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Freedom to Bear Witness

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

By Monday, we will know the outcome of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court case that will decide whether state laws banning same-sex “marriage” violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Here in California, a bill – which fortunately is struggling – seeks to legalize physician assisted suicide (SB 128).

Both the definition of marriage case and SB 128 have profound implications for how individual Catholics and the Church and its institutions live our faith and carry out our mission. They are but two examples of the secular shift away from established Catholic teaching. From one side of our nation to the other, our shepherds are warning that “freedom to bear witness” to the great commission of Christ—go out into the world and preach the Good News—is in jeopardy.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez recently noted that we live in a more and more “de-Christianized” society and asked his audience, “So the question we all face is basic and stark:  How do we continue to live as Christians in a society that no longer has any room for Christ or for God?”

In April, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski made this observation in his Red Mass homily:

“…in this country and other liberal democracies, people of faith are being increasingly subject to a soft despotism in which ridicule, ostracism, and denial of employment opportunities of advancement are being used to marginalize us.  We see this when butchers, bakers and candlestick makers are being put into the legal dock for refusing to renounce their religious beliefs.”

Daniel Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, DC, recently wrote in “Being Catholic Today”, a pastoral letter to the people of his Archdiocese:  “An aggressive secularism and relativism assert a new morality.  Those views that do not follow the new ‘moral’ order are effectively ‘outlawed’.  Anyone who challenges the new order as false is branded as ‘intolerant’ and pressured to remain silent.”

The fourth annual Fortnight for Freedom observance (June 21 to July 4) invites us to reflect on the lives of two great saints, Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher, who were martyred for their faith in 16th century England. Even that history is being re-written in secular culture:  compare the strong and historically accurate portrayal of Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s classic drama A Man for All Seasons with his negative portrayal in Wolf Hall, a popular new PBS series.

Every day when we awake, we have the opportunity to decide anew:  conform to the world, or conform to Christ. Recently I heard a talk by Daniel Ali, a Kurdish convert from Islam to Catholicism.  He described Eucharistic Adoration as “spiritual CPR.”  We could all use a good dose of that spiritual renewal to stand up to the “soft despotism” of secularism and relativism.  Perhaps the best way to observe the 2015 Fortnight for Freedom is on our knees in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

 I close with a sobering reflection by Father Alfred Delp, S.J., a German Jesuit who was put to death by the Nazis in 1945:

 

            Life has a sensitive nervous system through which everything is connected.  Since

            the name of God is no longer the first and foremost of all names in the land and the

            voice of the people, then everything else that was once precious and prized has lost          

            its name and been subjected to false and falsifying labels.  The cliché, the label, the

            uniform, the slogan, the “dominant trend of the masses”—these are our rulers.

 

Notes:

Archbishop Jose Gomez, “A Time for Saints:  Reflections on Dorothy Day, an Apostle to America”, Fort Wayne, Indiana, May 14, 2015

Archbishop Thomas Wenski, Homily at Broward County Red Mass, April 23, 2015

Daniel Cardinal Wuerl, Pastoral Letter “Being Catholic Today”, Chapter 8, page 24; May 24, 2015

Alfred Delp, S.J., quoted from Prison Writings, Orbis Books, 2004