Reflecting on the challenges of the HHS rulings concerning contraception and sterilization, it is easy to see a threat to religious freedom. When a government insists that a church opposes its own teaching in order to follow certain mandates, the danger is clear. Turning over authority to public leaders would mean turning away from the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Something we must use all our strength and courage to stand against.
In unifying defense of our religious freedom, the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) has issued a “Fortnight for Freedom” from June 21 to July 4. This “great hymn of prayer for our country” is a time for prayer, study, catechesis and public action emphasizing both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. It is an important time for us to appreciate and embrace our religious freedom.
Interestingly, this event begins on the vigil of the feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, two powerful defenders of the faith. They also were challenged to accept the changes offered by the political leadership of their day or to stand up for the teachings of the Catholic Church.
St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More lived in England during the reign of King Henry VIII. The king challenged the teachings of the Catholic Church by divorcing Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. This decision was not upheld by the Church so Henry VIII declared himself the supreme head of the Church in England, breaking with Rome and denying the pope as head.
Because John Fisher was a bishop and Thomas More was the chancellor of England at the time, they were called on to speak to the issue. The Church asked Fisher to investigate the validity of the marriage, and Henry VIII asked More to support his divorce and his declaration as head of the Church of England. Both men had a choice before them: they could accept King Henry VIII’s divorce and declaration or they could remain true to their Catholic faith.
St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More both chose to remain faithful to the truth. By standing in opposition to King Henry VIII, they were imprisoned, lost all of their earthly goods and eventually were beheaded. When he was condemned, St. Thomas More declared that he had all the councils of Christendom and not just the council of one realm to support him in the decision of his conscience.
How appropriate that we begin a “Fortnight for Freedom” with the feasts of these two saints in view. Their example of strength and courage for the truth in opposition to a powerful authority can be an inspiration for us. Although our own defense of religious freedom may seem daunting, we can be assured that standing for our faith at all odds is our call and our right.
Jan Kahle is the respect life coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Toledo.