At first, St. John’s father Zechariah did not believe that his elderly wife could bear a son. But then, when Zechariah showed his faith and named the boy John as the angel had told him to do, the Lord loosened Zechariah’s tongue. The old priest had the privilege of singing one of the original Gospel canticles.
Zechariah sang that his son would be the herald of the Savior. And that the Lord would come to His people and set them free. The Lord will set us free to “worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight, all the days of our lives.”
For freedom Christ has set us free. Every morning, to greet the dawn, the Church sings Zechariah’s canticle. But we sing it louder and prouder now, during our Fortnight for Freedom.
Independence Day draws near, and our thoughts turn to the Founding Fathers of our nation. When we hear the phrase in Zechariah’s canticle about God “setting us free from our enemies,” an echo sounds in our minds. We think of the war against the British which our forefathers fought and won.
The English gave us our language and our customs. But the motherland made itself “the enemy” by disrespecting what had become the distinctive American way of life. Disrespect will eventually make you someone’s enemy, even when the disrespected party would just as soon be friends.
We American Catholics have no desire to make enemies. And we have no problem with healthy criticism and debate. Is the Catholic Church some kind of perfect society with no internal problems and no need for reform and renewal? If we said so, we would contradict the solemn teaching of the Church. And we would make a mockery of the efforts of many courageous Catholic leaders who have worked in our church for reform, accountability, integrity.
So our Fortnight for Freedom can hardly be about how flawless we ourselves are as a church. No. But, while on the one hand we welcome honest criticism from others, on the other hand we must respond when we are confronted with crass disrespect.
Who in 21st-century America does not know that the Catholic Church stands alone in teaching that artificial contraception is morally corrosive? Who could honestly make a law requiring all employers to pay for contraceptives, and then turn around and say, “Gosh. Geez. I had no intention of dissing the Catholic Church!”
Please. And who doesn’t know that our Church dedicates Herself to addressing the corporal, as well as the spiritual, needs of—not just Catholics—but all people?
Federal bureaucrats formulated the details of the national health-care plan. Did they respect the unique role which our Church plays in providing for the poor people of our nation? No. If they had, then we wouldn’t need a Fortnight for Freedom. We would agree with some parts and disagree with others. But the crisis on hand would be different. We would express ourselves as the free citizens we deserve to be.
But the bureaucrats disrespected us. Our free citizenship has been threatened by an act of un-disguisable contempt. Our Church has been punched in the nose by a bully, by an enemy.
Now, the conflict we face can hardly be regarded as silly or arbitrary. Many thoughtful people argue against the teaching of the Church regarding artificial contraception. Some of them do so with intelligence and human sympathy.
But we can only have one source of principles. We take our stand with one Patron, one constant Ally and Guide: the chaste, poor man of Nazareth. We stand with the homeless Wanderer Who lived and died to show the human race that our true home lies beyond—beyond anywhere our flesh can currently reach.
We can never walk away from Christ’s idea of what true life demands: discipline, sacrifice, and obedience to the will of our Almighty Father. The Church operates fully in the modern world. But our freedom in any age consists in one thing: our fidelity to Christ crucified. Modern technology could never produce a device, technique, or chemical that would make Christianity easy or convenient.
The truth, now and always, is: We human beings have no real ease anywhere but with God. And anything that stands in the way of our friendship with God? Inconvenient, to say the least.
We rejoice and sing with Zechariah. The dawn from on high has broken upon us. By the light of faith, we can see our true destiny as members of the Body of Christ. We proudly embrace our heritage as Americans, too. Which means we stare our enemies squarely in the eye and calmly seek peace—with a backbone of steel.
We will stand firm in persecution if we have to. But let’s fast and pray that a calm and serviceable solution can be found, and that we can be friends again with anyone who has made him- or herself our enemy.