Catholic Free Press

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Fortnight for Freedom

Posted By June 28, 2012 | 5:12 pm | Featured Article #2
vespers crowd

By Tanya Connor

“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.”
Bishop McManus made this and similar points at the diocese’s opening event for the Fortnight for Freedom, a service of solemn vespers, eucharistic adoration and Benediction which drew more than 800 people to St. Paul Cathedral Friday. Bishops Reilly and Rueger, and dozens of priests and deacons, were among them.
“People were very, very moved and very, very appreciative of the bishop’s message,” said Allison LeDoux, director of the diocesan Respect Life and Marriage and Family Offices. She had disseminated material about the Fortnight, including Bishop McManus’ request that priests bring parishioners to the opening vespers.
Bishop McManus thanked worshippers for coming, telling them their presence was edifying to him as bishop.
“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,’” Bishop McManus said in his homily.
“We bishops – I your bishop – have asked our Catholic faithful to look to the great saints in our Catholic history whose courage we can both admire and emulate,” he said.
He noted that Friday, the day after the Fortnight began, was the feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, “beheaded by a king who demanded that they not speak the truth about the Church and the sacred bond of marriage.” Coming up was the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, “martyred by the Roman emperor for their preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. The fortnight will conclude on July 4, “the day when we Americans celebrate our nation’s foundation in liberty and justice for all,” he added.
“Our first and most cherished liberty as Americans is religious freedom,  the firm foundation of all our other freedoms,” the bishop said. “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.”
He told the congregation, “It is good for us to be here tonight,” and noted that the bishops have identified “several attacks on religious liberty in our country.”
He spoke of the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that all employers, including Catholic institutions, provide health insurance for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. He called this mandate “a national assault on our Church’s religious liberty without precedent in our nation’s history.”
He also expressed concern about “laws which prohibit the spiritual and charitable assistance given by the Church to undocumented immigrants.” He noted that we, as Church, serve them not because they are Catholics, but because we are Catholic.
Freedom is God’s gift, so no government “can legitimately force us to violate the freedom of conscience,” Bishop McManus said. Nothing in civil life or 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,” he said, referring to Rom. 8:35.
“Christ Jesus has set us free for freedom,” he said. “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.”
Bishop McManus quoted St. Thomas More, writing to his daughter before his execution: “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.”
He called on St. Thomas More to  “pray for us at this time when the religious liberty of our beloved Church is threatened” that “we prove to be loyal citizens of our country and faithful servants of the God who is the source of all freedom and truth.”
“I’m just so grateful for our bishop, for his strength,” Herman Millett, of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Westborough, said after the service. “He’s in my prayers always.”
“Friday night, the bishop deserved a standing ovation,” Pauline Morris, of St. Mary Parish in Grafton, said Monday, after participating in another Fortnight event in downtown Worcester. “We are so fortunate to have such a pro-life bishop leading us. He’s such a good shepherd.”
She also expressed appreciation for again experiencing vespers, and having young people experience it. She said they did it every Sunday afternoon when she was growing up.
“It was beautiful,” said Gina Koss-Stephany, a young person from St. Mary’s. “I liked the singing, that everybody was participating. I liked the incense and all the reverence.”
“I really think it brought joy to your heart,” seeing people one knows all in one place, said Eileen Dunn, of Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Worcester.     “I was impressed with the number of people,” said Christine Toloczko, of Immaculate Conception Parish in Worcester.
“It’s always good to see people coming from all over the diocese for something important” – like religious freedom – said Father Leo-Paul LeBlanc, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Winchendon. He noted that Catholics all over the nation were gathering for the same purpose, and added, “There’s a lot of strength in knowing that.”

– Bishop McManus is also to preach for the diocese’s closing of the fortnight, at a Mass at 7 p.m. July 2 at St. Stephen Parish, 355 Grafton St., in Worcester. Following Mass, Christopher Klofft, assistant professor of theology at Assumption College, is to give a talk titled “Freedom and Truth: What it Means to be Catholic and American Right Now.”

Bishop McManus’ homily follows.

Fortnight For Freedom
Friday, June 22, 2012
Cathedral of St. Paul

Bishop McManus

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)

1.    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.
2.    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.
3.    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.
4.    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.
5.    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.  6.  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.
7.     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.
8.    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.”
9.    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.

 

 

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