‘Fortnight’ kickoff Mass highlights forgiveness, fatherhood as ways to bear witness

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The ideas of forgiveness, freedom and fatherhood surfaced during the June 21 kickoff Mass for the Fortnight for Freedom in the Diocese of Phoenix.

The liturgy was part of a nationwide observance that calls for prayer in the 14 days leading up to the Fourth of July. It’s a way to collectively celebrate and pray for the protection of religious freedom while observing the feast days of several saints who faced religious persecution.

FORTNIGHT FOR FREEDOM

The Diocese of Phoenix invites you to spend time in daily reflection during the Fortnight for Freedom via its video series.

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Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted celebrated Phoenix’s opening Mass from Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral. He highlighted the close connection between fatherhood and freedom. He quoted the hymn, “Faith of Our Fathers,” and reminded Massgoers — plus those tuning in via the televised and livestreamed liturgy — that Jesus can free His followers from fear and “other things that paralyze our soul or that shrivel our heart.”

The bishop said Jesus frees people from selfishness and individualism, the bishop said, emphasizing the communal nature of lines in the “Our Father” prayer.

“The Father frees us from our trespasses so we can forgive those who trespass against us. We saw this miracle of forgiveness at work during this past week,” the bishop said, recalling public statements relatives of the victims shared in court following the deadly shooting at a Bible study in South Carolina.

“No anger. No accusation. Just grieving hearts — broken — but refusing to return hatred for hatred or evil for evil. That’s freedom in Christ,” the bishop said.

He went on to quote the daughter of one of the victims who forgave the killer saying, “You took something very precious away from me… You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you. And I forgive you.”

An unbelieving world looked on in amazement, the bishop said, to see Christians loving their enemies. This is religious freedom, he said.

The Fortnight for Freedom is a time to give thanks for the freedom that no one can take away, the bishop said.

“Oh yes, we can lose religious liberty… we may be harassed and threatened and called terrible names. We can be forced to flee with our children for safety as is happening from many coming to our Valley from Iraq or Syria or northern Africa, … but no one can take from us the freedom to follow our conscience. That’s what we have by God’s gift,” Bishop Olmsted said.

He urged Catholics to pray for three groups of people during this Fortnight for Freedom: those who suffer persecution for their faith, especially in Iraq and other middle Eastern countries, religious freedom in America and restored respect for rights of conscience and for the freedom to love children.

He went on to quote former NFL player Matt Birk, who once addressed Phoenix Catholics at the diocesan Men’s Conference. Birk said that football isn’t who he is. Being a father is the legacy he cares about.

“Being a shepherd of their hearts — that’s a major responsibility; that’s a job that’s too important to fail,” Birk told Columbia magazine, the monthly publication for some 1.8 million Knight of Columbus members worldwide.

Filling the first several rows of the cathedral alongside their spouses and children of all ages sat the Knights of Columbus council from Ss. Simon and Jude. Their monthly Mass as a council happened to coincide with the kickoff for the Fortnight for Freedom and with Father’s Day.

Grand Knight Keith Johnson said it can be a challenge to live as Christians, but found comfort in the fact that a person’s daily treatment of others is one way to bear witness to the faith.

“Since you fall short, that also keeps you humble,” Johnson said.

He also advised praying for others, especially for those who hurt you.

“We should do it, but it’s so difficult,” Johnson said. “It flies in the face of normal behavior.”

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