Just over four years ago, Peggy and I had the privilege of attending the beautiful Mass offered by Pope Benedict at Yankee Stadium. Like many in the Stadium, we were caught up in the power of the event — the leader of the Church around the world had come to our home town and was celebrating the Eucharist for us. It was the pinnacle of the Holy Father’s visit to our nation, and a wonderful moment for us as Catholics.
Throughout his visit to America, the Holy Father spoke in such positive terms about our nation’s legacy of freedom. At the time, it would have been easy for most Americans to overlook the significance of remarks like these:
In this land of religious liberty, Catholics found freedom not only to practice their faith, but also to participate fully in civic life, bringing their deepest moral convictions to the public square and cooperating with their neighbors in shaping a vibrant, democratic society. Today’s celebration is more than an occasion of gratitude for graces received. It is also a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.
How much things have changed, and how prophetic the Holy Father has proven to be.
Just a few years after that papal visit, we are faced with a panoply of threats to our fundamental religious liberty, which few could have foreseen — the legal re-definition of marriage; the mandates for insurance coverage of sterilization, abortion drugs, and contraceptives; forcing people to pay for insurance coverage of direct abortion; the refusal of our government to recognize the conscience rights of religious institutions. The path forward is daunting, and we are likely to see more and more restrictions on religious participation in public life.
In these times, it is all the more important to go back to basics, to recapture those essential ideals of America about which the Holy Father spoke. And to turn to God in prayer for our nation.
This is what is motivating the United States Bishops in their call for a prayerful “Fortnight for Freedom”, from June 21 through July 4. They are asking us to join in “a great hymn of prayer for our country”, with special liturgical events like Holy Hours and litanies, and public witness like the ringing of church bells and processions. It is an event of public devotion and worship — directed to God, on behalf of our beloved nation.
Of course, the Fortnight for Freedom risks being misunderstood by our modern culture, with its obsession with electoral politics. The Fortnight is not about partisan politics, it has nothing to do with elections, and it is not concerned with who holds public office. It is a call for all Americans — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — to recapture our sense of priorities. The goal is to reawaken our sense of dependence on God for the well-being of our nation, and our commitment to transforming all of society in the light of the Gospel.
I believe that, in his homily at Yankee Stadium, Pope Benedict foresaw the need for the Fortnight for Freedom, and anticipated its message and its importance. He spoke of our daily prayer for the coming of the Kingdom of God, and dedicating ourselves to its growth throughout our society. Speaking of the significance of this prayer, he added:
It means facing the challenges of present and future with confidence in Christ’s victory and a commitment to extending his reign. It means not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal. It means overcoming every separation between faith and life, and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness… It means working to enrich American society and culture with the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and never losing sight of that great hope which gives meaning and value to all the other hopes which inspire our lives.
We are proud to be Americans, and we are proud to be Catholics. We will gladly join together with our brothers and sisters across our nation during the Fortnight for Freedom. We pray that our beloved nation, under God, will respect our fundamental human rights, particularly our right to religious liberty, and that this freedom will always be held sacred and secure.