An encounter with the Lord frees us from sin and fear, and frees us for mission and evangelization, said Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore in his homily at the closing Mass for the USCCB’s Fortnight for Freedom.
The July 3 Mass was held during the Convocation of Catholic Leaders in Orlando, Florida, and concluded the U.S. Bishop’s Fortnight for Freedom, a two week period of prayer for religious freedom in the United States.
The Mass was also celebrated on the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, also known as “doubting Thomas”, from whom we can learn a lot about freedom, Archbishop Lori said.
Archbishop Lori started by sharing his own moment of doubting.
When he was about 10 years old, the only working TV set in his house broke, the Archbishop recalled. Forced to live without shows like “I Love Lucy” and Fulton Sheen’s “Life is Worth Living”, he would sneak away to friends’ houses to watch TV.
Then one day, his parents told him they’d won a new TV in a raffle. But he didn’t believe them, he thought they were joking.
“It was only when the TV was delivered that I believed them,” the Archbishop said.
“Blessed are those who have not seen ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and yet still believe,” he joked.
But in the case of Thomas the Apostle, who didn’t believe the other apostles about the Risen Lord, the “stakes were much higher.”
“Thomas had been with the Lord from the beginning, heard him preach, saw the miracles, enjoyed the Lord’s friendship,” he said. But after Jesus’ crucifixion and death, it must have seemed like the end of the world to Thomas.
“So when the apostles said the Risen Lord had appeared, Thomas thought they were delusional and demanded proof. Thomas got his (proof) as the Lord invited him to touch his wounds, by which we are made whole,” Archbishop Lori said.
This encounter with the Lord set Thomas free for mission, he added. According to Church tradition, Thomas set off to evangelize India, where he didn’t know the language or the culture but he relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to spread the Gospel.
The theme of the Catholic Convocation is The Joy of the Gospel, after Pope Francis’ encyclical by the same name. Common threads of the convocation have been evangelization, mission and reaching the peripheries.
The theme of this year’s Fortnight for Freedom was “Freedom for Mission”, of which Thomas the Apostle is a good example, Archbishop Lori noted.
“Notice that it was for freedom that the Lord Jesus set Thomas free,” Archbishop Lori said.
“By breathing into Thomas the Holy Spirit, the Risen Lord set Thomas free from the yoke of sin, the Lord set Thomas free from the constraints of unbelief that lock us in a self-contained world of fear, he set thomas free for mission, free to leave everything behind so as to bring the Gospel as a stranger in a strange land,” he said.
“Might you and I need to undergo a process of conversion not unlike that of the Apostle Thomas?” he asked.
This conversion and increase of faith frees us for mission, and allows us to better protect our freedoms, especially our religious freedoms, in a country and a world where they are increasingly threatened, he added.
When we allow the Lord to touch us and free us from sin and fear, “we are free for mission…able to engage those who have no faith or have lost their faith, engage those alienated from the Church or who are lukewarm, those who are on the cusp of holiness and vocation and mission themselves,” he said.
As Catholic University of America’s President John Garvey once told a gathering of US Bishops: “If we want to preserve our freedoms, we must love God more.”
“Yes, we must take all the steps necessary to protect our freedom, advocate for those whose freedom has been denied, we must litigate, engage political leaders and one another,” Archbishop Lori added.
“But in the end, nothing will ever be more important than evangelizing, bearing witness, teaching and fulfilling our mission to love.”