Fortnight for Freedom 2017 — part one

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops continues to ask all Catholics in this country to spend two weeks (a fortnight) praying and reflecting on religious freedom, from June 21 (the eve of the memorial of SS. Thomas More and John Fisher) to July 4 (Independence Day). This is a way to shift our focus from hot dogs, burgers, corn on the cob and fireworks and over to what made this country great — freedom to live out the inalienable rights which God has inscribed into every human soul.

This year the USCCB suggests a theme — this year’s is “Freedom for Mission.” On its website, http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/fortnight-for-freedom/index.cfm, the bishops suggest 14 things to pray and meditate on during the Fortnight.

1) Freedom to serve migrants and refugees: through your computer, you can click on this page, which has Our Lady of Guadalupe in the background. As for each of the days, this page has a prayer suggestion, a reflection (“Christians are committed to caring for the vulnerable, and migrants and refugees are some of the most vulnerable. The Church has long sought to serve the unique needs of ‘people on the move,’ from providing for basic needs, to assisting with resettlement, to offering legal services to helping newcomers navigate the system of their host country. In recent years, new laws and regulations have been proposed that have the effect of restricting the Church’s ability to serve. The Church is called to serve the vulnerable, and we must remain steadfast in our commitment to solidarity with migrants and refugees”), and a request for action (here the bishops request that people get involved through their justiceforimmigrants.org website).

2) May we be God’s servants first: day two brings a page with SS. Thomas More and John Fisher in the background, two men who were killed in King Henry VIII’s persecution of the Catholic Church. In the prayer, we ask the saints to pray that we serve our country, but God first. The reflection acknowledges that it is good to love one’s own country, “but ultimate loyalty is due only to Christ and His Kingdom. Nationalism becomes idolatrous when loyalty to the nation is more important than loyalty to Christ. When [Thomas More and John Fisher] were forced to choose between God’s Church and the king, they were faithful to the Church.” The action suggestions include “celebrat[ing] religious freedom with a parish picnic or barbeque. Hand out religious freedom conversation starters as a way to spur discussion about our first, most precious liberty. Or, host a movie night, and watch ‘A Man for All Seasons,’ about the martyrdom of St. Thomas More.”

3) Freedom to care for the sick: with Our Lady of Lourdes as a backdrop, we pray “That nurses, doctors, therapists, and all ministers of healing would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit in their imitation of Christ’s compassion and care for the sick.” For the reflection, the USCCB wrote, “Acts of healing were central to the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. The Church invented the hospital as we know it. Catholic hospitals today are often attacked for not performing abortions and other harmful procedures. Catholic medical professionals — like nurse Cathy DeCarlo —- have been forced to violate their consciences and participate in abortions.” As an action step, it is suggested that we contact our “representatives in Congress and [voice] support for conscience protection. Check out Human Life Action and the USCCB Action Alert Center for updates on bills like Conscience Protection Act (H.R. 644 / S. 301) and the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 7 / S. 184).”

4) Freedom to Bear Witness to Truth: We pray “That the Holy Spirit would give us the courage to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel, even in the face of social and legal pressure.” Reflecting on this, the USCCB suggests, “We must stand up for the civil right to be free from government coercion. A state that coerces the conscience of its citizens radically oversteps its proper boundaries. Rather than resist as a revolutionary, the Christian bears patient witness to the truth, even if that witness leads to punishment. The martyrs are great examples of this. The key to martyrdom is witness to truth. In this respect, we are all called to be martyrs.” For action, “Start speaking up today! Reflect on how to respectfully engage in conversation about religious freedom [the website in the second paragraph of this editorial gives helpful hints]. Share with others why religious freedom is good for all people.”

5) Freedom to serve God with our whole lives: We pray that all Christians might do this “with boldness and compassion.” The reflection notes that so much of living out the faith is done in small, simple actions. “Sometimes, our culture urges us to think of our faith as a strictly interior matter. The culture says that we are free to worship, or to be Spiritual, but our faith should not be expressed publicly. A culture in which faith is never visible tends to be one that constricts religion.” The action step here calls for more prayer and suggests the gamut of devotions one could do.

6) Freedom to seek the Truth: We pray “that the Spirit of Wisdom would illumine our minds and open our hearts, as we seek to know the truth about God and to live in the fullness of that truth.” The reflection notes that “a natural desire compels each one of us to reach out and grasp the truth about God. Because God has created us for communion with Him, we have a corresponding duty. The right to religious freedom flows from this duty to seek the truth.” For action, we are called to study the Church’s teachings on religious freedom.

7) For Christians in the Middle East: We pray “for our sisters and brothers in the Middle East;
that through the intercession of the Apostles, who established these most ancient churches, Christians and all religious minorities would be freed from violent persecution.” The reflection quotes Pope Francis from July 2015: “Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus. A form of genocide — I insist on the word — is taking place, and it must end.” As an action step, we can get in touch with one of Catholic agencies which help in the Middle East (Catholic Relief Services, Aid to the Church in Need, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, and the Knights of Columbus) and see what we can do to help.

 We will look at points eight to 14 in the next Anchor.


© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts