The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese's 820,000 Catholics.
The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese’s 820,000 Catholics.

That the popular culture in America has changed dramatically in the past half century is news to no one. Nor should it be surprising that such a dramatic change in culture would greatly impact Catholics since we make up nearly a quarter of our nation’s population. While there is more than one way to evaluate a culture’s impact, it is undeniable that, in the past 50-plus years, the Church in America has experienced many difficulties.

Presently, among the most prominent difficulties facing the Church are the unprecedented attacks from our own government with regard to religious liberty and even the taking of innocent human life.  Every day we also are exposed to a media that is often hostile to not only the Church in America, but to marriage, family life, and anyone who would dare to defend these fine institutions.  We live in a culture that inundates us with a value system that is harming all of our society, including families, children, and the Church herself.

Read 'Catholic and American?' Parts 1-7

Is it the culture’s fault?

But was it a corrosive popular culture that brought about all the difficulties within the Church? Of course not; it would be an over-simplification merely to blame the Church’s problems on an increasingly secularistic American culture. For there have been times in the Church’s history when cultures very hostile to the faith proved to be fertile ground for her growth; the light of the Gospel shines forth most brilliantly when a given culture is at its darkest. The interaction between the Church and culture is multi-layered and often ambivalent.

While one cannot deny that popular culture influences the attitudes and actions of the people within it — both for good and for bad, the people themselves also influence the culture, again for both good and for bad. So, nothing is to be gained by simply blaming the culture. On the other hand, the Church cannot fulfill her mission without taking a critical look at the culture.

There are significant cultural elements in America which conflict with the Catholic faith; and their number and threat has multiplied significantly in the last half century. Some of these elements present formidable obstacles to the mission of the Church today. To be able to name these conflicts allows Catholics to be prepared to contend with them (using faith and reason, and relying on God’s grace), and not to be caught unaware and consequently overrun by their impact. This is why we bishops have organized a year ago a Fortnight for Freedom in our country, and why we are doing so again this year.

Fortnight for Freedom AD 2013

Beginning on June 21, 2012, the U.S. Catholic bishops organized a two-week period of reflection, prayer and action to promote a greater awareness of religious liberty in our country and also around the world. The fortnight began on the Vigil of the Feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, English martyrs whose brave witness to the faith, even until death, continue to stir the hearts of believers around the world. The fortnight concluded on the Fourth of July, the celebration of our national independence.

Given the fact that threats to religious liberty in our country have not abated in the past year but in fact have become even more ominous, we have called for another Fortnight for Freedom, to be officially inaugurated with an opening Mass at 7 p.m. on June 21 (the Vigil of the Feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher) in the first Catholic Cathedral in the United States, the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore. Here in our own diocese, the fortnight will be inaugurated at a Mass on June 22 that I shall celebrate with the Phoenix Diocesan Council of Catholic Women at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral. Please join us if you are able.

Catholics throughout our nation shall take part in the fortnight, for many of the same reasons that we did so last year. Here in the Diocese of Phoenix, we have planned a number of activities. I urge you to take part in at least one of these events, or at least join us through solidarity in prayer.

Goals of the Fortnight for Freedom

There are two over-arching goals of the fortnight: in the first place, it recalls and celebrates the truth that faith enriches public life. While faith is a deeply personal reality, a gift of God and response to Him, faith is not a private reality. A person of faith becomes a fountain of truth and charity for society, as well as a defender of human dignity and a fundamental component of life together in society.

In the second place, we need to make a strong and clear statement to our federal government at this key moment in history: Do not persist in the misguided path set down in the HHS’ contraceptive mandates which presently compel people of faith like Catholics to violate our deeply held convictions.

Government coercion such as this threatens the dignity of human persons, who have a natural right to respond in faith to our Creator and Maker. The violation of religious liberty is also anti-American, contrary to the founding principles of our nation, as clearly articulated by James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers of our nation.

The Lord calls us to be both loyal citizens and faithful Catholics. Perhaps there has never been a time when our mission as Catholics was more needed in our country. I hope to see many of you at some of the Fortnight for Freedom events.

Next time, I will continue these reflections on being Catholic and American. As I said before, the vast field of evangelization in America has both disturbing trends and grace-filled opportunities. It is precisely in the face of both that we have the duty and privilege of knowing, loving and serving Jesus Christ.