Fortnight for Freedom 2017 — part two

Continuing this two-week time period of praying for a greater respect for religious freedom in our country (leading up to the Fourth of July), we look at the second half of the suggestions from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as to what we should be doing during these days,  pondering the theme: “Freedom for Mission.”

8.) Freedom to serve through education: The bishops ask that we pray “that Catholic schools would have freedom to teach and bear witness to the truth about God and Creation.” Someone who only has a cursory knowledge of Catholicism might think that prayer is about “creationism.” However, the reflection which the USCCB offers us for this day is much more about now than about billions of years ago. They wrote, “God has created people with a capacity to exercise reason. The Christian commitment to reason and service has meant that education is a central aspect of the Church’s mission. Catholic schools need the space, the freedom, to operate in accordance with Catholic convictions if they are to continue to be a source of vitality for our society.” In terms of an action step, we are urged to “consider getting in touch with your local Catholic schools to find out about how you might participate in their work. Or, sign up for the USCCB Catholic Education Newsletter to keep up with the latest in Catholic education.” Here in the Diocese of Fall River, we would urge you to check out either to see how your children might be able to attend a Catholic school or to see how you could make a donation to help other children attend our schools.

9.) For the Freedom of the Church: We are urged to pray, “that the Church would have the space to carry out her mission of service and mercy for the whole world.” The reflection reminds us that the Church’s mission is Divinely given, not something a government just allows. “We should keep in mind that the government is not granting us rights. Rather, the state is correctly acknowledging [Editor: when it does this] the right of the Church to fulfill her purposes.” We are called upon to exercise “our freedom for mission,” because without doing so, it “is difficult to appreciate [it]. Find out what your local church is doing in your community, and see how you can get involved. Even if you don’t have time to volunteer, prayer can be an important way to stay connected to the work.”

10.) Freedom to serve families and children awaiting adoption: We pray “for children awaiting adoptive parents, for the caregivers who selflessly serve those children, and for the families who are seeking to adopt; that they will find strength and support from the Church.” The reflection speaks of recent Massachusetts history: “Catholic Charities in Boston excelled at finding families for difficult-to-place children. Catholic Charities sought to place children in homes where they would flourish, and so they placed children in homes with a married mother and father. After Massachusetts redefined Marriage, Catholic Charities was given an impossible choice: do what you believe to be wrong for children or end your adoption services. They chose the latter. Intolerance from the state for religious views has real consequences, and in this case, it is vulnerable children who have suffered.” We are fortunate here in the Fall River Diocese that since we are on the border with Rhode Island, the government did not interfere in the inner workings of Catholic Social Services’ adoption program. For action, the USCCB asks that we support the “federal Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act (H.R. 1881 / S. 811), [which] would protect the religious liberty of child welfare service providers, including adoption and foster care agencies. Similar legislation has been introduced and passed in several states. Check out the USCCB Action Alert Center and your state Catholic conference or diocesan website for legislative updates.”

11.) Freedom to serve the vulnerable: We pray “that the Holy Spirit would give all Christians the courage and humility to serve Christ by serving the vulnerable.” The day’s reflection reminds us that “if we treat the poor and vulnerable with callous disregard, then we are scorning Jesus. We work for religious freedom so that we may be able to serve others, especially through our ministries.” The action step involves prayer (which should lead to eventual action): “All of us are called to follow Jesus Christ as missionary disciples. Consider taking a few minutes to pray and reflect on how God might be calling you to serve.”

12.) Freedom to build stronger communities: The prayer intention goes beyond Catholicism this day, as we pray “that the Church and all religious institutions would have the freedom to contribute to the flourishing of our society.” The reflection speaks about the good religion brings to the community. “When religious freedom is respected, religion itself flourishes, and society flourishes in turn. Recent research has even shown that religious institutions significantly boost the economy. Their service to the poor helps to lift people out of poverty. When we work for religious freedom, we are working to promote the common good, the flourishing of all people in our country.” The action step involves dialogue, in person and online. “Consider starting a conversation with your friends and neighbors about all the good that people of faith have done in your community. And we want to hear from you! Share your stories with us on Twitter at @USCCBFreedom.”

13.) For our sisters and brothers in Mexico: As we prayed for Christians in the Middle East last week, so now we pray “that through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, all people in Mexico will have the freedom to live out their faith,” since the reflection notes that “in Mexico, religious freedom violations have risen recently. It continues to be a dangerous country for Catholic priests and lay leaders.” Some of the oppression is due to unjust laws (allowing government, on various levels, to persecute the Church), while “some illegal cartels attempt to force religious institutions to become fronts for money laundering, and to challenge Church programs and teachings that offer alternatives to a life of violence.” The USCCB invites us to sign up for the homepage of its “Committee on International Justice and Peace, [which] works to advance the social mission of the Church on international justice and peace,” so that we can get action alerts from it.

14.) May we promote a culture of freedom for all: We pray “that we would work to build a culture that recognizes and respects the dignity and freedom of all people.” Our reflection is inclusive. “When we speak up for religious freedom, we do so not only for ourselves, but because we are called to defend the dignity of every individual and community that seeks the truth about God, including Muslims, Jews, and others who do not share our Catholic Christian faith.” The action step will keep us involved, protecting this right. “There are many organizations that work for religious freedom for all Americans. Consider signing up to receive newsletters from, and praying for, the efforts of these organizations.”

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