Standing Up For Religious Freedom

This past Friday I joined a few hundred individuals at the steps of the Texas State Capitol to show my outrage against the Obama Administration’s HHS Mandate. When this was first announced a few weeks ago, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it since I teach during the time the rally was to be held. However, we had a different schedule on Friday since we had Eucharistic Adoration with the entire student body. I was able to drive down from North Austin to Downtown Austin for the rally and I was so happy to be amongst the men and women standing in defiance of tyranny. While I was at the steps of the capitol, I ran into many people I knew and even ran into Mother Assumpta Long, O.P., one of the founders of the Dominican Sisters Mary Mother of the Eucharist. She was in Austin for a fundraiser that the Sisters had the day before.

As I returned back to the high school, I looked at Facebook and Twitter on my cell phone and so many people were posting pictures from the other rallies that had occurred on Friday as well. I believe there were over 100 cities in the United States that participated in the “Stand Up For Religious Freedom Rally.” As par for the course, there was barely any media coverage at the Austin rally. I only saw one media outlet present. It seems that the rallies did bring out the news media outlets around the country. It’s shocking to read so many news stories because the liberal leaning media sources want no part of the words that are spoken at these events usually. They are in bed with the Obama Administration and really should be considered “state-run” media sources like we see in other countries that oppress liberty and specifically, religious freedom.

Even though the Austin rally was relatively small compared to some of the numbers I read about it in other places around the country, the overall support from people driving by in their cars was very high. Many people honked their horns in affirmation in what we were doing on Friday.  As one who has prayed in front of abortion facilities before, you can tell the difference between a car horn of affirmation or one of negativity. As so many people honked in affirmation, I said to myself, of course they are honking positively because nobody in their right mind wants their religious liberties taken away from them. This country was rooted in the very fact that we have such liberties granted to us. The First Amendment is FIRST for a reason!

So what should we do?

First, inform yourselves if you haven’t already and visit the website – StandUpForReligousFreedom.com

Next, call or write your congressmen and U.S. Senators and ask them to support legislation that will overturn the HHS Mandate. Here is my post – Dear Senator…I Want My Religious Freedom.

Third, only vote for candidates that seek to protect human life and religious liberties.

Fourth, as Catholics, read the document – Dignitatis HumanaeDeclaration on Religious Liberty from the Vatican II Council (December 7, 1965).

Lastly, PRAY! Pray that those who are in power see the errors of their ways.

Dignitatis Humanae was so important during the Vatican II Council because at that time the Soviet Union was oppressing so many countries that the Bishops had come from in regards to religious liberties. Blessed John Paul II knew the dangers of socialism and communism first hand.  It was he, along with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher that helped bring down Communism in the Soviet Union. America, we need to wake up to these dangers for they are present in our country and will only increase if the current administration is re-elected.

I leave you with some of the words from the above document. The bold lettering is mine.

“The Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. Freedom of this kind means that all men should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups, and every human power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his convictions nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his convictions in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in associations with others. The Council further declares that the right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom must be given such recognition in the constitutional order of society as will make it a civil right.” (Paragraph 2)

Holiness and Martyrdom as a Catholic in America

When Cardinal Timothy Dolan received his red hat on February 18, he said that he was grateful to the Holy Father for giving him this honor, but he just wants to be a saint. If I were to sit down with Cardinal Dolan today, I would share with him that the easiest way to canonization, according to the 6th point in the article – Desiderata for 2012 written by Reverend C. John McCloskey III, is to die a martyr. Knowing the extent of Cardinal Dolan’s experience and education, I would imagine that he would already understand this fact. I make this statement because martyrdom is very likely to appear in the United States of America in the years to come. With the greatest threats against Religious Freedom and attacks on the First Amendment this country has ever seen, it it quite possible that not only will our bishops, priests, and religious face martyrdom, but many faithful and obedient Catholics who will not comply with a tyrannical government could as well. I will let this marinate in your minds return to it at the end.

With that being said, the purpose of my blog is to engage and educate the Catholic lay faithful in the New Evangelization. It’s my hope that through my writing, I will help teach the “basics” of the Catholic faith for Catholic adults, who did receive proper catechesis as adolescents. In the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ and one of his great vicars and universal shepherds, we must remember – “Be Not Afraid!” We must not be afraid of what lies ahead of us or be afraid to learn more about Catholicism. Today, I will discuss holiness, what it means to be saint, and martyrdom.

In Thessalonians 1:6-7, St. Paul says, “you become imitators of us and of the Lord…you became an example to all the believers…” To be holy and to seek perfection is not an option, but an obligation. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must always thrive to be saints. Every Christian has the capacity of becoming a saint. Our purpose in life is to be holy in imitation of Jesus Christ, who is all holy. He is to be our perfect model. As St. Paul says in Corinthians 11:1 – “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

What is holiness?

Holiness is the separation of the irreverent, seeking and giving oneself to God. God is the foundation of holiness because God is all goodness. The invitation to holiness and goodness comes from God himself.  As Christians, to be holy is to bring our best versions to the world. However, because we suffer from the remnants of Original Sin, it can be difficult and challenging at times to live a life of holiness. We must always remember that we have Jesus Christ as our model and strength and should never get discouraged. Even the greatest saints of the Catholic Church had their struggles and moments of weakness.

What is a saint? Who is called to be a saint? When do we receive this call?

A saint is a person who thrives to live a life of holiness with the help of God’s grace and attains the prize of eternal life (CCC 828). The word saint comes from the Latin term – sanctus, which means “holy.” Sanctification is the process where one is made holy.

All Christians are called to holiness. We are called to holiness after receiving the Sacrament of Baptism. In Baptism, we are claimed and adopted by God as his children. We are restored to the filial (sonship) relationship that was established first and foremost with the first man. In our Baptism, we receive the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. We also share in the three Old Testament offices that are fulfilled by Jesus – Priest, Prophet, and King.

To be a saint is to live a life dedicated to heroism. Heroism is about self-sacrificial deeds; it’s not about self-glorification and narcissism. It requires one to live with heroic virtue! G.K. Chesterton said, the “saints are the heroes of the Church.” Zorro has always been one of my favorite literary heroes. When I think about Zorro, the words of self-sacrifice, strength, goodness, and servant of the people come to mind. Just as Zorro is a great hero, so must we thrive to live lives dedicated to self-sacrifice, goodness, and serving others. Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, there have been many men and women who have answered the call to live lives of heroic virtue and self-sacrifice. In recent years, I think of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Blessed John Paul II, and St. Jose Maria Escriva. These men and women truly lived their lives for Jesus Christ and were filled with joy. St. Teresa of Avila said to be a saint is to live life with joy and passion – “a sad saint is not a saint at all.”

Living the life of a saint is not always the most popular lifestyle in our culture or period of history. To be a saint is to be counter-cultural just as the Church is counter-cultural. During his three-year ministry, Jesus himself was counter-cultural for he ate with sinners, spoke with woman (some became his disciples), and countered the elders of the faith.

Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix says, “Christ does not call us to be popular, or even successful. He calls us to take up the cross each day and follow him. There is only one ultimate failure in life: not to be a saint. Nothing else in life matters, compared to the treasure of Christ’s love.”

As Catholics, how do we become saints seeking holiness?

First, we must receive the Sacraments. Although all seven are fundamental, Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist can be received on a daily basis. The Sacrament of Reconciliation assists us in our relationship with Our Lord and allows us to restore our personal relationship with him when it is severed. If you have not been in some time, I encourage you to find a time and go. The Sacrament of Holy Eucharist is the life giving bread of Jesus Christ. It not only nourishes our physical body, but gives us spiritual strength as well. It is truly Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity. Next, we need spiritual direction. A director of our interior life will aid us in our prayer and help us to discern God’s will for our lives. Lastly, reading the Scriptures, Lives of the Saints, or other spiritual texts will engage us to know God in a personal way and will also assist in our relationship with Our Lord and His Church.

As Catholics who are striving to live lives of holiness, learning each day how to be saints, and living contradictory to the world around us will often bring times of hostility and persecution. We saw this in the Early Church as Christianity grew. Hostility and persecution rose up to meet Christianity and the martyrs of the Early Church were born. The word martyr comes from the Greek term – witness.  St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith was stoned to death (Acts 7:54-60). Other individuals such as St. Lawrence, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Martina of Rome, and eleven of the twelve apostles (excluding John) and many others all died the martyr’s death. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Ignatius of Antioch says about his impending martyrdom, “…Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts…only let me get to Jesus Christ…I would rather die.”

There are two forms of martyrdom – red martyrdom and white martyrdom. Red martyrdom is witnessing to the faith where a person endures death. The Church proclaims those who are killed for the faith are baptized by blood and are directed straight to heaven. The red martyrs are genuine examples of heroic fortitude and conviction that is unparallel. White martyrdom (dry martyrdom) is social persecution rather than death. This form of martyrdom is when a person or group of persons are attacked either verbally or in writing for having a conviction of faith or when they choose not to violate their moral conscience. This is the most common form of martyrdom for us Catholics in America to date, but that could change soon.

Although the 20th century witnessed more red martyrs for the faith around the world than any other century, here in the United States white martyrdom was more common. However, in recent years and with the multiplying of the culture wars, white martyrdom has dramatically increased against Catholics in general (see Huffington Post article). With the announcement of the HHS Mandate and the so-called “compromise”, verbal and hate filled attacks have been on the rise against Catholics since we stand against this unjust law. We will not allow a tyrannical government like the Obama Administration to force us into anything that contradicts our Religious Freedom and First Amendment Rights on the grounds of “women’s health” (see yesterday’s results from the Blunt Amendment – right down party lines). We will not comply!

In the 1920’s, the government of Mexico declared war on the Catholic Church killing bishops, priests, religious brothers and sisters, and lay faithful in the streets. It was terrible time for the Church in Mexico and many good and faithful people lost their lives. If the dangers we have now continue and the current administration is re-elected for four more years, Mexico from the 1920’s could appear on the shores and in the heartland of the United States.

Conscience Formation 101

I am by no means a moral theologian (The Scriptures is my thing), but with the current state of affairs we Catholics are facing, I feel it’s my mission to at least take a shot at explaining some of teachings of the Catholic Church on Conscience Formation.  Over the past two weeks, you have heard the Bishops of the United States speak of us “violating our conscience” since the Obama Administration decided that all religious institutions, specifically Catholic institutions, have to offer sterilizations, contraceptives, and abortifacients in all healthcare plans. This is in complete violation of our religious freedoms and the First Amendment.

With all that being said, I can say that there are colleagues from Franciscan that can teach and write on moral theology ten times better than me as well as friends of mine outside of Franciscan, so I am hoping that they will add to what I have said in the comment section of these next few posts so my readers will attain the most complete understanding of Conscience Formation. For the next few posts, I would like to focus on a few points: What Conscience is Not, What Conscience Is, How Conscience Works, What Leads To An Erroneous Conscience and How To Avoid One.

In today’s day and age, there is plethora of wrong ideas about what the term conscience truly means. If you were to Google search an online dictionary, more than likely you would find this as the definition of conscience: “the awareness of a moral or ethical aspect to ones’ conduct together with the urge to prefer right over wrong.” Many, like the above definition, are in complete contradiction with the Christian idea of conscience.

For today’ post, let’s focus on what Conscience is NOT. Conscience is not…the majority opinion, a feeling, a superego, a gut-instinct, “Jiminy Cricket” and a myth. Let’s take each of these one at a time.

Conscience as majority opinion is simply doing what the crowd is doing. It must be just fine if everyone is doing it. With the majority opinion, personal responsibility is lost to what the group is doing. The right behavior is directed by whatever opinion is popular with the group. Pope Benedict XVI says, “Truth is not determined by a majority vote.” Moral decisions should not be decided by how many people or legislators vote on a given point.

Conscience as a feeling is a very popular idea today. In the 1960’s, there was a saying, “if it feels good, do it.” Since the 1980’s, there is also another saying generated from a popular athletic company – “just do it.” This view of conscience states that the individual is the epicenter of his or her morality and they only answer to themselves. Conscience as a feeling is deeply rooted in Moral Relativism. Moral Relativism is the idea that what you think is right…is right. Nobody can tell you that you are wrong. There is no objective truth in Moral Relativism! This has been a battle that Pope Benedict XVI has taken on with the secularists of the world. Furthermore, “feelings” are just that – feelings. Feelings come and go with every passing second. According to Peter Kreeft, conscience “is first of all a knowing, an awareness of the truth about good and evil.”

Conscience as superego comes from Sigmund Freud who thought that the superego conscience were rules we followed as a child that are still in our mind and we hold on to them with our subconscious. All the rules from our parents, teachers, coaches, and employers are still left over in our minds. According to Freud, the rules we followed as children were to seek love from authoritative figures. He also said we never fully understood the rules – we just walked through motions. When we would break these rules, we would feel guilty. This guilt comes from psychological conditioning and not that we have contradicted God’s love for us.  In complete opposition to this viewpoint, the Christian conscience is an answer from God’s call. The Christian’s conscience is personal and self-chosen. Conscience is based on our reason.

Conscience as gut-instinct is about how you feel at the moment. This is could be a good place to start with conscience, but it is very limited and we must seek a more mature and Christian understanding of conscience. As Christians, we must use our reason to make decisions and also hope in God’s love throughout our entire life. “The education of the conscience is a lifelong task” (CCC 1784).

Conscience as Jiminy Cricket is often portrayed in movies or television shows as the angel and demon that stands on our shoulders. It’s the “internal voice” that we listen to do either good or evil. Our guardian angels do not whisper in our ears and tell us what to do. God does not speak to us through our Smart Phones either.  God might “speak” to us in a small way, but we must train ourselves to hear it, as we would train for a competition. A coach can only teach us so much before we can take it and make it own. God respects our freedom and allows us to use our free will to make the decision. 

Conscience as myth is the complete denial that a personal conscience even exists. These doubters see conscience as a way that organized religion keeps people under control by using guilt. (This is a favorite of the people who have either left the church or have a poor understanding of conscience. These individuals use the term – “catholic guilt.” Let’s be honest – guilt is guilt! There is no such thing as “catholic guilt.” I despise that saying by people. When I do something wrong and feel guilty, it’s not “catholic guilt” that is making me feel this way, it’s my own sin. It’s mine and I need to repent of it.) When the conscience is seen as a myth, individuals think they can do whatever they want without any sort of personal responsibility to hold them accountable. They usually push others aside for their own desires. Morality dies when the conscience is denied.

Conscience Formation 102, 103, and 104 will be posted  soon. Check back in a couple of days or even better, subscribe to the blog and you will be notified when the next post is up and ready.