The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Homily: Wednesday 1st Week of Lent

Readings: Jon 3:1-10; Ps 51; Lk 11:29-32

The one question I'm asked most often about this Gospel passage is, "What is the sign of Jonah?"

Jesus actually speaks of two signs of Jonah in the gospels, once in Matthew 12 where He explicitly assigns it to His Resurrection: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" [Mt 12:40]

But in today's passage from Luke, Jesus never even mentions His Resurrection or Jonah's whale. Instead He says: "Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation...At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here" [Lk 11:30,32]

The sign seems clear: Jonah preached to the Ninevites that their city would be destroyed in 40 days. But, led by their king, the Ninevites repented, fasted and prayed, and God turned back His intent to destroy them. Here the sign of Jonah becomes a blunt “Repent or die!”

It would seem, then, that Jesus is warning His listeners to repent and believe the Good News, to put faith in His words and live. Otherwise they will suffer a great punishment.

But let's look at it from a deeper level. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the hated enemy of Israel, and so Jonah didn’t relish the idea of preaching to the Ninevites. If the Ninevites rejected him, they would likely kill him. But if they listened and repented, God would forgive them, they would prosper, and probably overrun Israel.

Of course, the latter is what actually happened. God strengthened Assyria, a people that didn't know Him, and used them to punish Israel for its sins. It happened just as Isaiah had prophesied: "Assyria, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him against a godless nation (Israel), I dispatch him against a people who anger me" [Is 10:5-6]

Jesus is telling the Jews of His time to repent and believe in the Gospel or He will give it to the Gentiles. As He told the disciples later, Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. And sure enough, the punishment occurred when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

What about us today? With so many Christians rejecting the Gospel of life and accepting what Pope John Paul II called the culture of death, we are in great need of repentance.

In Europe, the cradle of Christendom, the faith has almost disappeared from public and private life, a fact reflected in the low birth rates of nominal Christians. Could it be, we are engaged in our own self-destruction? Like the chosen people, will we be left with only a remnant of the faithful, a remnant that will be called to repent and evangelize the world to ensure God's promise to us is kept?

Is this also the sign of Jonah, a sign for today? You and I must decide.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Little Religious Freedom Next Door

Although few Americans are aware of it, in Mexico there is precious little freedom when it comes to the rights of religious organizations to speak freely about anything that might be construed as "political." According to Mexican law, "priests and ministers cannot form political associations nor carry out propaganda for any candidate, party or political group." In other words, the Church is prohibited from telling the faithful that certain parties or candidates espouse policies that are contrary to Scripture, Sacred Tradition and Church teaching.

Blessed Miguel awaiting execution
This and other similar anti-clierical laws in Mexico are products of the Cristero War of the 1920s in which thousands of Catholics were murdered by the state. Among these was a young Jesuit priest, Father Miguel Pro, whose death in front of a firing squad on November 22, 1927 turned him into a Mexican hero. He was executed without formal charges or a trial. The death of Blessed Miguel (he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988) was witnessed by a large gathering of reporters and photographers because Mexico's violently anti-Catholic president, Plutarco Calles, assumed the young priest would beg for his life and wanted his humiliation recorded. How wrong he was. After praying for a moment, Fr. Pro, raised his arms as if being crucified and cried out, "Viva Cristo Rey!" (Long live Christ the King!)

Things are heating up once again in Mexico because the nation's Catholic bishops published a set of voting guidelines for the Catholic faithful in advance of the July presidential elections. Although there is no mention of specific political parties or candidates, the guidelines state that Catholics may not "choose as a political option those who support or promote false rights or liberties that attack the teachings contained in the Holy Scriptures, tradition and doctrine of the Church." The Church's main focus is to ensure Catholics do not vote for candidates who support abortion or homosexual marriage, reminding Catholics that they "should be alert to the commitments of the candidates and their parties to respect the foremost of all rights, which is the right to life, from the moment of conception." God bless the bishops of Mexico. Pray that they will continue to speak out courageously for life and truth. Pray, too, that the people of Mexico respond not to the merchants of death, but to the supporters of life.

In recent years some of Mexico's long-standing anti-Catholic laws have been overturned. For example, in the 1990s priests were allowed to wear clerical clothing in public and the Church could establish religious schools. Both had been prohibited throughout most of the twentieth century. We hope this gradual movement toward religious freedom will continue. And we hope, too, that our nation will not set aside the religious freedom guaranteed by our Constitution, no matter how inconvenient that document might be to the political ambitions of some of our politicians.

Homily: Wednesday 6th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Jas 1:19-27; Ps 15; Mk 8:22-26

One of the truly remarkable things about the healings we encounter in the Gospels is how different they all are. So often, in response to faith, Jesus cures with a simple word or gesture. But in today’s brief passage from Mark’s Gospel, we encounter a healing that occurs in stages, a process of both faith and healing. Jesus seems to work with the blind man until there’s an inner transformation.

To our knowledge the blind man doesn’t ask for a healing; rather he’s brought to Jesus by his friends. They, too, don’t ask for a healing, at least not directly. Their faith is such that they expect Jesus’ touch will be enough. But the blind man? Well, he just seems to be going along for the ride, doesn’t he? So far we have no real evidence of faith on his part. And so Jesus begins the process of healing, a process that includes a parallel process of faith.

How does He begin? By taking the blind man by the hand and leading him away from the village. “Look,” Jesus is saying, “you’re blind, not just physically, but spiritually as well. If you’ll let me, I’ll lead you away from the source of your spiritual blindness. I’ll lead you away from those who will only take you back into blindness. I will lead you from an unholy place to a holy place, to a place where real healing can occur."

The process of healing itself begins almost sacramentally, doesn’t it? “Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on the man…” This is nothing but Jesus performing a rite of anointing and a laying on of hands.

But the cure doesn’t occur right away. No, Jesus inquires on the progress of the cure, and awaits the findings of the blind man. “Do you see anything?” Are you responding in faith? And, yes, the man responds, tentatively at first, and so Jesus lays his hands on him once again. He then looks intently and his sight is restored. His sight is restored in stages in response to Jesus' healing touch.

Mark records this remarkable miracle in three short phrases: He looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly. St. Jerome (347-420), the first of the great biblical scholars, explains the spiritual significance of this healing: 
"Christ laid his hands upon his eyes that he might see all things clearly, so through visible things he might understand things invisible, which the eye has not seen, that after the film of sin is removed, he might clearly behold the state of his soul with the eye of a clean heart."
How did Mark put it? “…he saw everything clearly.”

Village in Galilee
Shortly after we moved to The Villages, my brother – who passed away a couple of years ago – sent me a little refrigerator magnet that read, “Your village called. Their idiot is missing.” Now I had to put up with that sort of thing if only because he was my older brother and deserved my respect. But this funny little message has a real connection to today’s Gospel, and might help us understand what Jesus meant when he told the man he had cured of blindness not to return to the village: “And then he sent him home and said, ‘Do not even go into the village.’”

In other words, you’re not a villager any more; you’re my disciple. You are healed. You are a man of faith. Avoid the company of those who live in spiritual darkness. You are called to be different!

You see, what I think Jesus was really telling him (and us) is to avoid those who lead us to spiritual blindness. A village can be overly restrictive, can’t it? Too close identification with the village can cause us to conform to other villagers in all things. It can remove our freedom to see things differently. It can imprison us…unless, of course, we respond to the call to be different...unless we choose to be the village idiot.

The word ‘idiot’ comes from the Greek word ‘idios’, which means ‘peculiar’ or ‘private’. And, believe me, if you take your Christianity seriously, many will consider you peculiar. We may have to become a village idiot for a time. For it’s a long hard road to the humanity that Jesus calls us to exhibit.

Friday, February 10, 2012

An Open Letter to Congress

Dr. William Fahey, President of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire, has written a wonderful letter on the health care mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. Addressed to New Hampshire's U.S. Senators and Representative, it clearly and accurately states the Catholic Church's position on the mandate which denies Catholics the religious freedom guaranteed by our Constitution and natural law.

I urge everyone who reads this blog to read Dr. Fahey's letter. Here's the link: Thomas More College.

Okay, a late addition...

I just read Mark Steyn's column on the healthcare mandate and found it to be just about the best thing written on the subject. Here's the link: Obama Goes Henry VIII on the Church. Enjoy!

Persecution Update

The most persecuted religious group in the world is...drum roll...Christians! That's right, Christians are persecuted in a grand total of 131 countries. And here's the real surprise: the most barbarous and severe persecution of Christians is state sponsored or state permitted and occurs in Muslim-majority nations and communist nations. And did you know that upwards of 100,000 Christians are murdered every year simply because of their faith? Can you believe it? I know, I know, such statistics are grossly politically incorrect, but they're also true. If you want to read the specifics, check out the results of the study conducted last year by the Pew Forum.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Now this would seem to be a newsworthy story, don't you think? That's what I find most interesting. 200 million Christians live in those 131 countries in which they are persecuted, but you rarely read about it in the mainstream media. Okay, Newsweek recently ran a cover story on global Christian persecution, but that was an anomaly. In fact, I really can't figure out why Newsweek, a magazine run by a hand-wringing, left-leaning editorial staff, actually published that story...but it did, and God bless them for it. The story, "The War of Christians", was actually written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a remarkable woman who is not only a former member of the Dutch parliament and a best-selling author (Infidel), but also a human rights advocate, a survivor of Islamist death threats, and an escapee from a forced marriage in Somalia. Her article, which describes the widespread persecution of Christians particularly in Muslim countries, should be read by all Americans. Let me share just a few of her comments:
"But a fair-minded assessment of recent events and trends leads to the conclusion that the scale and severity of Islamophobia pales in comparison with the bloody Christophobia currently coursing through Muslim-majority nations from one end of the globe to the other."
Speaking of the willingness of many governments to ignore the persecution taking place she wrote,
"This is especially so in countries with growing radical Islamist (Salafist) movements. In those nations, vigilantes often feel they can act with impunity — and government inaction often proves them right. The old idea of the Ottoman Turks — that non-Muslims in Muslim societies deserve protection (albeit as second-class citizens) — has all but vanished from wide swaths of the Islamic world, and increasingly the result is bloodshed and oppression."
Aside from this one story, however, about the only place you'll read of the persecution of Christians is in the religious media and the blogosphere. Indeed, the silence of the secular media is exceeded only by that of the Obama administration. Unbelievably, the State Department's recent International Religious Freedom report does not even mention two of the worst offenders — Egypt and Pakistan — who regularly violate the rights of their Christian citizens in the worst way. Of course this report comes from the same administration that considered returning veterans, pro-lifers, states rights supporters, etc. as potential terrorists more dangerous than the Islamists who attacked us on September 11, 2001.

Of course, many members of the Western media, perhaps a majority, are atheists or, at best, agnostics. Not only don't they believe but they don't understand those who do. The idea of a "culture war" being waged between religious and secular cultures, between a culture of life and a culture of death, is a concept incomprehensible to them. This ignorance of things religious also leads them to discount the importance of religious teaching and values as a root cause of terrorism by Islamist extremists. Despite the evidence to the contrary they continue to believe terrorism is caused by economic disparity and a desire to right perceived historical wrongs. They just can't see religion as much of a motivator. To them religion is an aberration that will ultimately fade away under the bright light of progressive thought.

Burning a Christian Church in Egypt
Although much ignored by the media and Western governments, the global persecution of Christian is still a major story. It's also a growing story, one that will be increasingly difficult to ignore as such persecution expands in both frequency and severity. Some media outlets will no doubt mention it, but always "balanced" with stories about alleged Islamophobia by nasty, right-wing Christians -- you know, all those church ladies in Pittsburgh who regularly gun down and behead Muslim gas station attendants. Okay, maybe I exaggerate a wee bit, but you get the picture.

We have come to expect religious persecution from communist and other totalitarian states. These governments, run by ideologues or egomaniacal dictators, rightly consider organized religion, and in particular the Catholic Church, as the greatest obstacle to their complete domination of the human spirit. Communists believe Christians are the enemy and have been persecuting us for nearly 100 years. And yet despite the millions of Christian martyrs they have created, the Church still stands strong in their midst. In some places it might be forced into an underground, clandestine existence as it is in China and even more so in North Korea, but it will never be eradicated, for the Spirit will not be denied. But does our government openly chastise or sanction such nations as China or Vietnam for their state-sponsored persecution? Not if it will jeopardize commercial or banking relationships. 

Amazingly -- and  few Western Christians seem to be aware of this -- there are upwards of 100 million Christians in communist China. Most of these Christians a majority are Roman Catholic worship in secret house churches and their numbers are growing. This, of course, is a huge embarrassment to a regime that has propagandized and persecuted believers for over 60 years.

But one doesn't have to be a communist to hate and persecute the Church. Even current and budding dictators, like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, find themselves driven to attack the Church because it will not remain silent in the face of corruption and murder and their accompanying lies. And guess who these dictators hang out with. Why who else but the Chinese and the Iranians, among others? Despite their vastly different ideologies, they willingly join forces against the common enemy. 

I suppose I'm safe in saying we cannot rely on our government, regardless of the political party in power, to make religious persecution a key element of our nation's foreign policy. It will always take a back seat to the realpolitik of worldly concerns. Just consider the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its horrendous record of religious persecution, and then picture George Bush walking hand in hand with King Abdullah. Or reflect on Barack Obama bowing deeply to the same king in humble obeisance. It makes you understand why we've heard barely a world of criticism from either man.

Okay, before I get too political, let me offer some details on the persecution of Christians throughout the world. And I only scratch the surface...

Saudi Arabia. Let's begin with Saudi Arabia where the latest incident involved the arrest and strip-search of 29 Christian women and an assault on six Christian men for holding a prayer meeting in a private home. This, of course, is nothing new in a nation where women are treated as chattel. Just imagine their attitude toward Christian women. Read more here.

Sudan and South Sudan. Over the past ten years the Islamic government of Sudan has killed between 300,000 and a million Christians and animists in South Sudan and Darfur. Nobody knows the exact number, but the total is staggering. What more can one say as this Islamic government piles atrocity upon atrocity? Any effort to protect the victims was apparently not in our national interest and so we and our allies did nothing. Even after the creation of the nation of South Sudan, the northern government infiltrates armed groups into the south to engage in a proxy war against the new government.

The persecution of Christians continues in Sudan itself. As the Orwellian titled Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowment recently stated, “We will take legal procedures against pastors who are involved in preaching or evangelistic activities...We have all legal rights to take them to court.” In case you had any doubts, this warning was aimed specifically at Christians who must also obey the sharia law of the land. Read more here.

Today I took a peek at the Sudanese government's website, and noticed that the nation's 1st Vice President, one Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, directed the nation, in honor of the Prophet Muhammad's birthday, to take on "an attitude of making the celebrations of the Prophet this year full of love, mercifulness, cooperation and solidarity..." I'm sure the people of South Sudan appreciate this sentiment.

Egypt. Mob attacks on Copts continue in Egypt in the aftermath of the nationwide voting in which the radical Islamists won a clear majority. When one considers that Christians make up about 10% of Egypt's population, it's apparent that the extremists have the support of the vast majority of Muslims. The latest incident involved an attack by more than 3,000 Muslims who looted Coptic homes and businesses and then set them on fire. The army, located a little over a mile away, took well over an hour to respond. No one was arrested. Such attacks are becoming increasingly common and causing many Christians to leave the country. Read more here.

Another form of persecution in Egypt and elsewhere in the Islamic world involves the kidnapping of young Christian girls and their subsequent forcible conversion and marriage to Muslims. The Egyptian courts recently decided in favor of the kidnappers of a 16-year-old Coptic girl and ordered her held in a state-run home until she is 18 when she can legally convert to Islam. Her family is understandably distraught, and the Christian community is worried that such decisions will lead only to more kidnappings. Read more here.

Palestinians. Wherever the Palestinians run things, whether in the West Bank (bad) or in Gaza (horrendous), Christians are treated horribly. I find this especially interesting since this persecution comes from a people that loves to depict itself, erroneously, as the object of decades of persecution by the Jews. In reality, the Palestinians have become the "useful idiots" of those neighboring Islamic nations intent on the destruction of Israel. These same nations could have solved the Palestinian "problem" years ago but it benefits their agenda to keep these people in refugee camps and the squalor of Gaza. As a result, the Christian population is quickly disappearing. In 1948 Christians made up 10% of the Palestinian territories; today they make up 1%. Read more here.

Interestingly, the only growing Christian population in the entire Middle East is in the one country in which Islam does not prevail, Israel. This tells us a lot about the fate of Christianity in that part of the world. The only Middle Eastern country where religious freedom, tolerance and democratic values exist is the Jewish state.
St. Theresa Catholic Church destroyed in Nigeria
Nigeria. Here we have a Muslim-majority nation with a large (40%) Christian population. For years the two religions have coexisted side by side. But peace with Christians is unacceptable to the Islamist extremists who demand the imposition of sharia law and are willing to kill anyone, Christian or Muslim, who resists them. The primary terrorist group, Boko Haram, is apparently receiving aid from al-Qaida and has been responsible for the murder of hundreds of Christians and the destruction of dozens of churches in just the past few months. Read more here.

Yousef Nadarkhani
Apostasy. In most Islamic nations converts to Christianity are considered apostates. Sharia law is explicit about the punishment for apostasy: death. Iranian Christian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani remains in prison because he refuses to acknowledged publicly that prophet Muhammad is a messenger sent by God. To do so would be a rejection of his Christian beliefs and so he continues to resist bravely even though facing potential execution. And although several of the most prominent cases are in Iran, the imprisonment and execution of Christian converts from Islam occurs throughout the Muslim world. Converts living  in Kenya have even been tracked from their countries of origin — e.g., Ethiopia and Uganda — by those intent on killing them. In Kuwait a royal prince who converted to Christianity has stated that as an apostate he will likely be targeted. And recently two converts to Christianity who believed they would be safe after moving to Norway were recently stabbed on the street by masked men shouting "Infidels!" Read more here.

Indonesia. In this nation, often praised as the most open and tolerant of Muslim nations, attacks on Christians and their churches have more than doubled in the past year. Christians are not only being attacked in their churches by mobs of Muslim extremists, but these same mobs are seeking out and disrupting prayer meetings held in the homes of Christians. Read more here.

Just last month at the Vatican, Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Holy See's press office stated:
“Among the most serious concerns, the increase in Islamic extremism merits special attention. Persons and organizations dedicated to extremist Islamic ideology perpetrate terrible acts of violence in many places throughout the world: the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria is but one example. Then there is the climate of insecurity that unfortunately in some countries accompanies the so-called “Arab spring”--a climate that drives many Christians to flee and even to emigrate...Such sufferings are a part of the Christian journey. Nor ought we be amazed. Jesus said so in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,’ is the last of the Beatitudes; its promise is reward in heaven.” 
Father Lombardi is right: we will be persecuted. As Christians we should know that we can't count on our governments to help us. Our only source of help is the Lord, and our best weapon is prayer. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Homily: Wednesday, 5th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kgs 10:1-10; Ps 37; Mk 7:14-23

Mark 7
14 And he called the people to him again, and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him." 17 And when he had entered the house, and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, "Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?" (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, "What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man."

Today’s scripture passages speak of wisdom. In the reading from 1st Kings, the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon to test his great wisdom. Afterwards she tells him, "Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report I heard." Obviously, she was impressed. She also praises the Lord God who gave Solomon his wisdom and his position as king. We encounter this theme again in today’s psalm: "The mouth of the just man tells of wisdom, the law of his God is in his heart." And finally in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tries to impart some wisdom to the disciples in relation to dietary rules and what’s in the heart: what is truly clean and what is truly unclean.

Like the queen of Sheba, we are all seekers, seekers of knowledge and wisdom. And one thing I’ve learned late in life is that wisdom is a gift. God sends people and circumstances into our lives to give us the opportunity to gain wisdom. Although we gain knowledge through study, knowledge and wisdom aren’t the same thing. At best, knowledge is just an aid in our quest for wisdom.

Something else I’ve learned is that wisdom doesn’t always come from the old and experienced. I remember a second grade teacher in a parish school telling me about one of her young students. They were studying Christ’s teachings on forgiveness, and as an exercise, she asked each child to relate an incident where they’d a hard time forgiving someone. One child told of a fight with an older brother, and another of unkind words from a friend. A third child told of the theft of a dollar bill from his backpack. Then one little girl told about how her father had deserted the family.

The teacher told me she just stared at the little girl blankly, her heart breaking for her. She didn’t know what to say. But then one little boy piped up and said, "You have to forgive him, you know. Jesus says so." Tell me we can’t learn from children, especially in the arena of forgiveness.

Diane and I were foster parents for a number of years. We took in emergency cases, children who had to be removed immediately from their families, so you can imagine some of the situations they had been caught up in. We had four children of our own, and sometimes we’d have another two or three living in our big, old, rambling Cape Cod house. The kitchen table was big enough for ten, so mealtime was always an adventure.

But, you know, even though those children had probably never been treated as well, and no matter how bad their family environment had been, they wanted to be with their parents. They wanted to go home to mom and dad. You see, they were quick to forgive because they were determined to love. And when we’re dealing with sinners, love always involves forgiveness.

The world sees forgiveness as weakness, but for the Christian forgiveness is simply a symptom of love. It's not that we should forgive; we must forgive. Forgiveness is also the fruit of true wisdom, with Jesus as its source. And so in our Gospel passage from Mark, Jesus offers us a small slice of that wisdom.

So many of us worry about and focus on external things, on the things around us. We spend our lives complaining about others, about how we are treated, about the evils that we see all around us. And we blame our misfortunes on them. But Jesus tells us these external things are powerless. Look inward, He says, for it is the evil within us that is the source of sinfulness. It’s what’s in the human heart that counts, but only God can see clearly into the heart, the place where both evil and goodness are found.

It’s this revelation by Jesus that goes against all of today’s errant theories of human behavior, theories that blame the evil men do on their environment or on their genetic makeup. Jesus says, “No!” We all have an intellect and a will, and are responsible for all that we do.

And so today let’s pray for the wisdom that only God can give us, and that we’ll allow ourselves to accept it even when it comes from the most unlikely source. Like the prayer in the old hymn: Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, that we fail not man, nor Thee.

Freedom to Choose the Good

The Obama administration's unconstitutional mandate that the health insurance offered by Catholic institutions must include contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients forces the Church either to compromise it's firmly held religious beliefs or to pay crippling fines and penalties. This attack on the religious freedom guaranteed by our Constitution has roused the Catholic community in the U. S. from what had seemed to be a near permanent lethargy. Indeed, from the reactions of the past week or so, one might conclude that President Obama and his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, have awakened a sleeping tiger. Catholics of every political stripe have responded in disbelief and anger to the President's decision, and have been joined by members of many other religious groups who realize correctly that something similar could and likely will happen to them.

We Catholics understand freedom as something other than unrestrained license; for as Christians we recall the words of Jesus: “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" [Jn 8:31-32] We are, therefore, called to the truth and are not free to choose a lie. Making such a choice is to opt for evil, to choose sin over goodness. Instead we are called to act freely in choosing the good. In other words, we are free to choose that which will lead us to live the virtuous life. This is true freedom. The Obama administration, by demanding that we Catholics choose something we consider morally abhorrent, something we firmly believe to be an evil, attacks the very basis of religious freedom by denying us the freedom to choose the good. This is something we can not accept.

The following letter by Bishop John Noonan of Orlando was posted on our diocesan website this week and will be read in our parish this Sunday at all Masses. 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I write to you concerning an alarming and serious matter that negatively impacts the Church in the United States directly, and that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith. The federal government, which claims to be "of, by, and for the people," has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those peoplethe Catholic populationand to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees' health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those "services" in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies.

In so ruling, the Administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation's first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The Administration's sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.
We cannotwe will notcomply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America's cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights. In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.

And therefore, I would ask of you two things. First, as a community of faith we must commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored. Without God, we can do nothing; with God, nothing is impossible. Second, I would also recommend visiting, to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty, and how to contact Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the Administration's decision.

Most Rev. John Noonan
Bishop of Orlando
Echoing my bishop, I ask all who read this to call, write and email the president and your U. S. representative and senators to express your displeasure with this overt attack on religious freedom by an administration that has chosen to trample on the constitutional rights of its citizens.