“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Trial or distress, persecution or danger or the sword? Yet in all this we are more than conquerors because of him who loved us” (Rom 8:35)
These powerful and challenging words of St. Paul the Apostle, the patron of our diocese, set the proper context for the beginning of our diocesan celebration of the “Fortnight for Freedom.” Nothing in our common life as Americans, nothing in our civil life or in politics, should separate us from the love of Christ who has died and been raised up to set us free from all that would threaten and harm us.
We gather in our cathedral church tonight because the Catholic Bishops of the United States have declared a Fortnight for Freedom, asking Catholics to engage in a “great hymn of prayer for our country” and a “national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.” We Bishops have asked our Catholic faithful to look to the great saints in our Catholic history whose courage we can both admire and emulate. Today, as the fortnight begins, the Church celebrates the Feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, one, a bishop and the other a statesman who were beheaded by a king who demanded that they not speak the truth about the Church and the sacred bond of marriage. During this coming week we will also celebrate the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, who were also martyred by the Roman emperor for their preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the fortnight will conclude on July 4th, the day when we Americans celebrate our nation’s foundation in liberty and justice for all.
My dear friends, our first and most cherished liberty as Americans is religious freedom, the firm foundation of all our other freedoms. For if we Americans are not free to follow our well-formed consciences, if we Americans cannot conduct our religious institutions according to the moral and social teachings of our Catholic faith, then all our other freedoms are made fragile. In a word, when the government demands us to do what God commands us not to do, the American heritage of freedom is imperiled, and the very moral foundations of our great republic are dangerously weakened.
We Bishops have recently identified several attacks on religious liberty in our country. The Department of Health and Human Services has issued a mandate that all employers, including Catholic institution, provide health insurance for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. This mandate is a national assault on the Church’s religious liberty without precedent in our nation’s history. There are other worrying measures at the state and local level too, notably laws which prohibit the spiritual and charitable assistance given by the Church to undocumented immigrants.
The Fortnight for Freedom reminds us that our liberty is a gift that comes from the creative hand of God who has made us in his own image and likeness. And because our freedom is, in fact, God’s gift, no human authority, no government can legitimately force us to violate the freedom of conscience.
My dear brothers and sisters, Christ Jesus has set us free for freedom. The genius of the American experiment in ordered liberty is that it has recognized this religious and moral truth. As Catholics and Americans we insist again upon that recognition. We insist today as John the Baptist insisted before King Herod; we insist today as Saints Peter and Paul insisted before the Emperor Nero; we insist today as Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More insisted before King Henry VIII; we insist that we Catholics are loyal and patriotic citizens but we are God’s servants first.
Tonight and for the next two weeks, we will fervently pray for all the branches and levels of our government, that our religious liberties be kept intact. But let us also fervently pray that all our fellow Americans may have the fortitude to stand up for their faith and their freedom.
Allow me to conclude these reflections with the words St. Thomas More wrote to his daughter, Margaret shortly before his execution for not violating his conscience by bending his knee to an unjust law. St. Thomas wrote these words: “And therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that will may be, it shall indeed be the best.”
St. Thomas More, defender of the faith, pray for us at this time when the religious liberty of our beloved Church is threatened. Through your powerful intercession may we prove to be loyal citizens of our country and faithful servants of the God who is the source of all freedom and truth. Amen
Most Rev. Robert J. McManus, S.T.D.
Vespers to Open Fortnight For Freedom
Friday, June 22, 2012
Cathedral of St. Paul, Worcester, MA