Earlier this week I offered some thoughts on the Fortnight for Freedom (FFF) in relation to the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus Errorum. The point of that post was to suggest in all sincerity that this time of prayer which begins today ought to be used for reflection on the Kingship of Christ—a doctrine of the universal Church which has been obscured, but not repealed, by certain interpretations of the ambiguous magisterium that has become the unfortunate hallmark of Rome for the past half-century. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which established the FFF, see the matter somewhat differently. For the USCCB and the majority of Catholics who follow that body’s marching orders, the FFF is a time to pray for religious liberty, a conceptual byproduct of the Enlightenment that is, at best, agnostic on the truth of every religion, including the Catholic Faith.
For Catholics who have made themselves aware of the arduous and some might say losing battle the Church has waged against liberalism—social, economic, and religious—, this sad reality is nothing new. It is the reality that we have been forced to live with for decades. That “living with” was tolerable when it was still unthinkable that any human society would give in to the diabolical temptation to sanction child murder and rubberstamp public immorality; but now here we are, under a cloud of darkness that has not been seen since the days of pagan Rome.
And still the Church does nothing notable, that is, nothing heroic in the face of these affronts to our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. The language of libertas religionis is the sum total of contemporary Catholicism’s response to pernicious laws that, in the light of reason and revelation, are no true laws at all. Some might say, no doubt rightly, that prudence dictates that we Catholics living in secular America must do whatever we feasibly can to protect the rights of the Church even if it means working toward the protection of the rights of all religions, including non-Christian religions. That pragmatic concession would be easier to swallow, however, if the USCCB and the clergy writ large made it clear time and time again that support for religious liberty is just that: a pragmatic concession. The failure of the Church’s leadership to do so contributes to the toxic atmosphere of religious indifferentism and relativism that has choked out the faith of thousands, if not millions, of Catholics since the time of the Second Vatican Council.
Given that the fight for religious liberty, at least at this time and place, will be carried out in lieu of the fight for libertas ecclesiae, then let it at least not be waged blindly. Distinctions have to be made. Despite the needles perpetuation of doctrinal differences, we, as Catholics, are far closer in spirit and truth to the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches than the non-Christian religions. With certain confessions of Protestants there, too, exist far greater doctrinal and moral affinities than what we find among the cults which falsely call themselves Christian. If the center of a Catholic life, both public and private, is Christ, then Christ must remain at the center of our struggle against the tyranny of an ideologically captured governmental authority that would have the Church violate not something so amorphous as conscience but rather something as concrete and unmalleable as God’s law. When picking partners in this battle, should we not first adopt our Lord’s words and ask, “What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he?”
Several conservative Catholic pundits, intoxicated by the apocalyptic rhetoric they now feel entitled to use in their columns and speeches, speak of a coming persecution where Catholics will have to trade immorality for freedom or endure incarceration and fines. If the latter stance is selected, can we really expect people to withstand such trials for mere religious liberty? What Catholic martyr ever suffered and died for the protection and propagation of Zoroastrianism? Martyrdom is the expression of heroic faith, not principled acceptance of politically relevant but ultimately transient (if not false) concepts. May neither the USCCB nor the (hopefully) millions of Catholics who will spend these next 14 days praying before our Eucharistic King and reciting Rosaries to the Queen of Heaven forget that.