Both our civil year and liturgical year point us on various occasions to our heritage of freedom. This year, we propose a special “fortnight for freedom” … We suggest that the fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, be dedicated to this “fortnight for freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.
– from the document “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty”
by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty
In response to the request of the bishops of the United States, thousands of Catholics across the country unite over the fourteen days between June 21 and July 4. As a Church, we will be praying, fasting, educating ourselves and others, and vocalizing our concerns. People of other faiths are invited to join in this effort, since the issue of religious liberty affects more than just Catholics.
The threat against religious freedom is real and widespread. As the bishops outlined in their statement “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” our religious liberty is being attacked on a variety of fronts. It came to the forefront a few years ago at the imposition of the HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. But the threat is much more widespread. It is being threatened by discrimination against faith-based humanitarian services, adoption services, and student groups on college campuses, proposed immigration laws, proposed “hate-speech” laws, and even attempts to alter church structure and governance.
Freedom of religion is not limited to our freedom to worship. Religious liberty extends to our freedom to allow our religion to impact our lives. It is not restricted to our Sunday morning practices, but how those Sunday morning practices affect our daily life in the world. Can I live as a Catholic in my workplace, in my neighborhood, in my hospital, in my school?
Over the last four years, we have seen part of this question played out in courtrooms across the country, even to the halls of the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs in the various cases, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, dozens of dioceses and Catholic institutions, assert that we have the right as believers to practice our religion and that the government cannot force us to violate our consciences.
The first Fortnight for Freedom occurred during the early days of the legal battles against the HHS mandate. Maybe since then, we have grown tired of the fight. Perhaps the setbacks have ceased to anger us and the gains no longer give us comfort. Maybe we have become desensitized to the losses or numb to the victories. Or perhaps it’s just all become muddled, confused, and now forgotten. But the threats are still at our door, if not even more so than they were in 2012.
We must not give in to the weariness.
The first lawsuits against the HHS mandate were filed on May 21, 2012, the feast of St. Christopher Magallanes and companions, martyrs for religious liberty. These priests and laity, martyred between 1915 and 1937, heroically lived out their Catholic faith at a time when the president and government of Mexico tried to silence the Church. They were canonized by John Paul II in 2000.
Each year as part of this Fortnight for Freedom, we are encouraged to celebrate the saints whose feasts fall in these two weeks. In the next fourteen days, we will explore the lives, struggles, and victories of these people who have fought for freedom.
The lives we’ll explore span the centuries. These heroes were women and men, children and those advanced in years, converts to the Faith and cradle Catholics. They were mothers and fathers, priests, bishops, and single people. One was a lawyer. Another was a Pope. And another was a handsome, wealthy son of a senator.
The Church holds up saints to remind us that our goal in life is not fame or wealth or success. It is holiness. And the saints remind us that the goal is attainable for us all. The Church canonizes some of Heaven’s citizens, formally declaring to us that they are in Heaven. But Heaven is filled with people whose names are lost to history.
God has created us to be saints, but that doesn’t require that we have “St.” in front of our names after our death. A saint is simply someone who is heaven. Some of them we may know well — St. Dominic, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis of Assisi. But others we may never know. Having lived unknown lives, they will never grace a holy card or be the subject of a stained glass window, but they fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the Faith (2 Tim 4:7).
God willing, we will join their ranks someday.
Charles Peguy, a French poet, once noted, “Life holds only one tragedy, ultimately: not to have been a saint.”
As we uncover the lives of the saints, we will find people who lived in times distant but not too different from our own. May we find strength, encouragement, and inspiration from their words and actions, and may God grant us fortitude, protection, and perseverance through their intercession.
We are living through a historic time for the Church in America. Perhaps we are tempted to think we can do nothing for this struggle. Maybe we believe it is in the hands of the courts and the leaders of our Church and government.
But our country needs our prayers and our voice.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” -Mother Teresa