In summoning “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” in defense of our religious liberty, the American bishops are demonstrating a keen awareness of what good fatherhood demands and that they are up to the charge. Their latest statement on point – “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” – issued by the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty exerts their moral authority with frankness, sobriety and courage.
Perhaps wolfishness is too magnanimous a metaphor to characterize the predatory, more jackal-like political opportunism gnawing at our most fundamental freedoms under the guise of healthcare, immigration reform, fairness, equality and other seductive deceptions. The Bishops call out by name the ideologically-driven, prejudicial and discriminatory regulations that are eroding our hard fought-for liberties, deeming them unjust and, as good leaders, summoning us forth from retreat to a vigorous public witness to our faith and freedom.
The main fallacy behind the laws and rulings assailing our freedoms is a narrowly circumscribed definition of religion as alien to our faith as to our American heritage as framed by the history of our Republic and its constitutional law. This revisionist distortion would confine religion to the sacristy, reducing it to mere freedom of worship and excluding any relevant role for faith in public life.
In protecting the good name not only of our Catholic faith, but other religions and indeed our American liberties, the Bishops uphold what our Holy Father held true: that the work of resisting violations to our first freedoms belongs to “an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture.” We must rise to the occasion.
And why resist the assaults instead of compromise? Because the laws themselves are unjust! The Bishops draw a distinction, well-defined and long respected, between conscientious objection – which permits some relief to those who object to a just law for reasons of conscience – and refusal to follow an unjust law, which is “no law at all” and cannot be obeyed.
It is heartening to see the strategy shifting from the mere rhetorical whimpering in some corners to shut down our hospitals, schools and institutions of social services (have we not had enough of this already?) and moving towards active assertion of our rights and responsibilities to all whom we serve in our communities. Retreat would only play into the designs of those who would be only too pleased to silence the witness of Gospel light in public life. Nothing could be more antithetical at once to our faith and the American way.
That brings us to the main point: the Bishops as real spiritual fathers will not allow our country to lapse into a tyranny in which any citizen must choose between living one’s faith and commitment to the common good. This is not a partisan issue, nor exclusively an issue of religion or any particular religion. It is an American issue.
In the months ahead our spiritual fathers are fostering prayer, conscience formation and in-depth catechesis on religious liberty. A dramatic concerted effort called a “Fortnight for Freedom” will ensue over the 14 days prior to and culminating on our July 4th celebration of Independence Day. Everyone is summoned to the task as diocesan and parish leadership will engage and focus our energies. The time to prepare is now.
Make no mistake about it. This is a defining moment not only in what it means to be a Catholic American; it is a defining moment for our country and what it means to be an American. Our spiritual fathers are courageously standing up for us and what we cherish both as Catholics and as Americans.
Each of us ought to embrace leadership with love and sacrifice for the good of what we hold most sacred. Pulling together at times of crisis, after all, is just what good families do. For once let’s be functional!