as not Catholic enough to be exempt as religious institutions.

Now there are parts of the HHS mandate where the government does get it right. They do allow religious organizations to claim exemption from having to provide coverage of any medical practice, drug or procedure that would be deemed immoral by that religion.

So, for example, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and its parishes are exempt. That is a good thing. We should be allowed to do this. But the government does not take this allowance far enough.

The major problem is that the present administration has decided to define what is a Catholic institution so narrowly that many Catholic institutions cannot claim to be exempt from mandated health coverage under the conscience clause.

The government asserts that a religious organization can only claim to be religious enough, and therefore exempt under the conscience clause, if it primarily serves and employs members of that religion, and its primary action is specifically “religious.”

So, the argument goes, because Catholic hospitals and universities have too many employees that are not Catholic and serve too many people that are not Catholic, and their core work is not “religious,” these institutions are not Catholic enough and, therefore, not exempt.

Let us be clear about where this logic takes us. If we, as Catholics, decided to open a hospital right now, in order for us, under the present government definition of a religious institution, to remain Catholic enough to be a Catholic institution, we would have to limit how many non-Catholics we admit and treat, and how many non-Catholics we hire.

Think about that. We would be forced to say to people, “We can’t help you because we have already hit our ‘Catholic quota.’ You have to go somewhere else.” We would also have to say, “We can’t hire that doctor even though she is the best out there because she is not Catholic.”

Isn’t that absurd? But that is just what we are facing.

Another part of the equation is that the government policy is limited by how it understands what we do within our institutions. It sees the product or mission of a Catholic university to be simply education. It sees the product or mission of a Catholic hospital to be only medical.

But the Catholic identity of our institutions is not just a matter of numbers. It is a matter of mission, and here is where today’s Gospel gives us some real insight into that reality.

The Gospel comes from Mark, Chapter 5, and presents two healing stories, that of Jarius’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhages. Prior to this, in Mark’s Gospel, are two other miracles—Jesus calming the sea, and the curing of the man among the tombs in the land of the Gerasenes.

In each of these miracle stories, Jesus uses the miraculous to provoke faith. Constantly, he talks of “not being afraid,” but of “having faith.” The miracle is not an end in itself. It is an opportunity to manifest his power as the Son of God, which Jesus then uses to call forth faith in those who receive or witness the miracle.

The miracle or the healing is to lead to a deeper awareness of the reality of God present in the world and to lead to conversion. Some come to believe, some do not. Indeed, the Gerasenes beg him to leave. But to others, he says, “Your faith has saved you.”

The ongoing mission begun by Christ continues in the Church today through her many institutions. Through them, the Church manifests the corporal works of mercy to all in need. But these actions are never just ends in themselves. They are part of the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ that is intended to lead others to faith in him.

This truth is what is being overlooked in the present-day discussion of what is and is not a Catholic institution. Catholic hospitals do not simply serve to bring about healing and health.

They are a means by which we help others, yes. But they are also a means of evangelization. We offer healing as a Catholic community in our hospitals, hoping that people will respond positively to what we’ve done and become part of our Catholic Church.

There is an evangelical component in what we do. We are proclaiming the “Good News” in our hospitals. We educate within Catholic universities not only to serve the greater good, but with the hope that we will instill deeper Catholic values in Catholic students, and evangelize and convert others to our faith. There is an evangelical component in what we do. We are proclaiming the “Good News” in our universities.

The mission of our Catholic institutions is not simply medical care or education or the providing of food and shelter to the needy and homeless or the many other works we do. The mission of our Catholic institutions is also evangelical. They concretely manifest the proclamation of the Good News of the kingdom of Jesus Christ in and through the Church.

Perhaps part of the problem we face as Catholics is that we have not been as careful to maintain that evangelical notion within Catholic institutions like our universities and hospitals.

We have become very polite, gone out of our way to not be “too Catholic.” And so the crosses come down from the classrooms, and chapels become “interfaith,” and we dare not talk too much about who we are and what we believe so as not to offend.

And here is where we find ourselves. With the government telling us we are, in fact, not Catholic enough.

I think this is a wake-up call for us. As Catholics, we have to ask ourselves: Why do we do what we do? Why do we run hospitals and universities and soup kitchens and homeless shelters and the like? Is it just to provide these services or is it more?

If it is just to provide services, then maybe the government has got it right. Maybe we aren’t religious enough.

Or do we do what we do to continue Jesus’ call to the kingdom, to answer his demand that we heal the sick, comfort the dying, cloth the naked, shelter the homeless, welcome the stranger, and stand for life so as to proclaim the Good News and so bring others to belief in him?

If that is so, then the government has got it wrong because we are religious enough.

So where does this leave us this morning? What do we take from this place as we leave at the end of this Mass to live our lives in the midst of the day-to-day graces God bestows on us?

How about with a renewed effort to do everything that we can to promote and protect religious freedom here in the United States and abroad? How about with a determination to do what we can by our letters, phone calls, and e-mails to our government representatives informing them about our concerns about the shift in government policies regarding the HHS mandate and the definition of religious institutions?

How about a renewed commitment to be authentic people of Catholic faith who, each in our own way, proclaim the Good News that Jesus is Lord?

But, most especially, we take from this place the Body of Christ we have received in the hope that we become more completely each day him who is our life and our hope. †

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