Lincoln, Neb., Jul 2, 2013 (CNA) - The recent threats against religious freedom are an opportunity for the faithful to grow closer to God through prayer, fasting and penance, said Bishop James C. Conley of Lincoln, Neb., in a recent column.
“When God’s people start living like everyone else, there is trouble in store,” he said in a June 27 article for the Southern Nebraska Register.
Throughout the Old Testament, he explained, we see that as the Israelites wandered from God, they were made captive by pagan nations.
“The Lord takes no pleasure in the oppression of his people. But he permits it, to call us back to faithfulness,” he said.
Even today, believers must turn back to God and remember that “we have been set apart for God’s sacred purpose.”
The Church must continue to serve God, he said, otherwise we risk “becoming captive to hostile powers.”
“We know what it looks like when the Church forgets her holiness: Daily discipleship gives way to weekly churchgoing. Tough demands of the Gospel are ignored. Prayer, fasting, and penance are bypassed.”
Already we see the threats against religious freedom, Bishop Conley said, in the form of government and cultural movements that oppose natural law.
“This, I suspect, is the deeper cause of the many present threats to religious freedom in America,” he observed. “When Catholics spend six days of each week living like everyone else, we find that our right to practice our faith in everyday life starts to come under threat and even disappear.”
“The prophets tell us that this is no coincidence,” the bishop warned.
He noted that the “worst of these ongoing threats to religious freedom” is the Obama administration’s federal contraception mandate, which will go into effect for many non-profit religious groups on Aug. 1.
Issued under the Affordable Care Act, the contraception mandate requires employers to offer health insurance plans that provide for contraception, sterilizations and some drugs that can cause abortions.
More than 200 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against the federal government challenging the mandate, arguing that it violates their right to religious freedom by forcing them to violate their consciences.
“Every citizen’s rights are in jeopardy if this mandate stands,” Bishop Conley said.
Recent efforts to redefine marriage are another alarming development, he added, stating that such a redefinition “will inevitably cause conflict with religious believers’ rights.”
Some Catholic adoption and foster care agencies have already been forced to close for refusing to “compromise the truth about marriage and family,” he observed.
Bishop Conley added that he and his brother bishops are also concerned about anti-immigration measures that could restrict the Church’s ministry “by penalizing those who provide charitable help to illegal immigrants.”
To combat these threats leading up to July 4, the U.S. Bishops have been leading a two-week period of prayer, sacrifice and fasting for religious freedom known as the “Fortnight for Freedom.”
During this final stretch of the event, the Lincoln bishop recommended that the faithful fast, pray and offer penance for our sins.
Bishop Conley’s column, in its entirety, can be found at http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=2608.
Bridgeport, Conn., Jul 2, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Courage apostolate's upcoming annual conference seeks to strengthen the faith, and the confidence in Christ of Catholics who have same-sex attraction, helping them to live their call to chastity.
“The Church finds herself in the unhappy situation of having to say ‘no’ to things she knows to be contrary to the human good,” Fr. Paul Check, director of Courage, told CNA July 1.
“But whenever there’s a ‘no,’ and of course Our Lord also said ‘no’ to certain things in the Gospel, there has to be a corresponding ‘yes.’”
“The ‘yes’ is the outstretched hand of fraternal charity that the Church offers to men and women with same-sex attraction and to parents with a son or a daughter with homosexual inclinations, to indicate to them that the Church’s fraternal charity and pastoral care is expressed for them in a practical and concrete way, at the Courage group or an EnCourage group.”
The Courage apostolate aims to help those who have same-sex attractions and want to live according to Catholic teaching, which recognizes homosexual acts as grave sins. The conference is geared for Courage members and their friends as well as members of EnCourage, a partner organization for parents of those with same-sex attractions.
This year’s conference takes place from July 25 to July 28 at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Ill.
Celebrants at conference Masses include Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago and Bishop John M. LeVoir of New Ulm, Minn.
Speakers include author Fr. Emmerich Vogt, O.P., psychiatrist Sr. Marysia Weber, R.S.M., philosophy professor J. Buziszewski, author Dawn Eden, counselor Dr. William Consiglio and Fr. Paul Scalia.
The conference will also feature workshops, personal testimonies, and opportunities for confession and Eucharistic Adoration.
“Gatherings of this kind are essential to fostering that confidence that God is very much with his people, with his Church,” Father Check told CNA. “The help that he gives us, to live a holy life in a fallen world, is very real, and leads to the fulfillment of the promises that he made.”
“It’s a wonderful combination of prayer, of talks, and of fellowship for those who see the Courage apostolate as a vital ministry of the Church and to promote the virtue of chastity,” he added.
Fr. Check is a priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., who teaches moral theology and ethics to seminarians and men preparing to become deacons. He first served as a Courage chaplain in 2003 and was asked to head the organization in 2008.
Jesus Christ is “very much at the center” of every Courage gathering, he explained. Meetings provide opportunities for prayer, conversation about holiness and virtue in life, and how to take practical steps to “put aside behaviors and actions which are inconsistent with human nature and strive for a greater trust in God’s providence.”
Fr. Check said Christians should ask themselves whether they truly see chastity as “part of the good news” and as “a virtue that leads to self-fulfillment.”
Chastity helps people to prepare for “self-giving” and to avoid selfishness, “particularly in the sexual realm.” It helps people to live justly and to treat others “according to the fact that they are created in the image and likeness of God.”
Fr. Check called for more thoughtful reflection on how God created human nature and for a “deeper trust” in Church teaching, especially given recent Supreme Court decisions on marriage.
“Unfortunately now, I think for many Christians, divorce and contraception are not excluded from marriage, and that prepares the ground for an acceptance of homosexuality,” he said.
In “turbulent” cultural times, he continued, Catholics “need to encourage a kind of further depth of peace of mind and heart.”
“Nothing is outside God’s providence,” he said.
Courage has a presence in about half of the Catholic dioceses of the United States. Fr. Check said the organization “would like to see a vital presence, at least one chapter, in every archdiocese and diocese.”
The deadline for the Courage conference registration is July 17. More information is available at the Courage website, couragerc.net.
Vatican City, Jul 2, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
During his homily at daily Mass in the Vatican's Saint Martha House, Pope Francis said Christians must have the courage to flee from the temptation to sin by turning to the Lord when they are weak.
“We are weak, but we must be courageous in our weakness. And often our courage must be expressed in escaping without looking back, so as not to fall into the trap of wicked nostalgia,” preached the Bishop of Rome July 2.
“Do not be afraid, and always look to the Lord,” he added.
The Mass was concelebrated by Cardinal Manuel Montiero de Castro, major penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary, and by Archbishop Beniamino Stella, president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy. It was attended by priests and employees of the two offices.
Pope Francis was reflecting on Lot's escape from Sodom, recounted in the first reading at the Mass. An angel urged Lot to flee, but he was slow to do so, carrying within himself an “inability to detach himself from evil and sin.”
Even when we wish to flee, there can be “something that pulls us back,” said Pope Francis. “It’s so hard to cut ties with a sinful situation. It is hard,” he affirmed.
The Roman Pontiff added, however, that “the voice of God tells us this word: 'Escape! You cannot fight there, because the fire, the sulfur will kill you. Escape!'”
He noted St. Therese of Lisieux, who said that “in some temptations, the only solution is to escape, to not be ashamed to escape, to recognize that we are weak and we have to escape.”
Pope Francis added that there is wisdom in the epigram “he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.”
Escape, he said, “to go forward along the path of Jesus.”
Lot was also advised by the angel not to look back at his familiar home, which demonstrates a nostalgia for sin which must be overcome. This is also seen, said Pope Francis, in the Hebrews' nostalgia for “the onions of Egypt” while they were in the desert.
“Longing made them forget that they ate those onions on the table of slavery.”
“Faced with sin, we must escape without any nostalgia.” This tendency to nostalgia for sin is twinned with a “temptation to curiosity,” he added.
“Curiosity does not help, it hurts,” exclaimed the Pontiff. The desire to know “what is this sin like” is a harmful curiosity, and we must “run away and … not look back,” he urged.
“We are weak, all of us, and we must defend ourselves.”
There can be also a temptation to fear, “to be afraid to move forward on the faith of the Lord.”
He stressed that there is a temptation that says it is “better to stay here,” in a place of familiarity and comfort. “But this is the slavery of Egypt.”
“I fear moving forward, I'm afraid of where the Lord will bring me,” the Pope said. “Fear, however, is not a good counselor.”
Faced with sin, nostalgia, and fear, our response must be a “looking to the Lord, contemplating the Lord.”
“This gives us the beautiful wonder of a new encounter with the Lord.”
In our temptations, we must have the courage to be humble and say to Christ, “Lord, I am being tempted: I want to stay in this situation of sin; Lord, I am curious to know about these things; Lord, I am afraid.”
This, the Holy Father taught, will lead to the “stupor of a new encounter with Jesus.”
“We must not be naive nor lukewarm Christians, but brave, courageous.”
“We are weak, but we must be courageous in our weakness.”
Washington D.C., Jul 2, 2013 (CNA) - In a letter to President Barack Obama, two leaders of the U.S. bishops voiced support for continued efforts towards nuclear disarmament, as well as peace between Israel and Palestine.
“In Berlin, you recently reiterated a vision of a world without nuclear weapons, a vision that the Catholic Church has long supported,” wrote Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Bishop Robert E. Pates of Des Moines in a June 25 letter.
Cardinal Dolan is the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, while Bishop Pates heads the conference’s Committee on International Justice and Peace.
The two bishops recalled that Blessed Pope John XXIII pushed for an end to nuclear weapons across the globe in 1963. Twenty years later, the U.S. bishops’ conference issued a pastoral letter entitled “The Challenge of Peace,” which repeated the goal of nuclear disarmament.
“Today, we again pledge support of U.S. efforts to achieve mutual reductions in the stockpiles of nuclear weapons, to adopt the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and to strengthen nuclear non-proliferation.”
The bishops also stressed the importance of “vigorous leadership” by the U.S. in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
They thanked the president for his trip to the Holy Land in March and for “charging Secretary of State John Kerry with the urgent task of bringing the parties to the negotiating table.”
Reiterating their support for a two-state solution in the region, they promised their continued prayers for peace.
“We know that many consider the conflict intractable, but we believe that peace is possible,” they said, encouraging “persistent U.S. leadership” and pledging their “untiring support.”
Rome, Italy, Jul 2, 2013 (CNA) - A new animated video in 15 different languages is helping Catholics and non-Catholics learn more about Pope Francis in a simple way.
Entitled “Meet Pope Francis (in 4 minutes),” the video is posted on the website Catholic Link and recounts the Holy Father’s journey through the roles of priest, bishop, cardinal and Pope.
It stresses his humility and simplicity, choosing to live in a small apartment, cooking his own meals and riding public transportation, even as a cardinal.
“He knew that the best way to serve was to be close to the people he loved, accompanying them in their daily tasks,” the video says.
It also illustrates how the Pope, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, “has been able to help others in so many ways. In addition to administering the sacraments, he has been a teacher, a guide to young Jesuits, and yes, till this day, a great lover of soccer. His favorite team is Argentinean club San Lorenzo."
Producers have translated the video into 15 languages and are working on several more, since the Pope “represents all Catholics,” and being from Argentina, it is understandable “that many people know little about him, especially in Europe, Africa and Asia.”
Making the video, they said, “has been a chance to remember and appreciate the marvel of a universal faith that is truly capable of speaking in all languages and reaching all nations.”
“It reminds us of the words of the Lord Jesus, chosen as the theme of World Youth Day this year, which will take place soon in Rio, Brazil: 'Go and make disciples of all the nations!'”
Washington D.C., Jul 2, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - More than 100 religious leaders from various faith backgrounds are asking the U.S. government to respect the beliefs of those who oppose the demands of the controversial HHS mandate.
“As the Catholic bishops have said from the very beginning, the underlying issue with the HHS Mandate is not about any specific teaching,” stated Archbishop of Baltimore William E. Lori, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
“In fact, other signatories on the letter do not share our view on contraception and probably disagree with us in many other ways, but they understand the core religious freedom issue at stake here,” he explained.
Archbishop Lori spoke as part of a July 2 panel of religious leaders at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The panel was held to mark the release of an open letter, “Standing Together for Religious Freedom,” signed by Archbishop Lori and more than 100 other religious leaders and scholars from a variety of faith traditions.
The letter emphasized the risks to religious freedom posed by the Obama administration’s HHS mandate, which requires nearly all employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early-stage abortions.
Many faith-based organizations and religious individuals running for-profit businesses have sued the government over the mandate, which they say violates their First Amendment right to religious freedom. Failure to comply with the regulation results in large fines that could be devastating for the businesses.
Yuri Mantilla, chairman of the Justice Initiative of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, explained that the mandate threatens religious freedom by forcing “religious believers to make a choice between obeying the law and violating deeply held religious beliefs; or obeying fundamental religious and moral norms and disobeying the governmental mandate.”
The signers of the letter asked the administration to “at a minimum, expand conscience protections under the mandate to cover any organization or individual that has religious or moral objections to covering, providing or enabling access to the mandated drugs and services.”
They also call on Congress to implement legislation protecting against religious freedom violations.
Sociology professor Anne Hendershott of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, said that despite the government’s assertions that the mandate does not injure religious non-profit organizations – such as the Catholic university where she works – the mandate in actuality has caused harm and threatens to cause more harm.
Catholic schools and universities “have already been injured by this unjust mandate because our constitutional right to religious freedom has been compromised,” she said.
She warned that should these violations continue to escalate, “the state can target us as they have done to Catholic adoption agencies that won’t place children with gay and lesbian couples.”
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethical and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, stressed that while the infringements on religious liberty presented by the HHS mandate are subtle, they are significant.
“Our First Freedom of religious liberty is rarely challenged with sudden shock and awe tactics,” he said. “Instead, from the very beginning, such incursions on religious liberty happen in this country from the pen of a bureaucrat rather than the barrel of a tank.”
“Do we really want the sort of civil society in which the consciences of the people are so easily swept aside by government action?” asked Moore.
He added that if the government can impose its will on one group of people “what will stop the government from its imposing its will on your consciences next?”
“We support freedom of conscience not only for ourselves but for all,” he emphasized.
“We do not ask the government to bless our doctrinal convictions, or to impose them on others. We simply ask the government not to set itself up as lord of our consciences.”