Today (June 22nd) in the United States, marks the opening of Religious Freedom Week, a time to reflect upon the challenges people of faith around the world are facing regarding their right to freely exercise their religion in their homes, houses of worship, and the public square. The theme and intention for each day of the week will be highlighted on the hall bulletin board opposite the Formation / Liturgy office and remembered each day in the intentions at Evening Praise. The Catholic bishops’ office of Religious Liberty will highlight three regions of the world where persecution of religious minorities is severe: the Middle east, Myanmar and Nigeria … The bishops are asking that we be in solidarity with people throughout the world who suffer for their faith.
“One of the things people don’t understand is that the freedom of religion is more than the freedom to worship,” said Barbara Samuells, founder of Catholics for Religious Freedom. “Most Catholics in the United States are ‘blissfully ignorant’ when it comes to threats to religious freedom.”
“They say, ‘I can go to church on Sunday, so there’s no problem with my religious freedom. The biggest challenge for everyday Catholics who do understand about religious freedom and what needs to be done is getting people’s attention.”
The week has its roots in the “Fortnight for Freedom,” a two-week observance launched when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops were working to get overturned a portion of the Affordable Care Act, referred to as the HHS mandate, that required all employers who provide health insurance to cover interventions that contradict Catholic teaching.
“The Fortnight for Freedom became so strongly associated with the HHS mandate that efforts were made to rebrand it to raise other issues as well. Emphasis was shifted to more about awareness, reflection, prayer and action. Last year the USCCB changed its religious liberty committee from ad hoc to permanent status.
The theme of this year’s Religious Freedom Week is “Strength in Hope.” Here in the U.S. the Catholic Bishops are using Religious Freedom Week to advocate for religious freedom in the areas of adoption and foster care. The opioid crisis is putting a strain on the foster care system and the number of children in need of care is going up while the number of foster families is doing down. The committee also is focusing on questions that have been put to nominees for positions on the federal bench. These questions that cast doubt on a nominee’s ability to serve because of their Catholic faith amount to an unconstitutional religious test for nominees. Such questions – for instance interrogation about membership in the Knights of Columbus – may discourage our eligible and talented younger generation from going into public service fearing being scrutinized that way.
The focus of a number of “weeks” have expanded from the original Fortnight for Freedom to include the issue of religious freedom – Catholic Schools Week, National Migration Week, and National Marriage Week.
In the Gospel just read the disciples who encouraged Jesus to “dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages to find lodging and provisions.” You heard Jesus solution: “Give them some food yourselves.”
That’s the challenge before us. What, exactly, does Jesus mean by “food.” The story is about food for the body in a deserted place. People who live in fear and hiding lest they be persecuted or killed over the practice of their religion, certainly live in a deserted place. The “food” they desire is the courage, the support to sustain them in faith. We pray this week that all people of goodwill will be free to seek the truth and live in accordance with that truth. May they find strength in hope, convinced that, as St. Paul wrote to the Romans, the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) In the midst of current challenges may they, and we, (like the theme of the week says) seek the kingdom and find strength in hope.
PS: A little story with a Eucharist theme
One day (in a Montessori class of 4-5 year-olds) I had shown a filmstrip. (Remember them? They were the precursors of PowerPoint and Smart Boards?) After the class had viewed the story of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, I asked them to tell me the story. Martha was so animated that the rest of the class sat mesmerized as she explained what happened. “There was a little boy named Benjamin who had some bread. He gave it to Jesus. Jesus raised his eyes to heaven, thanked his Heavenly Father, and said (click your fingers) Bing! And there was enough for everyone!” (Clue: The cue to move to the next picture frame.)
I think it is safe to predict you won’t hear the celebrant at Mass say “BING” – although it may ring in your head. However, at the sacred words of consecration there will be enough for everyone – enough of Jesus for our whole world! He is only depending on us to make room in our hearts and in our lives to respond generously and without hesitance to his query: “Where may I eat today? Where may I rest?”
June 23, 2019 – Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress