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Catholics praying for religious freedom

By: 27 June 2013 One Comment
Fr. Melnick

Fr. Melnick

Editor’s Note: Both this column from Father James Melnick and the one after it will touch on the Fortnight for Freedom. To that end, we at First Arkansas News believe a brief explanation of what that event is will benefit our readers. You can read about the event at length by visiting Fornight4Freedom.org, but we’re happy to provide a summary. In a nutshell, the Fortnight 4 Freedom is a two-week period of prayer focusing on the preservation of religious freedoms in the United States. It started on June 21 and will conclude on July 4. The Fortnight for Freedom was first observed last year in response to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that would require Catholic hospitals to go against core beliefs by providing health care insurance covering contraception and contraceptive services to employees or face fines starting Aug. 1. Contraceptive services, by the way, include “abortion drugs” that terminate pregnancies. The Fortnight for Freedom has expanded to cover First Amendment religious freedoms in general and we’ll discuss those in a later article.

Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson wrote a novel Come Rack! Come Rope! about religious persecution during the Elizabethan era in England. The “more-than-just-a-novel” shows the gradualness of the bullying of Catholics into submission and execution by the British government. And its story is very apropos for the United States today.

Robin and Marjorie are two lovers who at the beginning of the book find out that the girl’s father had been taxed one time too many for being Catholic. In England at the time, the monarchy levied a tax or a penalty for not worshiping in the Church of England.

As the plot unfolds, Robin and Marjorie become enamored with a higher love, with the One who is Love. Robin decides to become a Catholic priest, and Marjorie dedicates her life to preserving the Catholic faith in her locale of Derbyshire, England, by coordinating clandestine Masses and hiding priests. She abandons her father, who becomes progressively protestant and involved with the government and its obsession to stomp out the Catholic faith. Catholics are soon put in jail for not paying the fines, and later condemned to be hung at Tyburn Tree for not cooperating with the government and its religion. Robin does a fine job living out his Catholic faith without capitulating. The final scenes are tragic, and best left to be read yourself. Joseph Pearce back in February wrote a great article for Crisis Magazine on this book.

Of course, religion was never the cited reason for the persecution. It was dressed up as a civic fault. “Treason”.  Taxed. Given citations and fined. Imprisoned. Silenced. Killed. For Justice’s sake. It was just the right thing to do for the kingdom.

These days in America, 237 years after the first protest for freedom, are we on the brink of these turbulent times? Fines? Imprisonments? I imagine that taxing and fining are the first ways any organization or institution tries to sway anyone from protesting. Money is definitely a talking point. But I imagine many Catholics and bishops will not stop fighting for religious freedom based on this. If we do not comply by the August 1st deadline to have our schools and hospitals in line with the ACA policies, we will be fined I imagine. And then what? When all our money is gone? Will they confiscate our schools and hospitals? Our parish halls? What then? Imprisoning the bishops until they repent.

I have not seen the penalties yet for non-compliance, but it surely sounds Elizabethan. And there will be the choice. Do we just cave in, like Marjorie’s father? It doesn’t seem so bad to buy insurance, right? The overall good will outweigh an abortion or two. God will forgive our weakness. Or do we stand up like Robin to the bitter end? Martyrs in those days were willing to die for smaller matters of conscience. At what point would I start suffering for my faith?

Our God is a God of Strength and Fortitude. And I am weak. I’m not the stuff of which martyrs are made.  May God help me and all Catholics persevere if we are threatened to relax our faith in order to please the government. As for now, we pray during this Fortnight for Freedom that the laws and those who make them would respect religious freedom, that we would avoid 16th-century injustice and brutality (although perhaps the 20th century saw more martyrs than even those terrible times). I pray for the president, the elected officials, and for the bishops that we may be dedicated to true freedom and persevere in justice.

About: Fr. James Melnick:
Father James Melnick is a priest for the Diocese of Little Rock. He is a graduate of Holy Trinity Seminary (University of Dallas '05) and the Pontifical North American College ('09). He is currently serving at Conway-St. Joseph's and Danville-St. Andrews. Visit him online at Bible Belt Catholic.

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