A favor: this year, on the Fourth of July, will you not only shoot off fireworks, but ring the bells at every church in the archdiocese at noon as we conclude our national Fortnight of Prayer for Religious Freedom?
This promising endeavor will begin this Thursday, June 21.
The cause is as old as the country we love, whose independence we’ll celebrate on July 4: religious freedom.
It’s not new at all: Our first bishop, John Carroll — whose cousin, Charles, signed the Declaration of Independence — constantly urged the tiny Catholic flock of his time to pray in thanksgiving for the freedom promised us to exercise our faith without harassment from anybody, government included, and to pray for its protection.
Nor is it uniquely American, for that matter. Just look at the saints whose feasts we’ll celebrate over the two-weeks of prayer:
St. John Fisher (June 22), who refused to render the king the allegiance that only belonged to God, and was murdered for it;
St. Thomas More (June 22), who would not violate his properly formed conscience to appease the crown, and lost his head;
St. John the Baptist (June 24), who would not disobey God’s law about marriage, and was beheaded by King Herod;
SS. Peter and Paul (June 29), who were martyred by Caesar for not worshipping him as a god.
The First Martyrs of Rome (June 30), slaughtered in the first generation of Christians for not genuflecting to the emperor, but only to the Lord.
St. Thomas the Apostle (July 3), whose defense of the basic freedom of faith led to his martyrdom in India.
What people of every faith longed for — the liberty to worship God and live out their religious convictions without oppression — finally came to be fulfilled in the country whose 236th birthday we will observe this July 4th.
I invite you to join this Fortnight of Prayer June 21 – July 4, thanking God for this first of our God-given rights — freedom of religion — and to ask the Lord to preserve it in the country we love as our earthly home.