A Decisive Hour for American Catholics

As we approach the conclusion of the Fortnight for Freedom, we draw near to the decisive hour, an hour of decision in the history of our great nation; an hour which truly challenges  American Catholics’ sense of discipleship.

It has been a fortnight in which our bishops have asked us to reflect upon our liberties, our history, and our current state of affairs. If you have thought about these issues at all you know that our history has not lied in this case: America is a nation that was built upon reverence for God, His natural law, and respect for the primacy of individual conscience and religious tradition.

In 1636, one hundred forty years before Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, the founder of the little colony of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, made freedom of conscience and religion the keystone of his community.

In 1776, The Declaration of Independence, and in 1789 the Constitution of the United States, all clearly stated the limitations of government; and in 1791, the Bill of Rights, carefully enunciated the rights of each individual citizen – the first right being, freedom of religion.

James Madison, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and its secretary and recorder, described the legitimacy of conscience as “the most sacred of all property.” (1)   He wrote, “The religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as they may dictate.” (2)

George Washington wrote, “the establishment of civil and religious liberty was the motive that induced [him] to the field of battle.” (3)

In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson assured the Ursuline Sisters of Louisiana – who had, for seventy-seven years, been serving an indigenous population by operating schools, hospitals, and an orphanage – that the principles of the Constitution were a “sure guarantee” that their ministry would be free “to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without, interference from the civil authority.” (4)

This is a matter of history. It is not a matter of conjecture, dispute, or equivocation; yet it is clear that the vast majority of our current state and federal government leaders do not accept this understanding of what the founding fathers of our nation wrote, lived, and established as our heritage.

So, we are at a decisive hour – an hour of decision – an hour that will determine the depth of our discipleship and test our understanding of who we are as American Catholics.

Many pundits, commentators, and yes even Catholic politicians, have remarked that there is nothing to worry about with this now Supreme Court approved Health Care Law. Yet our Church leaders – our bishops – are united in telling us that there is something drastically wrong with this law.

The American bishops have been united and clear on this issue and they clearly tell us that the Fortnight for Freedom has been about getting American Catholics – all 52 million of us – to understand that our federal government will force our Church to provide for certain types of medical procedures even though it is in direct violation of our collective conscience. My brothers and sisters, the Federal government’s actions are wrong and must be opposed.

So society may ask, “What do you want?”

Our Church responds, we respond, that as Catholics we ask nothing more than what Saints Peter and Paul and all the martyred saints and true disciples of Jesus Christ wanted; and as Americans we want nothing more than what Roger Williams, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and all true American statesmen and women have wanted: the right to follow our conscience, worship our God as we see fit, and to live out our faith by making a contribution within the public square.

We ask nothing more of our government than what our history has told us is our patrimony, our heritage: our blessed liberties.

This is a decisive hour – for it is the hour of discipleship in Christ Jesus. We must not shrink back in fear; for our sense of commitment to our nation’s heritage, and our loyalty to Jesus Christ and our Church, demands that we do not compromise on this issue.

We believe that all Americans, of all religious persuasions, and not just Federal or state government, must be allowed to have a contribution to the common good as prescribed by their faith and sense of duty. This is a liberty that has always been granted under our system of laws – until, until this critical moment in time.

So you may ask, “What do we do?”

We rise up my brothers and sisters and use all the law abiding and peaceful means at our disposal to inform our elected officials of this singular outrage against freedom of conscience. If they don’t address and rectify our concerns – we must remember it, and respond accordingly when we select our state and federal representatives. We can do no less.

Let us pray that through the intercession of the Holy Spirit we may have the courage to act as disciples of Christ – peaceful, courageous, and steadfast in the face of imperial tyranny.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Quotations taken from: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty – their document: Our First, Most Cherished Liberty – A Statement on Religious Liberty

1. James Madison, “Property,” March 29, 1792, in The Founding Fathers, Eds. Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987) accessed March 27, 2012. http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch16s23.html.

2.  James Madison, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessment,” June 20, 1785, in The Founding Fathers, accessed March 27, 2012. http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions43.html.

3. Michael Novak and Jana Novak, Washington’s God, 2006.

4. Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and State in the United States (Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1950), 678.

When People Or Governments Get In Our Face

Recently I received a rather funny email from a friend concerning a God loving Marine coming to terms with an atheist professor. It triggered, however, a serious reflection on how we, as Christians, are to confront those who “get in our face” about issues of spiritual beliefs, sacred art, religious freedom, and personal liberty.

The passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5: 38-42, on “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” gives us an insight into who Jesus is as God. The behaviors that He explains, and asks us to imitate, are actions that He would perform; so in this passage on “an eye for an eye” we are getting a glimpse into the personality of God.

Jesus explains that the old Jewish law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is no longer appropriate or virtuous in God’s eyes, it doesn’t reflect the behavior and actions that the Lord is trying to teach His people to follow, actions which reflect the Lord’s own mind and heart.

The following photo by talented photographer Kenny Lindstrom found at www.flickr.com/photos/kennylindstrom/ provides meaning, visual imagery, and the clarity of a typical traffic stop sign. We instantly recognize what the creator of this sculpture is trying to say (by the way, is this image done in sand, stone, or clay?). We get the message; but, as in all art, its interpretation depends on the values and beliefs of the viewer. Lindstrom’s photograph is a wonderful example of how a piece of art can display an impression that is both a teaching and reflective moment for the viewer.

The Holy Scriptures, however, are not to be viewed as artistic reflections or suggestions to the reader and listener. The Holy Spirit divinely inspired the Bible; thus, the faithful understand (sometimes better than many of the academics) that Jesus, as the Son of God, came to teach, preach, and heal mankind. His words are not suggestions, they are directions for living within His Sacred Heart; and that demands fortitude, perseverance, and most importantly, His grace.

Over the last two thousand years the Catholic Church has taught that we have a right to defend ourselves – a right to resist the evil that is done to us. But Jesus teaches that we should not resist evil with an evil response or by an evil means  – in other words we should not resist evil with a spirit of vengeance, rage, anger or with an unlawful or excessive physical or verbal response.

So, Jesus is teaching us that the tribal law of an “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is destructive and directly opposed to the Father’s plan of a loving spiritual family living within a shared community.  Yet, not everyone in the world is a Christian; and the 20th and 21st centuries are showing themselves to be much more personally and collectively violent than many of the other centuries combined.

So what do we do? Jesus teaches us that our response to evil and insult, as difficult as this may be, should be measured; that is, it should be filled with patience and grace. For if we confront and attempt to defeat evil with an evil or vengeful response, then, we are weakening ourselves and empowering that which we hope to defeat. This does not mean, however, that we are to deny a sense of righteous and justifiable anger over injustices that are done – the Lord Himself gave witness to that when He drove the moneychangers and polluters of His Father’s Temple into the street.

The world can slap us on the cheek, it can take our belongings, it can take away our religious, political, and artistic freedoms and prevent us from speaking out against injustice, and it can even take our lives, but it can never touch our hearts or souls because the Lord God Himself has forever claimed us as His own children.

Let us pray that when we do have to correct our own actions or those of another, we do it based on Jesus’ spirit of graceful moderation, love, and kindness.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved