My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,1
As I said at the beginning of this Mass, it’s a beautiful grace to celebrate this great feast of the birthday of St. John the Baptist.
St. John the Baptist is the only one besides Jesus and Mary, Our Blessed Mother, whose birthday the Church celebrates.
We honor him because he marks a turning point in the history of salvation. St. John the Baptist stands at the threshold — between the world before Christ and world after his coming.
He is the last and the greatest of the prophets. And he was the first to proclaim Jesus Christ and to herald his coming as our Savior — as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.2
We still speak these beautiful words of John the Baptist every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, right before we distribute Holy Communion.
John was willing to suffer imprisonment and even death to bear witness to his faith in Jesus and in God.
And so this beautiful feast touches us in a special way today. Because as I said at the start of this holy Mass, we are joined in solidarity this morning with our Catholic brothers all across the country in commemorating a “Fortnight for Freedom.”
My brothers and sisters, it’s important for us to remember: this “fortnight” is not about politics. It’s about God and our relationship with God. It’s about our freedom to do what our faith in Jesus Christ requires.
St. Paul used to say, “For freedom Christ has set us free!”3 He did not set us free to serve ourselves. We are set free for God — to love and to serve him. We are set free to be his instruments in bringing his salvation to our brothers and sisters.
The freedom of Christ is the freedom to live as children of God! In our first reading today, from the prophet Isaiah, we hear about this beautiful mystery of our lives.
Isaiah tells us:
“The Lord called me ... from my mother’s womb.
He gave me my name....
He formed me as his servant from the womb.”
What the prophet says is true. Not just for him. Not just for the saints like John the Baptist. This is true for each one of us!
Before we were born, God knew our names. Before we were born, God had a plan for our lives. A plan of love for every one of us.
That’s why religious freedom is essential to our human dignity.
Religious freedom is a “means.” It’s not an “end.” We need freedom of religion in our society so that we can live as children of God. So that we can seek God’s face and respond to his call of love in our lives!
My brothers and sisters, our faith is not something we are meant to keep to ourselves. Jesus sets us free to love God with our whole heart and whole mind; with all our soul and all of our strength.4
In our Gospel today, we hear the story of how St. John the Baptist was born. And we hear something beautiful about St. Elizabeth, his mother. The Gospel tells us: “Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her — and they rejoiced with her.”
This teaches us an important truth about our faith and our relationship with God.
God does not create us in isolation. Each of us is born through the love of a mother and a father. We’re born with neighbors and relatives, just like St. Elizabeth and just like St. John the Baptist.
We find God, and we live our faith in God — not alone by ourselves — but always in the company of others.
That’s why religious liberty is much more than our personal freedom to pray and worship. Because our faith is social. We are called to live our faith in Jesus with others and for others.
Our faith in Jesus Christ gives us a beautiful responsibility for our society and our neighbors.
In our second reading today, we heard about how St. John the Baptist was given the duty to proclaim Jesus to all the people of his nation. We’ve been given that same responsibility by our Baptism, my brothers and sisters.
You and I are called by God — just as John the Baptist was — to be a light to our nation. To tell the world of God’s mercy and salvation. To share our joy in believing with everyone we meet.
Our country needs to hear the good news about God again! America needs a new awakening to the spiritual and ethical values that are a part of our nation’s Christian heritage and founding. Our fellow citizens are waiting for a new evangelization and a new moral conversion. They are waiting for us to tell them about Jesus!
My dear brothers and sisters, as we pray during these next two weeks leading up to our Independence Day, let’s keep this in mind: The greatest threat to our freedom of religion doesn’t come from our government or from forces in our secular society.
The greatest threat we face comes from our own lack of faith and our own lack of courage.
We need to love God more and more! With more passion and with more daring. We need to ask Jesus every day to increase our faith and to be our strength.5
Jesus has set us free for freedom. So let’s really live with the liberty of Christ. Serving one another through love!6
Let’s commit ourselves again to telling Los Angeles and America — that Jesus is alive and that he is calling us to a great destiny of love. And let’s keep working with our fellow citizens to create a society of mutual sharing, reconciliation, and love, rooted in the sanctity of the human person and the family.
And may Immaculate Mary, the patroness of the United States, give us all the virtue we need to defend the liberty of the Church and our freedom of conscience.
1. Readings (Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Year B): Isa. 49:1-6; Ps. 139:1-3, 13-15; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80.
2. John 1:29.
3. Gal. 5:1.
4. Mark 12:30.
5. Luke 17:5; Phil 4:13.
6. Gal. 5:13.