One of the things I’ve noticed about Pensacola since I moved down here is that it has a rather large vietnamese population. This weekend, I was informed that this is due, in large part, to the fact that Eglin AFB was a refugee center at the end of the Vietnam War. I also learned that Fr. Dominic, the pastor of my (as yet still unofficial) new parish, is one of those refugees. He escaped after being imprisoned for studying to be a Catholic priest. He finished his studies here in the US and was ordained in our diocese sometime in the 80s.
Along with Saturday’s feast of the First Martyrs of the See of Rome, it helped give me a little perspective on what we’ve been dealing with here lately. It’s still wrong and must be fought, but I’m thankful that for now we’re only concerned about possibly being taxed for practicing our faith instead of imprisoned or killed and I pray that I will have the courage and trust of a martyr if it should ever come to that.
Speaking of martyrs. For the past 14 days, Catholics and non-Catholics alike have been participating in the “Fortnight for Freedom,” a special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action with an emphasis on religious liberty. We started this Fortnight on the feast day of two holy men who stood out in history as examples of grace a time when the Church was being challenged by government. The witness of Saints like Thomas More and John Fisher remain strong because when the government challenged their faith they did not back down. They continued to live it with courage and conviction, even when it separated them from their family and sent them to their death. This is because they believed and trusted in a power greater than themselves and the State. It mattered not whether they were successful in changing the course of English rule, only that they remained faithful.
As I said, things here in the West are not (yet) as bad as they were in ancient Rome or 16th century England (or other places in the world right now), but, as she did then, the Church today needs people who are willing to make sacrifices so that the truth of the Gospel can be heard, our culture challenged, and our world transformed.
Over at Integrated Catholic Life, Deacon Mike Bickerstaff has some good suggestions for what Catholics should do the remainder of this political season. I especially like numbers 1, 2 and 5:
1. First and foremost, be at peace; God remains in control. Remain in His love. Be joyful and faithful ambassadors for Christ.
2. Pray daily for your own conversion, for moral truth to guide our nation and its leaders, and for the courage and wisdom you need to properly engage in the political process.
3. Do not forget or be confused about the HHS Mandate. This court decision did not address the question of religious liberty. That will come after the lawsuits seeking to overturn that particular regulation make their way through the court system and are decided by the Supreme Court at a later date. Remain vigilant and prayerful.
4. Become better educated… about the grave issues that confront us and the moral obligations upon us as Catholics.
5. Share your knowledge with others and inspire them to become involved. Become passionate but not mean-spirited. Shed light, not heat on the issues.
6. Let your political leaders and candidates know what you expect of them. Hold them accountable. Vote in November, guided by a conscience formed by Catholic Moral and Social Teaching.
I want to reiterate the importance of the first part of #2, praying for your own conversion. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, we need to “be the change (we) want to see in the world.” The only way to achieve real, lasting change is to take our own conversion seriously, first. When we seek first for ourselves the interior peace of the Gospels then we can more effectively communicate that peace to others.
Most of the things on Deacon Bickerstaff’s list are things we should do, not just during this political season, but always in our daily lives. After reflecting on the example of St. Thomas More in his book Render Unto Caesar, Archbishop Chaput writes:
God may not call us to by martyrs in blood, but he certainly does call us to be martyrs of the daily kind – the kind who live lives with courage and Catholic conviction; the kind who demand personal integrity and good public policy from our political leaders.
God, grant me the courage and trust to be such a martyr!