American and Catholic – what a country!

I probably don’t need to tell you that, years ago, being a Catholic in our beloved country was a major problem! Yes, it is true. You think trying to get a job today is tough; in those days being a Catholic (largely determined by your ethnic background) meant: “Catholics not welcome.” Well, the old adage: “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” is certainly getting some revision in our day.

As the nation looks over and considers the results of this week’s election, the bishops of the USA are looking at a situation that stirs the hearts of many Catholics and touches us deeply as people of faith and as patriots.

I often speak about the challenge of living our faith courageously when I teach the young people at confirmation celebrations. I don’t think that I can impress the point clearly enough or often enough that when the bishop used to tap us on the cheek, he urged us to be mindful that we were preparing to do battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. The “peace of Christ” is the greeting used by the bishop, then, and now, to instill the sense of valor that can only be used by an authentic “soldier of Christ.” Times and rituals have changed and, somehow, the mettle of Catholic courage to be about the work of Christ in the world seems weakened to a thin veneer of humanistic courtesy at best.

Last month, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, led by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, announced a new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, with Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., as the chairman. Through this Committee, we bishops will be able to take action on major issues that affect us as Catholics and as Americans.

Catholic teaching is being challenged in such essential areas as mandated coverage of contraception (including abortifacients) and sterilization in all private health insurance plans; Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is concerned that the  United States Agency for International Development (USAID), under the direction of the Department of State, is increasingly requiring condom distribution, along with “reproductive health activities” including artificial contraception within a wide range of international relief and development programs; the Department of Justice has ratcheted up its attack on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as an act of bigotry claiming that supporters of the law could only have been motivated by bias and prejudice. If the label of “bigot” sticks to us because of our teaching on marriage, court battles could go on for years!

So many areas affect our lives as Catholics and Americans. It is important to stay informed as a citizen and stay active as a Catholic in your faith. The bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee will work closely with national organizations, charities, ecumenical and interreligious partners, and scholars to form a united and forceful front in defense of religious freedom in our nation. The Framers of the Constitution themselves understood this “First Freedom” to be based on the norms inherent in natural law – namely, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Being a Catholic and being an American is all part of the great gifts of freedom in our society. What a Faith! What a Country! God bless it!

…and I’ll see you at Sunday Mass!

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