Saturday, September 1, 2012

The American Dream: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?"

In some ways when I hear this passage I can’t help but think of our America.  For the land of the free... One Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all… in God we trust… We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We are so blessed to have a nation with statutes and decrees that have so often helped us to live this freedom. 

What would it be like if we didn’t? 

On April 24, 1975, Fr. Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon. Six days later, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army, and the Archbishop was targeted for his faith.  He was imprisoned by the communist government of Vietnam for 13 years.  He would spend nine of those years in solitary confinement unable to practice his faith or minister to his people. 

In prison, he smuggled out messages to his people on scraps of paper. These brief reflections, copied by hand and circulated within the Vietnamese community. While in isolation he fashioned a tiny Bible out of scraps of paper from the passages he knew by heart. The Archbishop had won the sympathy of some guards who smuggled in a piece of wood and some wire from which he crafted a small crucifix and hid in a bar of soap.  In order to celebrate mass he needed the essential elements of wine and bread.  He used the excuse of an upset stomach and so he was given a few drops of wine and tiny pieces of bread.  The Archbishop, in prison, would use these to celebrate the Eucharist.  

During these 13 years, Archbishop Thuan wondered why God would elevate him to be a bishop, only to have him spend his time in solitary confinement.  In 1991 he was finally released.  At that time, Pope John Paul II appointed him to Rome, installed him as a Cardinal, and asked him to lead him in his annual retreat. 

What was learned from all of this?  So quickly our freedom can be taken from us. I think we do take our freedom to practice religion for granted.  Right now around the world Catholics are in hiding and being persecuted for their faith.  Right now in our country our current administration is attacking our religious freedom.  It’s happening!
It has happened before.  There have been times, in our country, where we have relinquished these essential freedoms of our constitution and the Declaration of Independence. 

Before I go on, I would like to share an insight from Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York:
“Any pastor will tell you that when he preaches on God’s love or the importance of forgiveness, most people nod approvingly, but if he starts talking about abortion or the death penalty, some of them head for the exits.

Even though I’m not among those who feel we should exclude people from the big tent, I do feel that it’s to our everlasting credit that we’ve been prophetic on abortion. When the history of this era is eventually written, the fact that the American bishops have stood out on that issue will certainly be to our credit.

Historically, I think it’s entirely valid to make a comparison between the pro-life issue and the slavery issue.  Today we look back at the American bishops on slavery and we blush, because we were far from prophetic. With one or two exceptions, there were no American bishops in the nineteenth century who stood up and said, “This is intrinsically evil and we must put an end to it now.” Most bishops believed the issue to be too controversial, so we’re not going to talk about it. We have to save the internal unity and cohesion of the house. At one point, the bishops actually wrote, “We leave this issue up to worldlings.” Like we’re on Mars or something! We look back with embarrassment on that sort of thing, and rightly so, but we won’t on the abortion issue.” (Dolan, “A People of Hope”.)

We have been permitting an injustice like this in our country since the 1973 case where abortions were legalized.  Can you believe this?  In our country it became LEGAL for a mother to kill the child in her womb!  Further so we face a terrifying situation right now where the current administration is demanding that we pay for this.   

Bishop Lennon reflects on this in his latest column in the Universe Bulletin:

Over the past several weeks I have read a number of reports and articles by a number of persons, and items issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the issue about Religious Liberty… The Mandate issued by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services pretty much requires all health insurance policies to include in their policies the coverage of contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. This is to be done with no co-pay paid by the insured. Thus, Catholic institutions such as Catholic Charities programs, Catholic colleges and universities, and hospitals and health care institutions will all have to provide for their employees this type of coverage, and they will have to pay for it!

With such a Mandate these institutions would be expected to provide the “mandated” services which, in fact, go against the individual consciences of Catholic leadership and the collective conscience of the institutions in question.

My brother bishops and I strongly feel that these actions violate both the First Amendment which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law. As one can see, there is much at stake in this situation brought on by a government office issuing a Mandate, a Mandate which reflects an agenda which includes excluding faith-based entities like the Catholic Church from carrying on its good works in accord with its religious beliefs.

This is a very grave and serious concern, but history shows us if we are not vigilant our freedom will be taken, our faith will be oppressed, and lives will be lost. 

How will we look back on this 50 years from now?  Thankfully, from the very beginning our Catholic Church has consistently stood for life and spoken unequivocally against abortion, contraception and sterilization.  This was reaffirmed in Vatican II with the document Humane Vitae, and it is being clearly and consistently proclaimed by our Catholic Bishops in America. 
We here so evidently in today’s first reading that there are laws written in our hearts that cannot be violated:

Moses said to the people:
"Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.

Friends, can’t we see that God gives us these statutes and decrees that we might LIVE?  We have been blessed too with a country founded on these same principles of protecting the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
However, our freedom is being taken from us and we need to do everything that we can to preserve the religious freedom in our country.
The Declaration on Religious Liberty from the Second Vatican Council states: “Everyone should be immune from coercion by individuals, social groups, and every human power, so that, within due limits, no men or women are forced to act against their convictions… The right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person.”  Today our bishops continue to be clear on this matter: “Our faith requires us to defend the religious liberty granted us by God, and protected in our constitution… We encourage you to hold firm, to stand fast, and to insist upon what belongs to you by right as Catholics and Americans.  Our country deserves the best we have to offer, including our resistance to violations of our first freedom.”

The leaders of our Catholic faith have taken a stand and we will not take part in any act that goes against our freedom of religion. 

So the question is:  Where do you stand? 

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1 comment:

  1. Father,

    I attend both Nativity and St Mary's in Vermilion. I had the opportunity to read their letters or observe their messages regarding our Year of Faith.

    From my perspective, there presentations and messges were lacking in organization, passion and method of delivery.

    Maybe our Bishops' stance on abortion will be a footnote in a the University of Notre Dame's approved history books but lacking the passion to preach will not earn them enduring respect nor appreciation..."When the history of this era is eventually written, the fact that the American bishops have stood out on that issue will certainly be to our credit."

    While they may be credited for doctrinally affirming and publishing the truth, I suspect they will also be called to task on their inability to cascade their message or call their congregations to action.

    Please don't despair, you're tracking on the right course and your spiritual courage is inspiring.



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