If you have been a regular visitor to these pages over the past (nearly) five years, you know that the subjects I tackle here are generally of a broad, cultural sweep, rather than focusing on individual political issues or contests. However, all that I write, and all that I believe in, is for naught if, when the moment comes, I do not use the means at my disposal to stand up for something that deeply concerns me both as a Catholic and as an American citizen: and that is the attempt to erode the religious liberties of Catholics that has been undertaken by the present Administration. This attempt will ultimately fail, whether through judicial, legislative, or moral means, but there can be no question that the time to act is now.
Today the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has begun a 14-day period of prayer, fasting, advocacy, and reflection known as the “Fortnight For Freedom”, which will be taking place all over this country. It will not only offer Catholics an opportunity to act, but also to let people know about how much the Catholic Church is woven into the fabric of this country. And it will show why we have flourished here, under the protections of the U.S. Constitution, in taking Christ as our example in how we treat our fellow citizens, whether in civic life, public service, charitable work, education, health care, etc.
The Fortnight will begin with mass this evening at the National Basilica of The Assumption in Baltimore, the first Catholic cathedral built in the United States. It was designed by William Thornton, who just so happens to have been the architect of the U.S. Capitol here in Washington. And the cathedral was built at the request of Archbishop John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop of the United States and the founder of Georgetown University.
Archbishop Carroll’s cousin, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, the first U.S. Senator from Maryland, and the longest-lived signer of that document; his funeral took place in this Basilica. The Archbishop’s elder brother, Daniel Carroll, signed both the Articles of Confederation AND the U.S. Constitution, one of only five men to do so. And during the War of 1812, when First Lady Dolley Madison famously saved the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington from the advancing British troops, it was the Carrolls who rescued her and took her and the portrait to safety.
Following this, there will be daily prayers, events, fasting, and opportunities for Catholics and their supporters to make themselves heard in the fight to preserve our religious freedom as guaranteed under the Constitution. I urge you to visit the bishops’ website, and learn about how you can get involved, to read and learn more. At the conclusion of the Fortnight on July 4th, which (God willing) I hope to attend, there will be a mass at the National Shrine Basilica here in Washington, the largest church in the Western hemisphere, with many of the bishops in attendance including the main celebrant, our own Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and the homilist, the brilliant thinker and writer Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. Even if you cannot participate in all of the events, take some time on the 4th of July, as you celebrate Independence Day, and either watch or read about some of the coverage of this event from reliable sources like the bishops’ own website, EWTN, CatholicTV, and other media providers who are not part of the so-called “mainstream” media.
In thinking about what to write in this piece, for some reason an historic moment from across the pond, of all places, came to my mind. In probably the most famous speech of her career, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said the following, in response to pressure to deviate from a course of action which she knew was right:
To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the ‘U-turn’, I have only one thing to say: you turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning. I say that not only to you, but to our friends overseas, and also to those who are not our friends.
As it happens another lady, in this case Holy Mother Church, is not for turning, either. She is not going to change the fundamental teachings of the Faith because this President, or indeed any political leader, anywhere, happens to enact legislation that puts her on a collision course with the goals and ambitions of that leader. Those who believe there will be an about-face or a cave-in to political or public pressure on this point, because they have seen it happen elsewhere, are simply deceiving themselves about what the Catholic Church is, whatever other Christian denominations may or may not do.
Since its founding by Jesus 2,000 years ago, the Church has weathered storms from within and from without in all types of adversity, and it will weather this, as well. We Catholics take the long view – not only because we have outlasted every other civilization, but also because our goal is ultimately an eternal one, not based on a market or election cycle. And as Americans, our freedom to worship free from the interference of government in the practice of the Faith is one of the greatest gifts this country has given us. Even if you are not Catholic, or American, and even if you do not agree with the Church’s teachings, the actions taken by this Administration should make you pause, and ask, “If they can do this to the Catholics, then who is next?”, as indeed many non-Catholics have been asking themselves, as well, from liberals to conservatives of just about any religious affiliation you can imagine.
I realize that my views may be unpopular with some of my readers, and it may cost me some of you as well. Nevertheless, I ask that you at least read the materials I have linked to, and consider what they have to say. This matter is too important not only for Catholics, but for people of faith throughout the United States to ignore.