Fortnight for Freedom to end Thursday
Editors note: This column wraps up a two-part series about the Fortnight for Freedom, an event running from June 21 to July 4 in which Catholics have gathered to pray for the preservation of religious freedom. You can find the first column in the series here and find out more about the Fortnight for Freedom at Fortnight4Freedom.org. Bear in mind that the Supreme Court effectively struck down both the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8 after the Fortnight for Freedom took place and you can read about those decisions and their ramifications here (I mention this so the statement by the bishops of the United States referred to in the column will be taken in context). It turns out that Catholic officials suspected the Supreme Court’s rulings would go a long way toward redefining marriage and it turns out that assessment was correct.
Knowing Jesus and following him isn’t necessarily always easy. And although I’ve heard of martyrs and persecutions, and I know Jesus says take up your cross daily, I usually don’t see the outright hostility and hardship that goes with being a Christian.
Well, the bishops of the United States are warning us of turbulent times ahead:
The bishops have called us to participate in this two-week period of prayer and action to address the many current challenges to religious freedom, including the August 1 deadline to comply with the mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services for all employers, including the Church, to provide health insurance for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. For more than a year, the bishops, Catholic citizens, and religious leaders of various faiths have attempted to work with the government to secure an exemption from the mandate. Unfortunately, the government has been unwilling to provide an exemption for the vast majority of faith-based organizations, including Catholic hospitals, universities, and charitable organizations.
In addition to the mandate, there are other threats to religious freedom: new laws which prohibit the Church from offering spiritual and charitable assistance to undocumented immigrants; laws that have effectively closed Church-run adoption agencies in Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., and an expected Supreme Court decision that may attempt to redefine marriage in U.S. law.
Knowing who Jesus is and believing him also requires obeying him and keeping his commands. We cannot and will not pay for abortions on contraception in our health care or insurance. Pope Paul VI said it is easy to be a Christian when it’s hard to be a Christian. And vice-versa, it’s hard to be a Christian when it’s easy. When we have to defend our beliefs and live them out daily, perhaps even through losing other freedoms, then we are given chances to witness to Jesus. Easy. May Jesus who shows us the way of discipleship also give us the courage and desire to follow him, losing our lives to gain it.
Prayer for Religious Liberty
Almighty God, Father of all nations, For freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:1).
We praise and bless you for the gift of religious liberty,
the foundation of human rights, justice, and the common good.
Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect and promote our liberties;
By your grace may we have the courage to defend them,
for ourselves and for all those who live in this blessed land.
We ask this through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our patroness,
and in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
with whom you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
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.