Bishops, Rising

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.