The Fortnight for Freedom Begins
Written by Fr. Frank Wagner, OMI
We begin today our Fortnight for Freedom. I say “our” because I think what the Bishops are alerting us to be aware of is of vital importance to the well-being of our country. I share with you my homily for this coming Sunday.
We come together to worship our God. As we do, we are challenged to grow in our Faith by being receptive to having it nourished. Therefore, we proclaim the Gospel or Good News. God loves us! This is the greatest of Good News. He calls us to be a holy People.
“My brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those others among you who are God-fearing, to us this word of salvation has been sent.”
~ Acts of the Apostles 26:13
The word, quoting Isaiah, “that makes us a light to the nations so that salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Fortitude in Defense of Our Faith
It is most fitting that we celebrate this feast honoring the birthday of St. John the Baptist, a very important prophet in the history of God’s People of Faith. Only three birthdays are celebrated in the liturgical calendar: Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist. Jesus, as He began His ministry of salvation—making our world a healthy place for people—followed John into the desert, where John was preaching a baptism of repentance. Jesus knew, and through His baptism taught us, that one becomes a better person—a holy People—of Faith. Thus one better fulfills the command to “be the light for the world.”
John was the prophet about whom Jesus says—in Matthew 11:11—was the greatest of all born of woman. Perhaps his greatest virtue was his fortitude. He was truly fearless in his preaching. John the Baptist was martyred for speaking the truth about the king, and from him we have much to learn about fortitude in defense of our Faith, and in defense of our freedoms.
Our Catholic Bishops in the U.S.A. are being prophetic as they have declared this Fortnight of Freedom. They urge us Catholics to engage in a “great hymn of prayer for our country” and a “national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.” Our Bishops have asked us to look to the great saints of Catholic history whose courage we can emulate. The fortnight began on June 21, the vigil of the Feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, who, like John the Baptist, were beheaded by a king and the sacred bond of marriage. During this coming week we celebrated the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, who likewise were martyred by the Roman emperor for their preaching of Jesus Christ. And the fortnight concludes on July 4th, the day when we celebrate our American liberty.
This Land of Liberty
Our first, most cherished liberty as Americans is religious freedom. It is the first freedom enumerated in the First Amendment. It is the foundation of all our freedoms, for if Americans are not free in their consciences, in their religious faith, in their corporal works of mercy, then all our freedoms are fragile. When the government commands us to do what God commands us not to do, the American citizen—as we learned vividly in the example of Rev. Martin Luther King—is to refuse to obey an unjust law.
Our Bishops have identified several attacks on religious liberty. The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services that employers—including Catholic agencies—provide health insurance for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, is a national assault on religious liberty without precedent in our history.
When the government says that we must do what our Faith forbids us to do, or when it says we cannot do what our Faith mandates us to do – then we too might be called to have the courage of John the Baptist to refuse those unjust orders.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
~ The Declaration of Independence
The Fortnight for Freedom reminds us that the liberty is not something we invented for ourselves, nor were we given it by the government. It is God’s gift. We have been set free in Christ Jesus. The genius of the American experiment in ordered liberty is that it recognized this. 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 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 pray then, calling upon the intercession of John the Baptist, for all branches and levels of government, that our religious liberties be kept intact. More urgent though, we pray that all Christian disciples may have the fortitude to stand up for our faith and our freedom. In standing fast for our faith, in standing fast for our freedom, we know that we may have to suffer and to sacrifice. May this be so in this blessed land of Liberty. Amen.