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‘Don’t argue about health care mandate’

Posted By June 28, 2012 | 9:43 pm | Featured Article #2
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By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – “I’m not Catholic, so this doesn’t apply to me.”
Some respond thus to the government’s mandate that employers pay for health insurance that covers contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs.
The Health and Human Services Department mandate is part of the 2010 health care reform law, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that this law is an acceptable exercise of Congress’ taxing powers.
But Catholics are not saying that paying for contraception is bad for Catholics; they’re saying it’s bad for society, according to Christopher Klofft, assistant professor of theology at Assumption College.
He cautioned against getting into arguments about this issue, urged charity if one does, and offered reasons for hope.
He spoke about “What it means to be Catholic and American” at the diocese’s closing of the Fortnight for Freedom Monday at St. Stephen’s Church. Bishop McManus and several priests celebrated Mass there, assisted by several deacons.
The June 21-July 4 Fortnight was a campaign supporting religious liberty, which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called for, partly in response to the HHS mandate that would force Catholic agencies to pay for procedures and drugs they oppose. Limits on Church service to immigrants is another concern.
In his homily Bishop McManus recalled Pope John Paul II warning about threats to religious liberty in the United States 20 years ago. Improper responses are recoiling in fear or reacting in anger, he said. Prayer is the ultimate source of strength; with God, all is possible.
St. Paul, the diocese’s patron, said everything works for good for those who love God and urged Christians to live according to what they’ve learned, the bishop said. He said Catholics have learned from their faith that everyone is made in God’s image, and civil authority has no ability to diminish their freedom.
Faith without works is dead, Bishop McManus said. Christians are called to serve, especially the most vulnerable – the unborn, the immigrant, the poor and unemployed – and will be judged on this.
He said Catholics have stood together to counter threats to their freedom, and this is not about one political party, but about the moral fabric of society. Risking one person’s freedom risks everyone’s freedom, he said. He said they want to be able to say America is a place where there is “liberty and justice for all.”
“All persons have a right to basic health care,” Professor Klofft said in his talk. But the issue here is freedom of conscience.
“What we stand up for is the Truth,” the way the world really is, he said.
He used ideas from “The Sources of Christian Ethics,” by Servais Pinckaers.
Some might say: “I am free to do whatever I want to do,” but that is “a freedom of indifference” that doesn’t care about others or oneself, Professor Klofft said. In contrast, Pinckaers writes about “the freedom for excellence.”
“You can either accept God’s will for your life, or you can not accept God’s will for your life,” Professor Klofft said. “Are we faithful to the call” to relationship with God? One’s choices in life should work toward answering the question: “What is it I am called to do to be a human being? … When we sin we choose not to live the way God has called us to live. It’s like sitting on a tree branch and sawing off the branch.”
Professor Klofft, using Pinckaers, spoke of forming a character that continues to make good decisions, likening this to learning to play a musical instrument.
At first, one might practice because one’s parents insist on it. Later, one might be encouraged to continue because of praise. Later, one might play for the beauty of the music. So too, people might do right to avoid punishment, reach a point where they are praised for being responsible, and later act as they do because “if I was to not do this, I would not be who I am.”
“In Catholic moral theology your conscience must be followed,” Professor Klofft said, referring to Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 1776-1802. “Our conscience is the very life of the Spirit” indwelling in us.
How does one develop this?
“We make the conscious, willed decision to make good choices.”
“Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions,” the catechism says in section 1782. “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.”     Professor Klofft spoke of people saying, “The Church nowadays is so obsessed with authority.”
His response?
“Our shepherds are to help us be the best human beings we can be. Thank God I don’t have to figure all this out myself.”
Listeners applauded.
“Can a Catholic disagree with Church teaching?” he asked.
“No!” responded a listener.
People choose to be American first and “fit our Catholic beliefs” into that, Professor Klofft said. But how can one be a good American without a relationship with God, which makes people good human beings, who are needed to form a good state. He said people must stand for truth, human rights and freedom for excellence.
He said he believes there is reason for confidence and spoke of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which may be used to challenge the mandate. People must have conversations about this, he said.
“This is not about winning arguments,” however, he said. “Don’t ever start a conversation over the internet and expect it to reach a fruitful” conclusion.
He suggested asking something like, “Why are you opposed to me having my conscience protected?”  Catholics tend to go on the defensive, he said, and urged, “Control the conversation if you’re going to have the conversation.” He also offered Jesus’ advice: “Do not cast your pearls before swine.”
“Always remember to conduct yourselves with charity,” Professor Klofft urged, saying people will win more hearts with love than with “intellectual bullying.” Listeners applauded.
“God has already won; it was won on the cross,” he said, and urged listeners to show others the reason for their hope.
“I like his reasonable thinking,” John Martin, of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Westborough, said of Professor Klofft.
“Chris’ advice was just so good,” said Herman Millet, also from St. Luke’s. “Rather than be confrontational, we should just ask a question.”
“I thought the presentation was very good,” said Frances E. Pike, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for the Worcester Diocese. “We really have to get people out to pray and stand up for what we believe in. The reason we … take care of the poor is because of our Catholic faith. And we pray every day. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a spiritual ministry. I think that each one of us has a personal responsibility to see their friends and neighbors are getting the care they need.”
Speaking about the Supreme Court decision, Rose Thoman said: “I was heart-broken; I cried; I could relate it to Roe v. Wade. I’ve worked in the pro-life movement for 40 years.” A member of St. John, the Guardian of Our Lady Parish in Clinton, she worships at St. Benedict Abbey in Still River.
The decision will degrade society as “abortion destroyed morality among our young,” and the mandate could lead to killing the elderly, she said.
What solution does she see?
“That’s what I’m worried about,” she said. “I don’t see it happening under this administration. Our only hope is to replace our president with someone who will overturn the Supreme Court decision. That’s what Romney promised.”
Speaking of President Barack Obama, running for re-election against Mitt Romney, she said, “He’s holding the life of every person in his hands through this Obamacare,” and people don’t recognize its power.

 

 

Editor’s Note: Bishop McManus’ homily from this Mass can be heard and seen on the homepage of the diocesan website, www.worcesterdiocese.org.

 

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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By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – Disappointment, determination and hope in God were among local Christians’ reactions Thursday afternoon to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision about the health care law, announced that morning.

Some of those gathered for the daily Fortnight for Freedom prayers outside the Federal Building downtown shared their thoughts and emotions with The Catholic Free Press.

“I was obviously disappointed,” said Sheila Towne, of St. Paul Cathedral, who brought eight of her nine children to the prayer hour. “I was a little surprised with Justice Roberts.” She said she was pleased with what the dissenting justices said, especially a comment that the law, sometimes called “Obamacare,” is overreaching.

“The unfortunate thing is what this does to Obama’s campaign,” she said. She said it will give him credence, it will be perceived that he has the Supreme Court’s backing and that he is not trying to do anything the Constitution wouldn’t permit.

Kelly Wilcox, director of Compassion Pregnancy, an interdenominational faith-based ministry, joined the prayers. She said that as “a devout follower of Christ,” she was following the case.

“What God brought to me was his sovereignty,” she said. Rather than get discouraged by the ruling, she realized her joy comes from Christ.

“He is so comforting; he brought me to Isaiah 45,” she said. “God called King Cyrus by name 200 years before he was born. King Cyrus’s mission was to free the Israelites. It goes to show God is totally in charge. A lot of my non-Christian conservative friends – they’re battle-weary and despondent. If you’re not Christian, you don’t have hope.”

“There’s no anchor for people who do not have faith in God, so they do succumb to feelings of despair and discouragement,” added Sandra Kucharski, of Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish. “We’re not going to sit in a corner. We’re going to continue to work…pray…teach. The victory is God’s. I was not surprised; there are too many people who are asleep at the wheel.”

“I just feel like we have to pray,” said Louise Faiola, of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish. “We definitely have to love, much as we don’t love what they’re doing.”

“She wants to love them; I want to slap them,” added Jacqueline Langlois, generating good-natured joking and more serious discussion.

“People are more attracted to believing people than to the beliefs, and so we have to continue to act with kindness and love,” Miss Kucharski said. She also called for prayer and fasting.

PHOTO: Rally for Freedom on Worcester City Hall Plaza, June 22.