A new year begins in the Church’s life each Advent. This holy season reminds us that God is with us. If God is with us, St. Paul writes (cf. Romans 8:31), who can be against us?
Who can be against us?
Actually, many can be against us. Many are. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the Church in America faces greater obstacles to her freedom and mission today than at any time since we first became a nation. Our own federal government is seeking to force Catholics and other people of faith to cooperate in intrinsic evils, by requiring us to pay or provide for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-producing drugs regardless of our moral and religious convictions.
So, is St. Paul wrong? No, he is right: Christ is stronger than all forces of evil. Everyone else and everything else are as nothing in comparison with His Kingdom. He has conquered sin and death. His victory, however, while definitively won, is not yet fully displayed in human history. Thus, Jesus tells us, “Beware I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” Since He is sending us and He is with us, we need not fear, but we do need to be prepared for spiritual battle: engaging forces of darkness with the weapons of God’s grace and truth, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Five-part plan for battle
I ask every Catholic in our diocese to build spiritual stamina and fortitude of heart for the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. We need to form our consciences according to the teachings of Christ and then be ready faithfully to follow them. Please join me in a five-part plan of prayer and penance for the defense of religious freedom, marriage and family, and the sanctity of human life:
- Make a monthly holy hour of eucharistic adoration. Surrender to Christ your needs and those of the Church.
- Entrust yourself and your family to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pray the rosary daily, alone or with your family.
- At every Sunday Mass, pray for these intentions, together with fellow Catholics gathered around the altar of the Lord.
- Abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year, and offer other acts of penance on Fridays if you are able.
- Engage in the next Fortnight for Freedom to take place June 21-July 4, 2013.
A question of conscience
Pope John Paul II said that the defining characteristic of St. Thomas More was fidelity to his conscience, manifested by his refusing to compromise his commitment to the Church. Consider the late Holy Father’s words about this great patron of lawyers and politicians: “Thomas More witnessed the primacy of truth over power… He died as a martyr because of his passion for truth… for him his moral conscience was a defining voice, the voice of God in his soul.”
Our federal government’s attempt to infringe on the rights of conscience of people of faith contradicts the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It also stands contrary to the teaching of the Church, as the Catechism states (#1782): “Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.”
We cannot stand by idly when our faith is attacked and when religious freedom and rights of conscience are placed in jeopardy. God calls us to a way of life that both obliges us and empowers us to bring our truths and values into the public square and to express our love for Christ in works of education, health care, social services and advocacy, or wherever we may be in the world of commerce.
Religious freedom is both a moral issue and a religious issue which impacts on us personally and upon all the millions of people served in America each day by Catholic people and our organizations. In prayer and penance let us seek from God the stamina and fortitude needed to remain faithful to Him in these difficult times — the times when God has destined us to bear witness to His Kingdom. He is with us, and He is Lord of all, so who can be against us?