Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Let's Keep Our Arms Up

Our first Mass reading today from the Second Book of Kings (Fourth Book of Kings in the Douay-Rheims Bible) offers several parallels to our own time. Ezekiah was King of Judah during a time when that kingdom was in decline. For many years now, the people of Israel had been unfaithful to the covenant God had made with their fathers, living in sin and worshiping idols. In punishment for this, God had permitted their once-great kingdom to be divided into two separate kingdoms (Israel and Judah) both governed by a succession of more or less wicked and mediocre kings. Ezekiah, however, was a good king who was pleasing to God—in fact, one of the best since David (cf. 2 Kings 18:3). He had made serious and partially successful efforts to restore true worship of God and to convert the people of Judah back to holy lives in fidelity to the Mosaic law.

In today’s reading, Sennacherib, the powerful pagan king of the Assyrians, is preparing to march on the Holy City of Jerusalem with a strong army and destroy the Temple. He had sent a blasphemous messenger to Jerusalem who proudly boasted that the all-mighty Sennacherib would decimate the city and that the God of the Hebrews could not possibly prevent this (see 2 Kings 18:17ff). This wicked messenger employed psychological warfare, yelling to the Jerusalemites that they should cease their useless prayers for deliverance and instead surrender to the King of the Assyrians who was going to conquer them anyway.

Ezekiah was horrified and deeply saddened by such blasphemy, and he refused to be swayed by it. He humbled himself, rending his garments and putting on sackcloth, and he prayed fervently to God that Jerusalem would be delivered from the hands of the King of the Assyrians. The prophet Isaiah then came to him and told him that God had heard his prayer and would deliver Jerusalem. He did so in spectacular fashion: as the army of Sennacherib camped around the city the night before the planned siege, an angel of God killed 185,000 of the Assyrian troops. The next morning, Sennacherib left for home without so much as touching Jerusalem.

This story has several lessons to teach us today. Like the ancient kingdom of Judah, America today is a once-great empire in decline. For decades we Americans in general and Catholics in particular have been unfaithful to God in our private and public lives, killing millions of our own children through legalized abortion, using contraception in violation of Church teaching, growing weak in religious belief and lax in the practice of our faith, voting for “Catholic” representatives who support abortion and homosexual “marriage,” and worshipping a variety of idols—politics, sports, sex, power, pleasure, money, fame, possessions, etc. And now, in punishment for all this evil, God is allowing a wicked, radically secularist, anti-religious federal government to force employers to provide immoral services—contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients—to their employees in the name of “health care”. Perhaps this is what we justly deserve.

However, God in His Infinite Mercy is always willing to hear the prayers of those who humble themselves and sincerely repent—even in a time of general crisis and decline. Many Americans have now turned away from these evils and are living lives pleasing to God. Like Ezekiah, they are aghast at the horrible sacrilege a powerful leader is attempting to perpetrate in their land. Like Sennacherib, who attempted to desecrate Israel’s most hallowed sanctuary, the Holy Place of the Temple, President Obama and his cohorts are attempting to violate our most cherished liberties—freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, enshrined in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Note that when threatened with destruction, Ezekiah did not take up arms for military defense. Rather, he lifted his arms in confident prayer to the all-powerful God. There may come a time to take up arms in defense of our most cherished freedoms, but now is not the time for that. This is fundamentally a spiritual battle we are now fighting here in the United States, not just a political or legal battle, and thus it requires spiritual weapons. This is a war between good and evil. Those on the side of evil trust in the power of the Obama administration, the media, and their wealthy lobbyist backers. Those on the side of good must place their entire trust in God—which means praying and fasting for the restoration of religious liberty. That’s what this Fortnight for Freedom is all about. If we humble ourselves and turn to God in earnest, fervent prayer as King Ezekiah did, he will certainly hear our prayers and deliver us from the evil now threatening our nation. If we keep our arms raised in prayer to God as Moses did (cf. Exodus 17:10-13), we will ultimately be victorious—no matter how long and difficult the struggle may be.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Fortnight for Freedom Has Begun!

In response to current grave threats to religious liberty in America, especially that presented by the Obama administration's unjust contraceptive mandate, our Catholic bishops have declared a Fortnight for Freedom--a national two-week period of prayer, fasting, education, and advocacy in support of religious freedom. It began yesterday, June 21, and will run through July 4, our great national holiday of Independence Day. The event officially began last night at 7 PM Eastern Time with an Opening Mass celebrated at the National Shrine of the Assumption in Baltimore, Maryland, and it will officially end with a Closing Mass celebrated July 4 at 12:10 PM ET at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The latter event will be televised nationally on EWTN. You can find out more about this special event by clicking here and scrolling down to where it says "A Fortnight for Freedom"; the bishops have more good info and resources here as well as at Fortnight4Freedom.org. You can participate in the special activities your local parish is offering, which will vary from parish to parish. You can also sign up to participate in the Virtual Vigil for Religious Liberty that the Catholic Advocate is offering. EWTN is airing special programming throughout this time and has set up a new website devoted entirely to religious liberty, so be sure to check those out as well.

As a younger American Catholic, it's refreshing to see the excellent leadership our bishops are showing on this issue. They have courageously risen up and are standing united to meet this challenge, sounding the alarm and speaking the truth as befits successors of the Apostles and patriotic citizens. They deserve our wholehearted support and thanks, and let's remember to keep them in our prayers too. Their example should encourage us to fulfill our own duties as lay Catholics and citizens to be present and active in the public square in defending the religious freedom and conscience rights of all Americans. In this battle for religious freedom, prayer is our most important weapon, but political activism is essential as well. As Catholics we must pray, and as citizens we must act. Prayer and action have to go together if this effort is to be successful.

I find it significant that the U.S. Supreme Court will be issuing a landmark decision on religious liberty right in the middle of the Fortnight for Freedom. I think Divine Providence has a hand in this. As our justices decide the constitutionality of the sweeping new healthcare legislation underpinning HHS mandate, millions of Catholics across our nation will be praying and fasting for the protection of religious liberty. Prayer and fasting are powerful spiritual weapons that can change the course of history, especially when they are taken advantage of en masse as is happening right now. Let's continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will grant wisdom to our judges and inspire them to make the right decision on the mandate, i.e., to uphold our Constitution and protect our First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

With firm trust in Divine Providence and under the reassuring protection of our Immaculate Mother Mary, Patroness of the United States, let us join together in prayer, fasting, and political action for the restoration and protection of the religious liberty on which America was founded. And let's bear in mind that no matter what happens, we win in the end through the power of Christ's Cross and Resurrection.

I'll close with two religious liberty quotes from America's Founding Fathers. The first is from James Madison, often called the “father” of the U.S. Constitution: "There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation. I can appeal to my uniform conduct on this subject, that I have warmly supported religious freedom.” The second is from Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence: “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”

Let freedom ring!