By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — A Kansas City, Kan., priest warned Catholic health care professionals of a “great threat to religious liberty” in proposed federal requirements that will require insurance companies to provide artificial birth control free of cost to all women.
“This threat is real,” said Father Steven Beseau, homilist at the annual White Mass Feb. 11 at the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
The Mass was elebrated by Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn, and concelebrated by Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, as well as Father Ernie Davis and Father Beseau, Missouri and Kansas chaplains of the Catholic Medical Association that organized the celebration with the assistance of the Knights of Malta.
The proposed rules of the federal Department of Health and Human Services at first did not exempt church-affiliated employers from requirements to provide prescription artificial contraception coverage through their employee health insurance plans, even though the Catholic church teaches strongly against artificial birth control.
On Feb. 10, President Barack Obama announced that Catholic Church universities, hospitals and social service agencies would not be required to provide such coverage, but that women employees of those agencies would be able to get it without cost, with the costs borne by their insurance carriers.
Father Beseau called the proposed rules “an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience in this country.”
“The actions taken by the current administration should create in us the righteous anger that comes when grave injustice is set before us,” Father Beseau told the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals at the Mass.
“It should lead us to prayer and fasting so that justice will prevail,” he said. “It should lead us to action, especially the laity who are called to work in the public square.”
Father Beseau said requiring the church to cover artificial birth control against its teachings “is not simply a Catholic or even religious issue.”
“Our vigorous defense is not just for those who have religious exemptions to these mandates. It is also for those who have moral objections to them, regardless of their religious belief,” he said.
“Our vigorous defense is not just for Catholic institutions, but also for a correct understanding of the human person and respect for all life,” Father Beseau said.
“A woman’s fertility is not a sickness,” he said. “An unborn child cannot be equated with a cancer or disease. These seem to be the ideas that form the reasoning behind the government’s decision regarding this aspect of the mandate.”
Father Beseau said that all Catholics “should also commend our bishops for speaking so clearly and firmly.”
“Individually, collectively and as a conference, the bishops of the United States are to be affirmed for their vigorous response,” he said. “Let us pray for them and also thank them, especially those present here this morning, for standing strong and offering courageous leadership in this time of difficulty.”
Father Beseau, who serves as director of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, commended the Catholic health care professionals for witnessing their faith in their practice to serve the sick, the suffering and the dying.
“Sickness and death are not the last word,” he said. “Our lives can be transformed when we freely conform ourselves to Jesus Christ.”
Reflecting on the readings for the day from Isaiah and the Gospel of John, Father Beseau noted that Isaiah’s portrait of Jerusalem was that of the “heavenly Jerusalem where there will be comfort, peace, abundance and rejoicing.”
“It is when we are suffering, when we are in pain, that we lose those things,” he said. “We lack comfort, physically, mentally and spiritually. We cannot find peace or consolation. We come up against our limitations and find little to rejoice about.”
But Isaiah offers a “message of hope.”
“With faith in God as a provident Father, we know we are not abandoned,” Father Beseau said.
“Even in our sickness and pain, we are provided for, in this life and in the life to come,” he said.
“This is a part of the ‘good news of suffering,’ the ‘Gospel of Suffering’ as Blessed Pope John Paul II described it,” Father Beseau said.
“The why of suffering is answered in a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who says, ‘Follow me. Come. Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world through my cross,’” he said.
“Suffering is a vocation, a call to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus,” he said. “It is answered in the redemptive meaning of suffering united to the cross of Jesus Christ.”
That is what sets Catholic health care professionals apart, Father Beseau said.
“Your first motivation is the love of Jesus Christ,” he said.
“The love of Christ compels us. The love of Christ urges us on,” he said. “It is our love, united to the love of Christ that allows us to truly serve the sick, the poor and the dying.”
Father Beseau told a story of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. A priest celebrating Mass for her Missionaries of Charity told them that were Jesus Christ to the sick and suffering they served.
After the Mass, “no sooner does the priest walk into the sacristy, than Mother Teresa follows right behind him with her finger wagging and says, ‘No, Father. We are not Christ to the sick and dying. The sick and dying are Christ to us,’” Father Beseau said.
“The love of Christ compels us, yes, to imitate Christ, but also to see Christ in those we serve,” Father Beseau said.