Lincoln, Neb., Jun 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Bishop James Conley joined other religious leaders in Lincoln, Neb. for a prayer service for religious liberty, reminding those present that choosing goodness is what constitutes ultimate freedom.
“We are set free by Christ so that we can love as God loves,” the bishop said June 27.
“Freedom is the responsibility to choose goodness over profit, or comfort, or consequence. As the letter of St. James says, freedom is the responsibility to 'be doers of the word, not hearers only.'”
The ecumenical prayer service was held at Zion Presbyterian Church in Lincoln and fell during the most recent “Fortnight for Freedom” announced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The two week period from June 21 to July 4 is to be a time of prayer and fasting for religious freedom in the United States.
In his remarks on Friday, the bishop touched on the history of one of America's most beloved hymns, “Amazing Grace,” which he said serves as an example of what it means to be set free by the grace of God to choose the good.
John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace,” was a sailor for slave ships in the late 18th and early 19th century in Britain. Although he became a Christian after a conversion during a shipwreck in his youth, Newton continued in the slave trade business for years.
“Slaves had made him wealthy. They'd given his family great opportunities…Comfort and profit blinded John Newton,” Bishop Conley said, “But the Lord worked in Newton's heart. And eventually, his eyes were opened to truth.”
Once Newton recognized the evil of the slave trade, he worked as an abolitionist and helped bring about the 1807 Slave Trade act that began the process of abolition in the British Empire. Newton is an example of what it means to embrace the freedom that comes from Christ, Bishop Conley said.
“Grace sets captives free. And freedom is the grace to know the fullness of truth, and to respond.”
Our religious freedom in the United States is threatened in several ways, the bishop continued, though this should come as no surprise.
“The human freedom to choose goodness is a great threat to the chaotic injustice of the devil,” he said, “The darkness of sin has no greater enemy than those who carry the light of Christ.”
Bishop Conley then reflected on some of the most recent threats to religious freedom in the U.S., including the upcoming verdict on whether or not Hobby Lobby will qualify for religious exemption under the HHS mandate requiring businesses to offer insurance that covers contraception.
“The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether Christians have the right to bring the faith into their business administration,” he said. “Churches, and hospitals, and universities are still being threatened.”
Still, these persecutions “pale in the face of the threats believers face around the world,” the bishop said.
“In the Middle East, and Asia, and Africa, Christians are still beaten, and tortured, and crucified. This is happening today. Right now.”
Our response as Christians, Bishop Conley said, is to conform ourselves more to Christ and to evangelize to others in order to transform the world through God’s love.
“May we understand freedom. May we exercise it. And may Christ use us each to transform the world,” the bishop concluded.
After the prayer service, representatives of the Diocese of Lincoln, the Nebraska Family Alliance, and faculty members for the University of Nebraska conducted a roundtable discussion on religious liberty.
Vatican City, Jun 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
On the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Francis installed 24 new archbishops with the pallium, urging them, like Peter, to place their security in the Lord when faced by the fear of their own weakness.
“I wonder, dear brother bishops, are we afraid? What are we afraid of? And if we are afraid, what forms of refuge do we seek, in our pastoral life, to find security?” the Pope asked in his June 29 homily.
“Peter experienced how God’s fidelity is always greater than our acts of infidelity, stronger than our denials. He realizes that the God’s fidelity dispels our fears and exceeds every human reckoning.”
Following the installation of the pallium onto the Metropolitan archbishops, Pope Francis took a moment to offer special greetings to the Delegation sent by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, which was led by Metropolitan Ioannis, and to pray for the unity of the two churches.
The pallium is a white woolen garment that represents the traditional and peculiar sign of the metropolitan office, and is given annually to the new archbishops appointed during the throughout the year.
The Pope began his homily by returning to the Gospel in which the Lord sends an angel to free Peter from prison, drawing attention to how the apostle’s chains fell and the door of his cell was opened when the angel commanded him to rise and follow.
“Yes, the Lord liberates us from every fear and from all that enslaves us, so that we can be truly free,” the Pope said, explaining that “the problem for us, then, is fear and looking for refuge in our pastoral responsibilities.”
Asking the archbishops what their fears are, the Pope also questioned where they place their security, saying, “Do we look for support from those who wield worldly power? Or do we let ourselves be deceived by the pride which seeks gratification and recognition, thinking that these will offer us security?”
Observing how “the witness of the Apostle Peter reminds us that our true refuge is trust in God,” the pontiff explained that this trust “banishes all fear” and sets us free from slavery and worldly temptations.
“Today the Bishop of Rome and other bishops, particularly the metropolitans who have received the pallium, feel challenged by the example of Saint Peter to assess to what extent each of us puts his trust in the Lord.”
Recalling how Peter had regained his trust in the Lord when Jesus said to him three times “Feed my sheep,” enabling him to make up for his threefold denial, the pontiff noted how Peter was still filled with regret at that moment.
However in recognition of his weakness, he “does not trust himself and his own strength, but instead entrusts himself to Jesus and his mercy.”
It was at this moment “that fear, insecurity and cowardice dissipate,” the Bishop of Rome observed, explaining that God’s faithfulness is much greater than our own infidelity.
Pointing out how Jesus also asks us the question, “Do you love me,” Pope Francis stated that “He does so because he knows our fears and our struggles” and that Peter shows us how to trust the Lord, “who ‘knows everything’ that is in us.”
“Jesus never abandons us, for he cannot deny himself. He is faithful,” the Pope noted, stating that his fidelity to us is “the source of our confidence and our peace” which enables us to serve others in charity.
“The love of Jesus must suffice for Peter. He must no longer yield to the temptation of curiosity, jealousy, as when, seeing John nearby, he asks Jesus: ‘Lord, what about this man?’” to which Jesus replies “What is it to you? Follow me.”
Addressing the new archbishops directly, Pope Francis stated that this message is also directed toward all shepherds in the Church.
“Follow me! Waste no time in questioning or in useless chattering; do not dwell on secondary things, but look to what is essential and follow me. Follow me without regard for the difficulties. Follow me in preaching the Gospel,” he said.
“Follow me by the witness of a life shaped by the grace you received in baptism and holy orders. Follow me by speaking of me to those with whom you live, day after day, in your work, your conversations and among your friends.”
Concluding, the pontiff stated that Jesus asks them to follow him in preaching the Gospel “especially to the least among us, so that no one will fail to hear the word of life which sets us free from every fear and enables us to trust in the faithfulness of God. You, follow me.”
In addition to the 24 archbishops who received the pallium from Pope Francis are three others who were not present, and who will officially be installed at a later date. Among the 24 present was one American, Archbishop Leonard Paul Blair of Hartford, Conn.
Vatican City, Jun 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
During his Sunday Angelus on the Feast of Peter and Paul, Pope Francis called the faithful to open themselves to the transforming power of God’s grace and mercy in their own lives.
“Since ancient times the Roman Church celebrates the Apostles Peter and Paul in one unique feast on the same day, June 29,” the Pope observed.
He explained that “this feast inspires in us a great joy, because it confronts us with God's work of mercy in the hearts of two men, and God's work of mercy in these two men, that were great sinners.”
Noting Peter’s denial of Christ during the Passion and Paul’s persecution of Christians, the pontiff stressed that it was grace that “has accomplished great things, has transformed them.”
“But together they both receive the love of God and are left transformed by his mercy; so they became friends and apostles of Christ,” he said. “Thus they continue to speak to the Church and still today show us the way of salvation.”
Similarly, the pontiff explained, even if we “fall into the greatest sin and into the darkest night,” God always wishes to transform our hearts and forgive our sins, bringing us from darkness into light.
He noted the radical transformation of St. Paul after encountering Christ on the road to Damascus: going from “a bitter enemy of the Church” to putting “his whole existence to the service of the Gospel.”
“Also for us the encounter with the Word of Christ is able to transform our entire life,” he continued. “It's not possible to hear his Word and remain firmly in one's place, getting stuck in one's habits. It pushes us to overcome the selfishness that we have in our hearts in order to decisively follow the Teacher that has given his life for his friends.”
Encountering Christ in our lives is what changes us and leads us to ask for forgiveness, he reflected.
On this feast day, the faithful can learn from St. Peter and St. Paul, two very different men who were both chosen by Christ and “responded to the call offering their entire lives,” the Pope said. “Faith in Jesus Christ has made them brothers and martyrdom has made them become one.”
“And God also wants to fill us with his grace, as he did with Peter and with Paul,” Pope Francis added. “May the Virgin Mary help us to welcome it with open hearts, as they did, and not to receive it in vain! And may she sustain us in the time of trial, to give testimony to Jesus Christ and his Gospel.”
The Pope prayed especially for the new Metropolitan Archbishops who received their pallium earlier in the day at St. Peter’s.
“We greet them all with affection together with their faithful and friends, and we pray for them!” he said.
After the Angelus, Pope Francis commented on the news of continued violence in Iraq, saying that it is “unfortunately very painful.”
“I join the bishops of the country in appealing the governments because, through dialogue, you can preserve national unity and avoid war,” he said.
“I am close to the thousands of families, especially Christians, that have had to leave their homes and that are in great danger,” the Pope continued. “Violence begets violence; dialogue is the only way to peace. We pray to the Madonna, because she watches over the people of Iraq.”