24 June 2012 Nativity of John the Baptist [Isaiah 49:1-64] [Acts 13:22-26] [+ Luke 1:57-66]
[_01_] This Sunday, we celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. We remember him, recall his location and life in the wilderness/desert.
John resides in the outermost suburbs of Jerusalem where he is known as the “voice one crying out in the desert.” (Luke 3:3-4) John the Baptist also tells his disciples - and you/me – “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Luke 3:3-4)
[_02_] In a wilderness/remote location with very few – or no – highways/paths/interstates, John proposes new infrastructure.
This is a spiritual path – a method of life/structure – meant to lead us closer to God.
“In his own day, the baptism of John – [in the Jordan River] was a symbol of holiness and receiving this baptism called the person to reform and turn back to God. We read elsewhere in the Gospel that many Pharisees and Sadducees came to John to be baptized (Matthew 3:7) but since they did not believe in the necessity of their repentance (Matthew 21:32), the did not receive John’s baptism.” (Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia, “John the Baptist”)
Thus, this baptism, first by John and later by Jesus is a free choice. Those who travel the road – who prepare the way of the Lord do so freely.
[_03_] Prepare the way of the Lord, prepare the road.
What are the requirements for an adequate roadway?
[_04_] One is communication / understanding. John -- as spiritual infrastructure engineer – wants to improve access for those who may feel they are in a very slow lane to salvation.
And, many people leave the densely populated city and arrive in the desert. They repent, they are baptized.
This is a new stage of prayer, spiritual communication.
Isn’t it easier to enter or exit a roadway with travelers who yield, who communicate. And, certainly, our path is safer and more pleasant when we are attentive to other travelers.
Or, when family members speak to each other, make time for each other. This requires a slower pace.
Rather than building a transcontinental bullet train or superhighway, John is inviting us to a road with meditation, contemplation, slowly and freely.
First, a road needs communication/understanding.
[_05_] Secondly, a road needs maintenance/care.
In our Catholic sacrament of penance and reconciliation, we maintain our path, our level for our own good and those of others – drivers and passengers and pedestrians.
We repent of our sins so that we can keep moving and to remove from our way – obstacles.
Obstacles such as selfishness, anger, resentment…or as St. Paul summarized in this letter to the Corinthians, to put aside childish things.
At times, all of us have had – or will have – an obstacle in our path.
This care/maintenance and repentance reminds us that we can know what is truly good for us.
[_06_] On Fifth Avenue and beyond, the federal, state and local governments build roads/pathways with …..–
- Yes, asphalt for vehicles and pedestrians
- Also, regulations for commerce and business
- Also, standards for education.
The government passes laws and speed limits for activity on the New Jersey Turnpike, within the banking system, and at River Dell High School.
In 2010, two years ago, a new road/path for medical/health care was passed and signed by Congress and the White House.
It is good that the Department of Health and Human Services has improved this road.
And, since all roads are established for a community, the roads themselves have limits, requirements.
What we – as Catholics and many people of faith – are concerned about are certain requirements which infringe upon religious freedom and conscience.
In particular, there mandates which would force a Catholic institution – Seton Hall University, Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, the University of Notre Dame – to contract, arrange and pray for contraceptive coverage including abortion.
I also invite you to consult our bulletin for more information on our current period of prayer - 2 weeks now leading up to July 4 – for religious freedom and protection of conscience..
The Catholic Healthcare Association, under the leadership of Sister Carol Keehan, the nationwide consortium of Catholic hospitals, acknowledges that law allows for some organizations to be exempt from this requirement. However, the exemption/exception for conscience is narrower than any conscience clause ever enacted.
Our hospital leadership and Catholic bishops are concerned that lawmakers have essential put a concrete divider – not in the road – but in our own mission and organization.
This concrete divider attempts to separate – in minute detail – the financial and the spiritual obligations of religious institutions.
Could this mean that a Catholic hospital only practices its mission by offering Sunday Mass in the first floor chapel by the elevator?
Or, would a Catholic hospital not also practice its mission in the choice of health coverage and in the medical services offered.
The mission and ethical standards is meant to inform not only the prayer but also the … the medical diagnosises, and the salary and benefits – of an Catholic /religious organization. Our ethics are rooted in a teaching also about the sanctity of life.
[_07_] In this time, we also recall 2 important Constitutions – the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
And, Vatican II, Dignitatis Humanae, “individuals are not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to their consciences.”
[_08_] To have a road, we need communication, maintenance …and we need accessibility.
Accessiblity is good in health care.
However, we also believe accessibility goes hand in hand with justice, and with the sanctity of life.
This is true in personal relationships as well.
We are called to prepare the way of the Lord.
Do I really act in accord in accord with my conscience toward others treating them with respect, sanctity, justice?
Or, do I sometimes charge a different toll, a different price for the same services …
Am I willing to sacrifice not only for the good of my friends but also for those who may oppose me…those who do not return my love?
The Lord calls us to build a road. The road is not only for my freedom and salvation but for the freedom and salvation of all.
And, the road is also to welcome our Savior.
The highway is for our God.
 “John the Baptist,” New Testament section, Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia, p. 356. New York: Wagner Publishers, 1956.
 Letter to HHS from Carol Keehan June 15, 2012, p. 3.