The Lord beckoned, “‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.’” (Joel 2:12-13)
In December, the Unites States Catholic Conference of Bishops made an urgent plea calling their flocks across the Nation to prayer, penance and sacrifice. The overall focus is one of transforming and rebuilding a culture that is more favorable to life, marriage and religious liberty. As noted on the USSCB website, components include: Eucharistic holy hours, a daily family rosary, fasting and abstinence on Fridays, as well as participation in a second national Fortnight for Freedom (www.usccb.org/life-marriage-liberty).
The bishops, as shepherds of over 70 million Catholics, recognize the threats against their flocks. The culture around them is rapidly disintegrating and spiraling out of control as secular values replace Judeo-Christian values and “progressive” governmental policies whittle away at the inalienable rights of the person as endowed by their Creator.
As examples of the issues threatening Catholics and all people of faith, the bishops make reference to the government’s HHS mandate that forces employers, including religious agencies, to pay for sterilizations, abortion-inducing drugs and contraceptives, as well as efforts to redefine the traditional marriage. The bishops’ hope is to offer encouragement during these difficult times, as well as to call each of us to greater acts of heroic virtue and public witness. They recognize that the culture cannot be transformed if we as disciples of Jesus Christ are not transformed.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, summarizes it well:
With the challenges this country is facing, it is hoped that this call to prayer and penance will help build awareness among the faithful as well as spiritual stamina and courage for effective witness. We also hope that it will encourage solidarity with all people who are standing for the precious gifts of life, marriage, and religious liberty.
How appropriate this campaign began on the Feast of the Holy Family, since current trends within the government and culture are moving toward redefining marriage. Unfortunately, a great majority of Catholics are unfamiliar with the bishop’s plea. There has been very little coverage in the Catholic press, Catholic blogosphere or communication in parishes, diocesan newspapers or Church bulletins. I believe this is unfortunate because we are engaged in a spiritual battle and we must be serious about our efforts. We cannot confront and dispel the foe merely with facts and powerful arguments. We need to bend our knees, and our wills, before the Father. We need to exercise greater spiritual discipline and conform our wills to God’s, so that we can be properly used by Him to bring about the changes He wants to see in the world. With so many attempting to de-Christianize the culture and subjugate man and woman, we need grace in order to bring about authentic change and hope.
Next Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten Season. For forty days the entire Church is invited on a pilgrimage of repentance, conversion and renewal through prayer, fasting and acts of charity. We are being called to recommit ourselves to lives of faith and to live as children of God. The account of Israel’s journey to the Promised Land reminds us of our journey to the heavenly Kingdom. Their journey was a time of expectation and purification, as well as one of struggles, temptations and failures. We face the same challenges and call today. We must always remember that the God who led the people of Israel into the Promised Land is the same God who redeemed us in Jesus Christ and continues to redeem us.
As we embark into this season of renewal, I ask you to join with me in answering the call of our bishops. Let us take this special time of Lent, and continuing until the Feast of Christ the King, to embrace their invitation to its full and put it into action in our personal lives, families, homes and Churches. If every Catholic would participate in at least one daily Mass, one holy hour per week, pray a daily Rosary, pray with the Sacred Scriptures daily, abstain from meat and fast on Fridays, all for the intention of protecting life, marriage and our religious freedom, the transformation would be remarkable. The first noticeable change will be in our own hearts, and we will become the leaven God will use to transform the culture.
Genuine change is possible because all things are possible with God. The obstacles seem insurmountable, but consider David’s victory over Goliath or of the saving of the Israelites at the Red Sea from Pharaoh’s army. They serve as a perfect reminder of what God can do when we trust Him and do His holy will.
What the Lord says through Saint Paul speaks loudly to us, and for us, today:
I have pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me but he said, My grace is enough for you; my power is at its best in weakness… and that is why I am quite content with my weakness, and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and the agonies I go through for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong. (2 Cor 12:9-10)
By calling us to prayer, penance and sacrifice, our bishops recognize where the real power is wielded in this world. Let’s answer the call, and let God bring His will to bear on a culture that seems to have forgotten Him.