BISHOP SAYS: If you do not witness
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We began this week with the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (June 24). This feast marks John’s birth, six months before Jesus, and evokes for us his powerful gifts of joy, proclamation, and courage, received even in his mother’s womb. In his public ministry “preparing the way of the Lord,” St. John used these gifts to call people to repentance, to rebuke evil, and to baptize. God made him a powerful preacher and prophet. His work was the final preparation for the revelation of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, when He came to the Jordan to be baptized: “Behold the Lamb of God!”
At every Mass, we hear the echoes of St. John the Baptist’s great role in salvation history. When we bless ourselves with holy water, we recall our own holy Baptism. We make together an Act of Contrition to hear and respond to God’s call to repentance for our sins – and when we know we have committed serious sins, we must go to Confession before we receive Holy Communion. And we hear the priest say the same words St. John said, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
We too are called to share the Holy Spirit’s gift. We know the joy of our Savior’s love and mercy; we are called to offer that joy to others. We have received the Faith, through our families and other people, in the Sacraments, at Mass, in our religious education, by the example of faithful believers; we are called to proclaim it fully. We have the gift of divine strength to live the Faith with courage! We should never be afraid to speak boldly, with actions even more than words, about our love for Jesus Christ, and our hope which comes from Him.
Fortnight for Freedom
If we do not witness to our faith consistently, we risk losing our faith. The world is opposed to the Word of God. As St. John the Baptist knew well, no one wants to hear that they are a sinner, needing to change. None of us wants to hear this, either. Our life in the Church would be much easier, we might think, if God would just lower His expectations of us. But this is not Christ’s teaching; it’s the essence of worldly temptation. Christ saves us by convicting us. He calls us sinners, so that He can forgive the sins and heal us. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8).
It is precisely because we know that this mercy comes from God that we must strive to preserve our freedom to share it with others. And our witness is of the whole of life; this means that every aspect of our life, not merely our worship within the walls of our parish churches, must remain free of unjust regulation, coercion, and interference. Therefore, as you know, my brother bishops and I have called for another “Fortnight for Freedom.” We are praying especially for the liberty of the Church, and for the liberty of conscience for individual believers, which our Founding Fathers so highly prized and enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution. We are exhorting each other to a deeper conversion to Christ and a more consistent witness to His grace and mercy in every part of our lives. And we should educate ourselves about the current threats to religious liberty.
The most critical of these remains the HHS mandate, set to go into full effect on August 1. This mandate requires that nearly all employers, including many religious ones, provide without cost for their employees’ contraception, including sterilizations and chemical abortions. This is an issue of religious liberty, both for the Church as an employer, and for many employers in the private sector, because a well-formed conscience knows that contraception, sterilization, and abortion are intrinsic evils. The whole point of “religious liberty” is to allow people not to be compelled to violate their conscience, especially since we may disagree about what things really are or are not evil. No one’s conscience should simply be overridden in this way – and especially not by a government, which is so incapable of restraint and good judgment in its use of power. Many of our dioceses and Catholic institutions, along with many other businesses and groups, are suing the Administration to preserve religious liberty. The administration has promised for two years to change the law, but so far has made only cosmetic changes.
There are several other threats to religious liberty, affecting the Church’s pastoral care of the poor and immigrants, our schools, and Christians in the work place. These too are serious issues that would prevent those who follow Christ from doing so fully and consistently. You can find more information about all of these issues and how they affect us as Catholics at the website www.fortnight4freedom.org.
Above all, I urge you to pray most diligently for the liberty of the Church! We trust in the power of prayer to convert hearts and minds opposed to God. The same Holy Spirit who gives us courage, also gives light to those blinded by sin, and gives them the grace to hope. May His will be done in all things! We can have no greater holiness than to do His will with joy. Please pray for me, as I pray constantly for all of you.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless,
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