The Catholic Thing
Bishops, Rising Print E-mail
By Kristina Johannes   
Saturday, 16 June 2012

My father was fond of “sayings.” He had literally hundreds of them. The first time I saw Macbeth, though, I realized that most of his sayings were probably not original, since I counted at least ten of them in Shakespeare’s play.

One of his favorites was pulled from 1 Corinthians 14:8: “No one follows an uncertain trumpet.” He often quoted this in regard to bishops and was frustrated by the aftermath of Vatican II when it seemed that bishops were uncertain in their moral leadership, often giving over their authority to the “experts.” He yearned for bishops to step into their God-given role and lead fearlessly. And he was convinced that this would heal the crisis in the Church.

I suspect my father was right. We probably could have avoided much pain and scandal if episcopal leadership had been exercised more vigorously in recent decades. But while it’s clear that bishops should exercise moral leadership over their own dioceses, it’s less clear when they should step into the political arena to lead.

Church teaching largely sees the laity as playing the central role in pursuing a just social order, given the many details and prudential judgments that only people actually involved in specific activities can know and make. However, when the morality of a particular political situation is clear-cut – such as when we are establishing in law certain basic moral principles – the role of the bishop will necessarily spill over into the politics. The definition of marriage is one such example. Parental rights is another. And religious liberty questions now loom large.

As an Alaskan, I have seen firsthand what episcopal and other religious leadership can accomplish in leading people on marriage and the rights of parents. The old “E.F. Hutton” has nothing on our bishops. Despite the propaganda, at least in my experience in our state, the majority of Catholics do listen when their bishop speaks – and many want to follow.

Which brings me to our current political situation – the threats to religious liberty. This is the kind of struggle in which the bishops can and must lead the flock. The good news is that they are doing so.

By now, I hope you have heard about the “Fortnight for Freedom.” It was an idea happily hit on by the new committee of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

In a document entitled Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, the committee urges all their brother bishops to do what they can to focus the energies of the whole Catholic community on defending religious liberty this summer. To that end, they suggest that a two-week period from June 21 through July 4 be dedicated as “a great hymn of prayer for our country.”

The dates were chosen because of the religious and secular celebrations occurring during that time. For instance June 22, the day after the Fortnight begins, is the feast day of the martyrs Thomas More and Cardinal John Fisher, two of the great saints of the English Reformation, who died both for religious and political reasons. And that is followed by the feasts of St. Paul and the first Roman martyrs.

And of course it’s quite fitting that the Fortnight ends on that great day when we Americans celebrate our freedom, the Fourth of July.

The committee recommends that this time be devoted to prayer, study, catechesis, and public action, all with a view to defending our first freedom.

Personally, I’m very excited about the prospect of the Catholic community across this country engaging in such concerted action. It will make a difference in our public religiosity unlike anything else we have seen.

There is not a lot of time for the bishops to organize such an ambitious undertaking. They are going to need a lot of help pulling it off, and I think the readers of The Catholic Thing and other social media are just the ticket.

My hope is that everyone reading this will do several things:

First, read the document by the committee, especially the last section entitled, “A Fortnight for Freedom.”

Second, if your bishop has already started to organize such events (or even if he hasn’t), gather a few friends and get involved to help in any way you can. The USCCB website also contains suggestions for prayer, reflection, and action.

It all starts this coming Thursday.

I have often marveled at stories about rosary processions and other public religious acts that stopped the advance of forces hostile to Christianity. I do not doubt the power of prayer, especially when undertaken by a large group of Catholics. Imagine what could happen if we all rally around our bishops this summer, engaging in fervent prayer and public action.

And this is not just a Catholic issue but something of great concern to everyone who values our country and its proud tradition of religious liberty.

Kristina Johannes is a registered nurse and a certified teacher of natural family planning. She has served as a spokeswoman for the Alaska Family Coalition, which successfully worked for passage of the marriage amendment to the Alaska Constitution.

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Comments (4)Add Comment
written by Sue, June 16, 2012
I have read the document from the USCCB, observing some good and some questionable (faithful-citizenship-esque) elements. Since the fortnight starts out with St. Thomas More feastday, perhaps a recommitment to marriage and an effort to rollback the American annulment crisis would be in order. As it ends on July 4, an effort to repeal Obamacare (all the way) would be appropriate, in consideration of and in repentance for the gargantuan role USCCB staff had in ushering it in, death panels and all.

Then USCCB should step back and let the _individual bishops_ rise and exert their authority in their particular dioceses.

Vivo Christo Rey!
written by Frank, June 16, 2012
"Church teaching largely sees the laity as playing the central role in pursuing a just social order..."
Yup, on a parallel note; Soldiers Sailors, Marines and Airmen fight the war and the Generals and Admirals formulate the plans and strategies to the objectives. Thus so our Bishops must be the Generals and Admirals to direct the laity through this culture war and make no mistake, it IS a war.
Fortnight for Freedom is a good step but it is one step. Like the Generals and Admirals, they must lead from the front and they will do themselves well if they are on the line everyday not only directing but motivating, leading prayer, speaking unpopular truth to popular secular power.
The next few months and quite possibly the next few years are going to escalate the ugly. Iron will, steel backbones etc etc are required, all others need not apply.
written by Manfred, June 16, 2012
It appears that the "Bishops, Rising" has already borne fruit. On June 15, Sr. Carol Keehan and two board members of the Catholic Health Ass'n.(CHA) wrote a letter to, in effect, the Administration stating that upon further study,its accommodation to Catholic hospitals, universities, etc. was not acceptable. Sr. Keehan, in effect, has accomplished a 180 degree reversal of her February, 2012 position. This followed intensive meetings among the American bishops and all interested Catholic parties on this issue over the past month. Isn't it odd how the Church men and women leaders respond when their laity and the Civil Gov't tell them they are irrelevant? Do you see how suddenly the members of the Church leadership seem to "grow up"?
written by David Meyer, June 18, 2012
We need to stop using the word "freedom" when speaking in our culture. It no longer means to most people what it once did. It is more likely to be equate to "licence" to do what one wills.
Instead our bishops should raise the banner of Truth. I will march behind that banner and even die for it. I will not die for freedom of religion however. Would you die so a satanist or wiccan can practice their religion?
The bishops are on the right track, but we need much more boldness in proclaiming Christ to our lost culture, not just "freedom" and "liberty", the washed out leftovers of the French revolution.
Give me Truth or give me death.

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