Five quick (Catholic) thoughts on the Fortnight for Freedom

June 25, 2012

If you’re Catholic, you probably have heard about the Fortnight for Freedom declared by the US Bishops last Thursday (and if not, here‘s a friendly reminder :)).  And whether you’re Catholic or not, you likely have heard about the controversy over the Federal Government’s healthcare mandate that employers provide contraception and family planning to employees — even if it violates the employers’ conscience.  You might also have heard about certain “compromises” being offered by the government, but these are more acts of lip-service and public image than they are actual concessions:  Numerous Catholic (and other religious) organizations remain nonexempt.

Whatever way you look at it, this is governmental compulsion that violates religious liberty:  An employer should be free not to provide contraception if she is morally opposed to it, especially if she is being required to pay for it.  Contraception is not a health care need, and if the employees don’t like that, they can switch jobs.  (This is like forcing Jews to serve pork at a restaurant or Muslims to serve alcohol at their weddings.)

Religious liberty is a fundamental right.  The right to worship and follow our religion’s teachings is as much a right as the right to life.

That’s why many people — Catholics, Protestants, faithful religious, and other people of good will — are taking a stand.  (Check out the video above to get an idea of this…it’s pretty stirring.)  The US Bishops are leading the way, and they have declared 14 days for Catholics to discuss, study, advocate for, and pray for the preservation of religious liberty in America.

Anyway, it’s the 5th night of the Fortnight, so I thought I’d offer 5 quick thoughts on the Fortnight for Freedom.  Only skims the surface of the issue, but hopefully it can get you thinking — and praying — too.

  • I may be new to Catholic history in America, but I can’t think of another time when a reaction like this happened on such a wide-scale: across the nation, on every level from bishops to laypeople, and with every just means available (legal, educational, political, prayer).  Yes, Catholics are far from a united front, but this may be the closest we’ve been to one in recent memory.  Maybe. (More on this thought from Catholic Online.)
  • Not only that, but other Christians, religious, and people of good will are coming together to stand against the tide of statist secularism in defense of religious liberty.  (Word on Fire‘s Fr. Barron discusses this here…learn some English history while you’re at it!)
  • The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states on its website that the Fortnight of Freedom is a “special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action.”  Note that “prayer” comes first, because that’s where all our efforts should start.  We’re nothing without God.
  • As religious liberty is a fundamental right, Catholics have always been committed to its defense throughout history.  In fact, in the early years, Catholics may have been more committed to freedom of religion in America than the first “Americans.”
  • Be careful.  The coming assault on the church won’t be like what you saw in For Greater Glory, with priests killed and churches ransacked.  Rather, it’s going to be very PC, very subtle, in which Catholics who resist will be portrayed as “insane zealots” while Catholics who stand by idly or, worse, support the mandate, will be portrayed as restrained and rational by the media and government.  Read Fr. Longenecker’s reflection on this here.

Even with that last point in mind, it’s important that we keep hope!  And keep praying!  Pray for our rights.  Pray for our bishops, our priests, our religious, and all members of our Church.  Pray for our allies, our political leaders, and our nation.  Pray for peace, justice, goodness, and above all, pray for Truth.  So pray!  And pray hard, because there remains a nation’s heart to be won.

Our Lady of Victory, pray for us!

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Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty

O God our Creator,

Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

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Catholics in America: an Introduction to the Series

June 16, 2012

Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote that America is, at once, the most democratic country in the world and the one where Roman Catholicism would make the most progress.  This is peculiar, because nearly everyone recognizes America as a “Protestant nation,” going all the way back to the Puritans of Plymouth Plantation.  One need only look at our economics, laws, government, and even everyday customs and sensibilities to see the imprint of Protestant Christianity on American society.

Yet Tocqueville’s observations have been surprisingly prophetic.  Back in 1776, Catholic numbers were negligible.  But today, Catholics form the nation’s religious majority at nearly 25% of the population, and it seems that we see them everywhere in the news, media, and pop culture.

Moreover, through the years their contributions to the nation have been undeniably essential to America’s identity.  It was Catholics, for example, who helped formulate the American ideal of religious freedom (in Maryland).

It was Catholics (Spanish colonists in Florida and the far West, and French colonists in Louisiana) who prepared the way for America’s dream of Manifest Destiny.

Catholics drove America’s industrialization through their immigration (Irish, Germans, Austrians, Poles, Italians, French Canadians) in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it’s humble Catholic immigrants today who take a lot of the jobs no one else wants (Latin Americans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Indians).

Catholics filled the armies, started businesses, and got into government.  Today, Catholics on every level are leading the way in protecting America’s traditional and most cherished rights — above all, the rights to life and religious liberty.  In short, Catholics have become as much of Americans as their Protestant brethren.

July 4th is coming up, and as we celebrate the founding of our country and how far we as a nation have come, I thought it would be neat to do a little series on the history of Catholics in America — a tribute to their struggles, their dreams, their contributions, and their triumphs.  Three posts to come as we anticipate the celebrations on the Fourth of July.

Part I. Colonizing a New World, Cultivating the Old Faith:  from colonial times to post-Revolution – what you didn’t know about the role of Catholics in the new Protestant nation

Part II. Immigrant Infiltrators or Loyal Fighters and Workers?:  from the 1840s to the 1960s – on the explosion of Catholic immigration, and America’s paranoid response to the “foreign, monarchist, and papist threat”

Part III. (Divided) Defenders of America’s Traditional Values:  from JFK to today – how Catholics, divided but impossible to ignore, are increasingly finding themselves at the forefront of America’s most important issues.


How silly we are to those Europeans, take 2. (Oh, and Catholic Matters is back!)

June 8, 2012

There are a lot of benefits to a semester abroad in Rome: Amid the majestic churches and grand ruins, and in between breaks for Ferrero Rocher coffee and panini lunches at the corner bar, I also got the chance to see the pope, chat up Italian women in their native italiano (sort of), educate myself in fine Tuscan wines and Sicilian cinnamon liqueurs, and learn from the example of such manly men as this political genius:

“I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone.”

The pitfall of all these distractions, of course, is that I neglected Catholic Matters for a good 4 months.  And for this, I sincerely apologize.  However, after a period of presumed death comes life with renewed vigor:  Categories have been reorganized and rejuvenated, new ideas for future posts abound, and there are even rumors of a new partner blog called The Catholic Gentleman being tossed around…

Anyway, I think it’s appropriate that my first post back in America be about my Catholic experience in Europe.  Because I have to say, it wasn’t quite what I expected.

You see, you often hear from the American media that Christianity in Europe is fading away — that the breathtaking churches, teeming with beauty, history, and sanctity, are empty.  The Left, of course, delights in showing this to demonstrate the triumph of secularization and statism over religion.  But the Right just as eagerly contributes to this portrayal, too:  We are warned that we must not go the way of Europe, which has “lost touch” with its Christian roots.

As excited as I was for Rome, I was bracing myself for some of this: beautiful yet empty churches.

But obviously, it’s more complex than that.  A few of the Masses I attended, I was disappointed to find, were actually lacking in participants.  However, you have to ask yourself why, exactly, the churches were empty.

It could be that in Rome there’s a church literally on every block, and that every church has at least 4 masses every Sunday — so mass-goers, of course, would be dispersed.

It could also be that many of these churches have long been declared national historic treasures — and who wants to go to Mass with tourists taking pictures of you while you pray? (I, at any rate, found an unassuming church, devoid of tourists, next to my school building that was filled to capacity every Sunday and even on feast days.)

Moreover, the fact is, for many of the Masses I went to, the churches were full — far from the empty-church image I was taught to envision.

Just go to an Easter Sunday Mass at the Vatican to see that European Catholicism is far from fading away.

When some friends from France visited me in California a week ago, talking about attending John Paul II’s beatification and already making plans to go to World Youth Day 2013 in Rio, I was convinced:  There remain good and strong Catholics in Europe yet– a lot, actually.  Sure, Catholic Europe isn’t what she used to be, but she’s not totally lost, either.

Instead of believing the common misconception that old Europe has lost her faith, perhaps it’s better to see many of our European counterparts as like us.  Imperfect, struggling against the tide of modernity.  But still proud to be Catholic, still finding strength in the millennia-old Church that stands for Truth.

So instead of condemning them, let’s pray for them.  Because they surely are doing the same for us.