Jesus Christ died to conquer death—and in Lent we remember that we are called to share in his passion, death and resurrection.
This year, the Church has needed no reminder that Lent is a time to participate in the suffering of Jesus Christ. On Jan. 20, a month before Lent began, President Barack Obama announced to the United States that Catholic institutions would be required to fully fund their employees’ use of contraception. Though unconstitutional, this plan has not been modified. Despite claims to the contrary, the Department of Health and Human Services has been unrelenting in wholesale persecution of Catholic institutions in the United States.
This Lent, the Church is keenly aware of what it is to suffer.
Over the past few months, Catholics have been mocked, marginalized and calumniated. Catholics, who revere the Blessed Mother above all saints, and who revere motherhood above all vocations, have been accused of hating women. Catholics, who believe firmly in the importance of religious tolerance, have been condemned as bigots and hatemongers. Catholics, who believe in the incredible beauty of human sexuality, have been miscast as hopelessly ignorant and out of touch.
This Lent, we can understand the passion of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ was born in a manger, in humility. He was mocked and misunderstood throughout his ministry. And, willingly, “he was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, knowing pain, like one from whom you turn your face.” Jesus Christ was outcast and rejected, and ultimately, “like a lamb, (he was) led to slaughter.”
This is the reason we should rejoice at the persecution Catholics now face in the United States—because in persecution we become more like Jesus Christ. In persecution we become holy. In suffering persecution and offering our suffering to Jesus Christ, we have the chance for victory.
We should oppose threats to our religious liberty by every just means—by supporting legislation that protects our religious freedom and by making our voice heard. We should continue to advocate for the liberty of Americans, of humankind, to live in accord with our religious beliefs.
But if we want to be like Jesus Christ, we should realize that the power of sound argument pales in comparison to the power of our spiritual sacrifices—of our prayers and of our fasting. The persecution of Catholics in America is the result of sin—and offering penance, in union with Christ’s death on the cross, liberates us from that sin. We should pray, fast and sacrifice because these actions inspire the conversion of our own hearts and the conversion of others—and conversion, not force, argument or coercion, will end the injustices Catholics are facing.
Many bishops in the United States are asking Catholics to fast for an end to religious persecution, on Friday, March 30. I will be fasting that day. I invite you to join me.
Offer your suffering for the restoration of religious liberty in America. Offer your fast for a conversion of mind in the United States of America.
Jesus Christ conquered death in humility, suffering and obedience. May we conquer injustice by striving to do the same.
Reprinted with permission from the Denver Catholic Register.
The Most Rev. James D. Conley served as the auxiliary Bishop for the Denver Archdiocese from April of 2008 until November of 2012, and during this time also served as Apostolic Administrator for Denver from September 2011 until July 2012. Bishop Conley is currently the Bishop of the Lincoln diocese.