On July 3, Michele Coldiron, Director of the California Catholic Women's Forum, participated in the Fortnight of Prayer at Our Lady of Peace Parish and Shrine, Santa Clara, CA - in response to the request by the bishops of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB).
During the Fortnight, Our Lady of Peace hosted an hour of prayer with a reflection either by a priest or a lay person together with the Rosary and a period of time for quiet prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
Herein is a transcript of her talk.
[Items in brackets are explanatory and not part of the talk.]
Today is day 13 of the fortnight of prayer. The United States Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty asked us to pray "a great hymn of prayer for our country" during this fortnight of freedom. Let us begin on this closing night:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Father and our Brother, we come here this evening to praise Your Name, to ask Your blessing on this gathering and to implore Your Holy Spirit to come upon us and fill our minds with Your wisdom and our hearts with your love.
We ask that our prayers, simple as they may be, would join with the prayers of all those scattered across this great country and that the groanings of our prayers touch Your Sacred Heart, so that filled with compassionate love, You send forth Your Spirit and renew the face of this great country.
We recall the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, as he wrote from the Birmingham jail, that he agreed with St. Augustine, "An unjust law is no law at all". . . or as St. Thomas Aquinas said, "an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal or natural law." [This text is from the letter of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty]
As we ponder Your wisdom and pray for the leaders of this great country this evening, may we recall these words - an unjust law is one out of harmony with the moral law - may our hearts be opened to recognize the great truths of our faith, a faith that is not moved by the fickle winds of fashion, but that is rooted in eternity, truth that is, because You are Truth, You give Life, and You are the Way. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen
[From the Statement on Religious Liberty: "Our First, Most Cherished Liberty" by the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the USCCB]
As our Bishops said, "We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens.
An unjust law is "no law at all." It cannot be obeyed, and therefore one does not seek relief from it, but rather its repeal. [The Christian church does not ask for special treatment, simply the rights of religious freedom for all citizens.]
"The teaching of the Church is absolutely clear about religious liberty. From the Vatican II Document, Declaration on Religious Liberty Dignitatis Humanae:
The human person has a right to religious freedom. . . . immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, . . . As Catholics in America, we are obliged to defend the right to religious liberty for ourselves and for others, putting God and God's natural law first. We are happily joined in this by our fellow Christians and believers of other faiths.
Juxtapose this to Jean Jacques Rousseau, who greatly influenced the French Revolution, so different from our own revolution as its goal was to exalt the state and abolish religion. He said, "Man must be forced to be free" if his individual will goes against the common law created by the collective citizenry [The Social Contract, no. 8].
MEDITATION ON MARTYRS:
I would like to now take a moment to put some context into these statements by looking at the fortitude of martyrs for the faith since the Enlightenment - that seed bed for the idea that people can create heaven on earth without reference to God.
History is rife with examples of persecution, men and women who stood firm in support of religious freedom and against unjust laws. In this fortnight alone, we celebrated saints who did just that, St John the Baptist, Sts Peter and Paul, the first martyrs of Rome, and Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher during the English Reformation.
Our time is not different however, as there has been a concerted effort which continues to this day to create societies that are godless and egalitarian, and in which the state has the keys to power.
Nobel laureate and Catholic convert Sigrid Undset wrote in the 1920's in her book, Stages on the Road, that Europeans have long accepted Christian principles, a testament to their forefathers who created Europe through their own efforts in partnership with a loving God.
This is the great gift of Europe (p 175) – by the time of the Reformation the Catholic Church had succeeded in instilling into the common consciousness the doctrines of the Church as the hum of everyday life and most people knew no other way. The medieval church won out over pagan propensities of princes and people – in spite of diversity of language, in spite of different temperaments, in spite of the differing interests of the different kingdoms and principalities, everyone accepted Christianity as the status quo. The mustard seed had become a mighty bush and from Europe missionaries went out to all the world to convert it to Christianity too."The danger", she said (p 174), "is that these dogmas have come to be thought of as "naturally arising" as civilization progressed on the road from primitive barbarism to higher civilization. When things are taken for granted too often they begin to erode.
How we in our pride take what is good, and try to remove God from it so as to control it ourselves, and what tears we reap!
The French Revolution: In 1790 a law was passed requiring all priests and religious swear an oath of loyalty to the revolutionary regime, making them employees of the state and subject to state control. By 1793 those who still refused were to be condemned to death. The goal was the complete eradication of the Catholic Church in France.
The southwest of France resisted, an area called the Vendée. The citizens refused to attend church manned by these priests. Many true priests lived in hiding in the countryside. The family of St Jean Vianney was one of the families who hid priests, by the way. In 1793, when 300,000 men were to be conscripted into the army, the same army that was hunting down priests, they revolted. Some 35,000 peasants picked up their tools and their guns and fought for their liberty. Like the American Revolutionaries, these poor men knew how to shoot, and led a guerrilla war against the occupiers. The government retaliated brutally, killing men, women and children, sometimes thousands at a time. In 1993 no less a person than Alexander Soltzenitsyn visited the Vendée to honor this mostly unknown revolt. [Here is a link to a recent film about the Vendée]
The Cristeros of Mexico followed the same historical path as the Vendéeans. After a decree by the government of Mexico closely regulating spiritual life and mandating that all religious sign affidavits of allegiance to the federal government, the area of southwest Mexico resisted, and in the ensuing years from 1926 until the mid 1930's, thousands of people on both sides were killed as the federal agents hunted down the insurgents for Christ. "For Greater Glory", the recently released movie is superb and I urge you all to go see it.
Bishop Jenky recounts the story of the Culture War in Germany:
In the late 19th century, Bismarck waged his "Kulturkampf," a Culture War, against the Roman Catholic Church, closing down every Catholic school and hospital, convent and monastery in Imperial Germany.There is a definite trend here, one that is similar to what is happening today in this great beacon of freedom, the United States of America.
Keep in mind what Jean Jacques Rousseau said, "Man must be forced to be free."
I continue. Things picked up steam in the 21st Century, our century, in which we were so blessed in this country by peace and prosperity, yet globally it is considered the most blood drenched century in the history of mankind.
Edith Stein, the Jewish philosopher who became a Carmelite nun and was murdered at Auschwitz in 1942 is a saint. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, researching her cause, showed that the Nazi regime had a distinctive animosity toward the Catholic faith, especially religious, most especially those who protested against the loss of religious freedom [I lost the original site so this one is proposed to verify the statement]. She was not alone. Several thousand priests and religious died, including Maximilien Kolbe, another saint.
Cardinal Thuan Van Nguyen, whose cause for sainthood is in process at the present time, was named Archbishop of Saigon just seven days before the fall of South Vietnam to the Communist north in 1975 [Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan Foundation]. He was imprisoned for 13 years, nine of which were solitary confinement. [While in prison he wrote a little book called "Prayers of Hope", smuggled out on bits of tissue paper to feed his flock. After release he was placed under house arrest until 1991 when he was forced to leave his homeland.]
Cardinal Thuan was imprisoned because he dared to stand in witness to religious freedom, and the communist government would not allow that. [Although in the last year of his life he was allowed to visit the country of his birth, as recently as 2007 government officials would not allow visas to a delegation researching his sainthood].
Chen Guangdong, the blind Chinese Christian recently allowed to leave Communist China, had been imprisoned for 4 years and then placed under house arrest for 1 1/2 more years for condemning population control by abortion as well as sex selection for boys.
These are the ones who got away or have achieved some sort of notoriety, but the death toll is unimaginable. Half the population of Cambodia killed as a repressive Communist regime was implemented. The Russians killed almost 127million, the Communist Chinese, 102 million. A report by a retired professor of political science from the U of Hawaii estimates from 110 million to 247 million people died in Communist regimes in the 20th Century, trying to bring heaven to earth. Yes truly, men who are forced to be free suffer the consequences. But thanks be to God, there is an alternative and our great country is an example, where man may humble himself and choose God's law, and actually be free.
The American War of Independence, unlike the French Revolution which attacked tradition and order, or the various authoritarian or Communist regimes which did likewise over the past couple of centuries, built upon the truth of the Christian faith in order to create a society in which people could peacefully govern themselves as free men. Our Declaration of Independence states that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights and that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". The Declaration refers to the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God". Yes we live in a democracy, but it is important for democratic regimes be created in sync with the natural law. We must never forget who we are, and what truly makes us free.
Pope Benedict XVI recently highlighted that point, stating that our faith is shaped
...by a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature's God. . . . that consensus has significantly eroded in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such [second paragraph].
You have heard over the last few days how our constitutional rights are being challenged by the HHS mandate and other ways pointed out by the USCCB.
This quick look at other examples of persecution in recent centuries shows what a fragile gift we have in the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution and how important it is that we never let up in our demand for religious liberty. Let us each, members of the laity, passionately pray and work to educate our fellow citizens as to the fragile nature of the gift we have been asked to care for: our Constitution and the liberties it protects, and may we never cease to be vigilant against those forces that want to deprive us of these unalienable rights.
[I omitted this section from the oral talk due to time constraints]
John Carroll, our first bishop, said that
Catholics' blood flowed as freely . . . to cement the fabric of independence as that of any of their fellow-citizens. They concurred with perhaps greater unanimity than any other body of men . . . promoting that government from whose influence America anticipates all the blessings of justice, peace, plenty, good order, and civil and religious liberty.
As Jennifer Roback Morse recently said in a response to the Mandate from the Acton Institute,
When rights of the minority are not protected by the majority that's the end of America. It is serious."The American Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of social services in the world. If the government can do this to the bishops of the Catholic Church, they can squash you like a bug. . .
Let us pray.
Almighty God, Father of all nations,For freedom you have set us free in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:1).
We praise and bless you for the gift of religious liberty, the foundation of human rights, justice, and the common good.Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect and promote our liberties;
By your grace may we have the courage to defend them, for ourselves and for all those who live in this blessed land.
We ask this through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our patroness, and in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, with whom you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
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