"If my people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14
Pray for World Peace
Two events which happened 50 years ago, the opening of Vatican II on October 11, 1962, and Blessed John XXIII's last encyclical on April 11, 1963, provide the background for Pope Benedict XVI's message for this year's World Day of Peace on January 1. The message, which was dated 12/8/12 and titled, "Blessed Are the Peacemakers," follows:
"EACH NEW YEAR brings the expectation of a better world. In light of this, I ask God, the Father of humanity, to grant us concord and peace, so that the aspirations of all for a happy and prosperous life may be achieved.
"Fifty years after the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, which helped to strengthen the Church's mission in the world, it is heartening to realize that Christians, as the People of God in fellowship with Him and sojourning among mankind, are committed within history to sharing humanity's joys and hopes, grief and anguish, as they proclaim the salvation of Christ and promote peace for all.
"In effect, our times, marked by globalization with its positive and negative aspects, as well as the continuation of violent conflicts and threats of war, demand a new, shared commitment in pursuit of the common good and the development of all men, and of the whole man.
"It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism. In addition to the varied forms of terrorism and international crime, peace is also endangered by those forms of fundamentalism and fanaticism which distort the true nature of religion, which is called to foster fellowship and reconciliation among people.
"All the same, the many different efforts at peacemaking which abound in our world testify to mankind's innate vocation to peace. In every person the desire for peace is an essential aspiration which coincides in a certain way with the desire for a full, happy, and successful human life. In other words, the desire for peace corresponds to a fundamental moral principle, namely, the duty and right to an integral social and communitarian development, which is part of God's plan for mankind. Man is made for the peace which is God's gift.
"All of this led me to draw inspiration for this Message from the words of Jesus Christ: 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God' (Mt 5:9).
"The beatitudes which Jesus proclaimed (cf. Mt 5:3-12 and Lk 6:20-23) are promises. In the biblical tradition, the beatitude is a literary genre which always involves some good news, a 'gospel,' which culminates in a promise. Therefore, the beatitudes are not only moral exhortations whose observance foresees in due time – ordinarily in the next life – a reward or a situation of future happiness. Rather, the blessedness of which the beatitudes speak consists in the fulfillment of a promise made to all those who allow themselves to be guided by the requirements of truth, justice, and love. In the eyes of the world, those who trust in God and His promises often appear naïve or far from reality. Yet Jesus tells them that not only in the next life, but already in this life, they will discover that they are children of God, and that God has always been, and ever will be, completely on their side. They will understand that they are not alone, because He is on the side of those committed to truth, justice, and love. Jesus, the revelation of the Father's love, does not hesitate to offer Himself in self-sacrifice. Once we accept Jesus Christ, God, and man, we have the joyful experience of an immense gift: the sharing of God's own life, the life of grace, the pledge of a fully blessed existence. Jesus Christ, in particular, grants us true peace, which is born of the trusting encounter of man with God.
Make Me An Instrument Of Your Peace
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
St. Francis of Assisi, Feast Day, October 4th
"Jesus' beatitude tells us that peace is both a messianic gift and the fruit of human effort. In effect, peace presupposes a humanism open to transcendence. It is the fruit of the reciprocal gift, of a mutual enrichment, thanks to the gift which has its source in God and enables us to live with others and for others. The ethics of peace is an ethics of fellowship and sharing. It is indispensable, then, that the various cultures in our day overcome forms of anthropology and ethics based on technical and practical suppositions which are merely subjectivistic and pragmatic, in virtue of which relationships of coexistence are inspired by criteria of power or profit, means become ends and vice versa, and culture and education are centered on instruments, technique, and efficiency alone. The precondition for peace is the dismantling of the dictatorship of relativism and of the supposition of a completely autonomous morality which precludes acknowledgment of the ineluctable natural moral law inscribed by God upon the conscience of every man and woman. Peace is the building up of coexistence in rational and moral terms, based on a foundation whose measure is not created by man, but rather by God. As Psalm 29 puts it: 'May the Lord give strength to His people; may the Lord bless His people with peace' (v. 11).
"Peace concerns the human person as a whole, and it involves complete commitment. It is peace with God through a life lived according to His will. It is interior peace with oneself, and exterior peace with our neighbors and all creation. Above all, as Blessed John XXIII wrote in his Encyclical Pacem in Terris, whose fiftieth anniversary will fall in a few months, it entails the building up of a coexistence based on truth, freedom, love, and justice. The denial of what makes up the true nature of human beings in its essential dimensions, its intrinsic capacity to know the true and the good and, ultimately, to know God Himself, jeopardizes peacemaking. Without the truth about man inscribed by the Creator in the human heart, freedom and love become debased, and justice loses the ground of its exercise.
"To become authentic peacemakers, it is fundamental to keep in mind our transcendent dimension and to enter into constant dialogue with God, the Father of mercy, whereby we implore the redemption achieved for us by His only-begotten Son. In this way mankind can overcome that progressive dimming and rejection of peace which is sin in all its forms: selfishness and violence, greed and the will to power and dominion, intolerance, hatred, and unjust structures.
"The attainment of peace depends above all on recognizing that we are, in God, one human family. This family is structured, as the Encyclical Pacem in Terris taught, by interpersonal relations and institutions supported and animated by a communitarian 'we,' which entails an internal and external moral order in which, in accordance with truth and justice, reciprocal rights and mutual duties are sincerely recognized. Peace is an order enlivened and integrated by love, in such a way that we feel the needs of others as our own, share our goods with others, and work throughout the world for greater communion in spiritual values. It is an order achieved in freedom, that is, in a way consistent with the dignity of persons who, by their very nature as rational beings, take responsibility for their own actions.
"Peace is not a dream or something utopian; it is possible. Our gaze needs to go deeper, beneath superficial appearances and phenomena, to discern a positive reality which exists in human hearts, since every man and woman has been created in the image of God and is called to grow and contribute to the building of a new world. God Himself, through the incarnation of His Son and His work of redemption, has entered into history and has brought about a new creation and a new covenant between God and man (cf. Jer 31:31-34), thus enabling us to have a 'new heart' and a 'new spirit' (cf. Ez 36:26).
"For this very reason the Church is convinced of the urgency of a new proclamation of Jesus Christ, the first and fundamental factor of the integral development of peoples and also of peace. Jesus is indeed our peace, our justice, and our reconciliation (cf. Eph 2:14; 2 Cor 5:18). The peacemaker, according to Jesus' beatitude, is the one who seeks the good of the other, the fullness of good in body and soul, today and tomorrow.
"From this teaching one can infer that each person and every community, whether religious, civil, educational, or cultural, is called to work for peace. Peace is principally the attainment of the common good in society at its different levels, primary and intermediary, national, international and global. Precisely for this reason it can be said that the paths which lead to the attainment of the common good are also the paths that must be followed in the pursuit of peace.
"The path to the attainment of the common good and to peace is above all that of respect for human life in all its many aspects, beginning with its conception, through its development and up to its natural end. True peacemakers, then, are those who love, defend, and promote human life in all its dimensions, personal, communitarian, and transcendent. Life in its fullness is the height of peace. Anyone who loves peace cannot tolerate attacks and crimes against life.
"If we accept that a mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill each other?. . . Abortion is the greatest destroyer of peace today." –Mother Teresa
"Those who insufficiently value human life and, in consequence, support among other things the liberalization of abortion, perhaps do not realize that in this way they are proposing the pursuit of a false peace. The flight from responsibility, which degrades human persons, and even more so the killing of a defenseless and innocent being, will never be able to produce happiness or peace. Indeed how could one claim to bring about peace, the integral development of peoples, or even the protection of the environment without defending the life of those who are weakest, beginning with the unborn. Every offense against life, especially at its beginning, inevitably causes irreparable damage to development, peace, and the environment. Neither is it just to introduce surreptitiously into legislation false rights or freedoms which, on the basis of a reductive and relativistic view of human beings and the clever use of ambiguous expressions aimed at promoting a supposed right to abortion and euthanasia, pose a threat to the fundamental right to life.
"There is also a need to acknowledge and promote the natural structure of marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the face of attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different types of union; such attempts actually harm and help to destabilize marriage, obscuring its specific nature and its indispensable role in society.
"These principles are not truths of faith, nor are they simply a corollary of the right to religious freedom. They are inscribed in human nature itself, accessible to reason and thus common to all humanity. The Church's efforts to promote them are not, therefore, confessional in character, but addressed to all people, whatever their religious affiliation. Efforts of this kind are all the more necessary the more these principles are denied or misunderstood, since this constitutes an offense against the truth of the human person, with serious harm to justice and peace.
"Consequently, another important way of helping to build peace is for legal systems and the administration of justice to recognize the right to invoke the principle of conscientious objection in the face of laws or government measures that offend against human dignity, such as abortion and euthanasia.
"One of the fundamental human rights, also with reference to international peace, is the right of individuals and communities to religious freedom. At this stage in history, it is becoming increasingly important to promote this right not only from the negative point of view, as freedom from – for example, obligations or limitations involving the freedom to choose one's religion – but also from the positive point of view, in its various expressions, as freedom for – for example, bearing witness to one's religion, making its teachings known, engaging in activities in the educational, benevolent and charitable fields which permit the practice of religious precepts, and existing and acting as social bodies structured in accordance with the proper doctrinal principles and institutional ends of each. Sadly, even in countries of long-standing Christian tradition, instances of religious intolerance are becoming more numerous, especially in relation to Christianity and those who simply wear identifying signs of their religion.
"Peacemakers must also bear in mind that, in growing sectors of public opinion, the ideologies of radical liberalism and technocracy are spreading the conviction that economic growth should be pursued even to the detriment of the state's social responsibilities and civil society's networks of solidarity, together with social rights and duties. It should be remembered that these rights and duties are fundamental for the full realization of other rights and duties, starting with those which are civil and political.
"One of the social rights and duties most under threat today is the right to work. The reason for this is that labor and the rightful recognition of workers' juridical status are increasingly undervalued, since economic development is thought to depend principally on completely free markets. Labor is thus regarded as a variable dependent on economic and financial mechanisms. In this regard, I would reaffirm that human dignity and economic, social, and political factors, demand that we continue 'to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone.' If this ambitious goal is to be realized, one prior condition is a fresh outlook on work, based on ethical principles and spiritual values that reinforce the notion of work as a fundamental good for the individual, for the family, and for society. Corresponding to this good are a duty and a right that demand courageous new policies of universal employment.
"In many quarters it is now recognized that a new model of development is needed, as well as a new approach to the economy. Both integral, sustainable development in solidarity and the common good require a correct scale of goods and values which can be structured with God as the ultimate point of reference. It is not enough to have many different means and choices at one's disposal, however good these may be. Both the wide variety of goods fostering development and the presence of a wide range of choices must be employed against the horizon of a good life, an upright conduct that acknowledges the primacy of the spiritual, and the call to work for the common good. Otherwise they lose their real value and end up becoming new idols.
"You and I must work for peace; it is a duty for us, for all people. The most powerful weapon for achieving peace is love, and loving for God."
— Mother Teresa
"In order to emerge from the present financial and economic crisis – which has engendered ever greater inequalities – we need people, groups, and institutions which will promote life by fostering human creativity, in order to draw from the crisis itself an opportunity for discernment and for a new economic model. The predominant model of recent decades called for seeking maximum profit and consumption, on the basis of an individualistic and selfish mindset, aimed at considering individuals solely in terms of their ability to meet the demands of competitiveness. Yet, from another standpoint, true and lasting success is attained through the gift of ourselves, our intellectual abilities, and our entrepreneurial skills, since a 'liveable' or truly human economic development requires the principle of gratuitousness as an expression of fraternity and the logic of gift. Concretely, in economic activity, peacemakers are those who establish bonds of fairness and reciprocity with their colleagues, workers, clients, and consumers. They engage in economic activity for the sake of the common good and they experience this commitment as something transcending their self-interest, for the benefit of present and future generations. Thus they work not only for themselves, but also to ensure for others a future and a dignified employment.
"In the economic sector, states in particular need to articulate policies of industrial and agricultural development concerned with social progress and the growth everywhere of constitutional and democratic states. The creation of ethical structures for currency, financial, and commercial markets is also fundamental and indispensable; these must be stabilized and better coordinated and controlled so as not to prove harmful to the very poor. With greater resolve than has hitherto been the case, the concern of peacemakers must also focus upon the food crisis, which is graver than the financial crisis. The issue of food security is once more central to the international political agenda, as a result of interrelated crises, including sudden shifts in the price of basic foodstuffs, irresponsible behavior by some economic actors and insufficient control on the part of governments and the international community. To face this crisis, peacemakers are called to work together in a spirit of solidarity, from the local to the international level, with the aim of enabling farmers, especially in small rural holdings, to carry out their activity in a dignified and sustainable way from the social, environmental, and economic points of view.
"I wish to reaffirm forcefully that the various peacemakers are called to cultivate a passion for the common good of the family and for social justice, and a commitment to effective social education.
"No one should ignore or underestimate the decisive role of the family, which is the basic cell of society from the demographic, ethical, pedagogical, economic, and political standpoints. The family has a natural vocation to promote life: it accompanies individuals as they mature and it encourages mutual growth and enrichment through caring and sharing. The Christian family in particular serves as a seedbed for personal maturation according to the standards of divine love. The family is one of the indispensable social subjects for the achievement of a culture of peace. The rights of parents and their primary role in the education of their children in the area of morality and religion must be safeguarded. It is in the family that peacemakers, tomorrow's promoters of a culture of life and love, are born and nurtured.
"Religious communities are involved in a special way in this immense task of education for peace. The Church believes that she shares in this great responsibility as part of the new evangelization, which is centered on conversion to the truth and love of Christ and, consequently, the spiritual and moral rebirth of individuals and societies. Encountering Jesus Christ shapes peacemakers, committing them to fellowship and to overcoming injustice.
"Cultural institutions, schools, and universities have a special mission of peace. They are called to make a notable contribution not only to the formation of new generations of leaders, but also to the renewal of public institutions, both national and international. They can also contribute to a scientific reflection which will ground economic and financial activities on a solid anthropological and ethical basis. Today's world, especially the world of politics, needs to be sustained by fresh thinking and a new cultural synthesis so as to overcome purely technical approaches and to harmonize the various political currents with a view to the common good. The latter, seen as an ensemble of positive interpersonal and institutional relationships at the service of the integral growth of individuals and groups, is at the basis of all true education for peace.
"In the end, we see clearly the need to propose and promote a pedagogy of peace. This calls for a rich interior life, clear and valid moral points of reference, and appropriate attitudes and lifestyles. Acts of peacemaking converge for the achievement of the common good; they create interest in peace and cultivate peace. Thoughts, words, and gestures of peace create a mentality and a culture of peace, and a respectful, honest, and cordial atmosphere. There is a need, then, to teach people to love one another, to cultivate peace, and to live with good will rather than mere tolerance. A fundamental encouragement to this is 'to say no to revenge, to recognize injustices, to accept apologies without looking for them, and finally, to forgive,' in such a way that mistakes and offenses can be acknowledged in truth, so as to move forward together towards reconciliation. This requires the growth of a pedagogy of pardon. Evil is in fact overcome by good, and justice is to be sought in imitating God the Father Who loves all His children (cf. Mt 5:21-48). This is a slow process, for it presupposes a spiritual evolution, an education in lofty values, a new vision of human history. There is a need to renounce that false peace promised by the idols of this world along with the dangers which accompany it, that false peace which dulls consciences, which leads to self-absorption, to a withered existence lived in indifference. The pedagogy of peace, on the other hand, implies activity, compassion, solidarity, courage, and perseverance.
"Jesus embodied all these attitudes in His own life, even to the complete gift of Himself, even to 'losing his life' (cf. Mt 10:39; Lk 17:33; Jn 12:25). He promises His disciples that sooner or later they will make the extraordinary discovery to which I originally alluded, namely that God is in the world, the God of Jesus, fully on the side of man. Here I would recall the prayer asking God to make us instruments of His peace, to be able to bring His love wherever there is hatred, His mercy wherever there is hurt, and true faith wherever there is doubt. For our part, let us join Blessed John XXIII in asking God to enlighten all leaders so that, besides caring for the proper material welfare of their peoples, they may secure for them the precious gift of peace, break down the walls which divide them, strengthen the bonds of mutual love, grow in understanding, and pardon those who have done them wrong; in this way, by His power and inspiration all the peoples of the earth will experience fraternity, and the peace for which they long will ever flourish and reign among them.
"With this prayer I express my hope that all will be true peacemakers, so that the city of man may grow in fraternal harmony, prosperity, and peace."
 Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 1.
 Cf. Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris (April 11, 1963): AAS 55 (1963), 265-266.
 Cf. ibid.: AAS 55 (1963), 266.
 BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (June 29, 2009), 32: AAS 101 (2009), 666-667.
 Cf. ibid, 34 and 36: AAS 101 (2009), 668-670 and 671-672.
 Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Message for the 1994 World Day of Peace (December 8, 1993): AAS 86 (1994), 156-162.
 BENEDICT XVI, Address at the Meeting with Members of the Government, Institutions of the Republic, the Diplomatic Corps, Religious Leaders and Representatives of the World of Culture, Baabda-Lebanon (September 15, 2012): L'Osservatore Romano, September 16, 2012, p. 7.
 Cf. Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris (April 11, 1963): AAS 55 (1963), 304.
Sick will be celebrated on February 11 at the Marian Shrine of Altötting, Germany, and throughout the world. February 11 is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Pope Benedict XVI's message for this day, dated January 2, follows:
". . . This day represents for the sick, for health care workers, for the faithful, and for all people of goodwill 'a privileged time of prayer, of sharing, of offering one's sufferings for the good of the Church, and a call for all to recognize in the features of their suffering brothers and sisters the Holy Face of Christ, Who, by suffering, dying, and rising has brought about the salvation of mankind' (John Paul II, Letter for the Institution of the World Day of the Sick, May 13, 1992, 3). On this occasion I feel especially close to you, dear friends, who in health care centers or at home, are undergoing a time of trial due to illness and suffering. May all of you be sustained by the comforting words of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council: 'You are not alone, separated, abandoned, or useless. You have been called by Christ and are His living and transparent image' (Message to the Poor, the Sick and the Suffering).
"So as to keep you company on the spiritual pilgrimage that leads us from Lourdes, a place which symbolizes hope and grace, to the Shrine of Altötting, I would like to propose for your reflection the exemplary figure of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25-37). The Gospel parable recounted by Saint Luke is part of a series of scenes and events taken from daily life by which Jesus helps us to understand the deep love of God for every human being, especially those afflicted by sickness or pain. With the concluding words of the parable of the Good Samaritan, 'Go and do likewise' (Lk 10:37), the Lord also indicates the attitude that each of His disciples should have towards others, especially those in need. We need to draw from the infinite love of God, through an intense relationship with Him in prayer, the strength to live day by day with concrete concern, like that of the Good Samaritan, for those suffering in body and spirit who ask for our help, whether or not we know them and however poor they may be. This is true, not only for pastoral or health care workers, but for everyone, even for the sick themselves, who can experience this condition from a perspective of faith: 'It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, Who suffered with infinite love' (Spe Salvi, 37).
"Various Fathers of the Church saw Jesus Himself in the Good Samaritan; and in the man who fell among thieves they saw Adam, our very humanity wounded and disoriented on account of its sins (cf. Origen, Homily on the Gospel of Luke XXXIV,1-9; Ambrose, Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke, 71-84; Augustine, Sermon 171). Jesus is the Son of God, the One Who makes present the Father's love, a love which is faithful, eternal, and without boundaries. But Jesus is also the One Who sheds the garment of His divinity, Who leaves His divine condition to assume the likeness of men (cf. Phil 2:6-8), drawing near to human suffering, even to the point of descending into hell, as we recite in the Creed, in order to bring hope and light. He does not jealously guard His equality with God (cf. Phil 2:6) but, filled with compassion, He looks into the abyss of human suffering so as to pour out the oil of consolation and the wine of hope.
"The Year of Faith which we are celebrating is a fitting occasion for intensifying the service of charity in our ecclesial communities, so that each one of us can be a good Samaritan for others, for those close to us. Here I would like to recall the innumerable figures in the history of the Church who helped the sick to appreciate the human and spiritual value of their suffering, so that they might serve as an example and an encouragement. Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, 'an expert in the scientia amoris' (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 42), was able to experience 'in deep union with the Passion of Jesus' the illness that brought her 'to death through great suffering' (Address at General Audience, April 6, 2011). The Venerable Luigi Novarese, who still lives in the memory of many, throughout his ministry realized the special importance of praying for and with the sick and suffering, and he would often accompany them to Marian shrines, especially to the Grotto of Lourdes. Raoul Follereau, moved by love of neighbor, dedicated his life to caring for people afflicted by Hansen's disease, even at the world's farthest reaches, promoting, among other initiatives, World Leprosy Day. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta would always begin her day with an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist and then she would go out into the streets, rosary in hand, to find and serve the Lord in the sick, especially in those 'unwanted, unloved, uncared for.' Saint Anna Schäffer of Mindelstetten, too, was able to unite in an exemplary way her sufferings to those of Christ: 'her sick-bed became her cloister cell and her suffering a missionary service. Strengthened by daily communion, she became an untiring intercessor in prayer and a mirror of God's love for the many who sought her counsel' (Canonization Homily, October 21, 2012). In the Gospel the Blessed Virgin Mary stands out as one who follows her suffering Son to the supreme sacrifice on Golgotha. She does not lose hope in God's victory over evil, pain, and death, and she knows how to accept in one embrace of faith and love, the Son of God Who was born in the stable of Bethlehem and died on the Cross. Her steadfast trust in the power of God was illuminated by Christ's resurrection, which offers hope to the suffering and renews the certainty of the Lord's closeness and consolation.
"Lastly, I would like to offer a word of warm gratitude and encouragement to Catholic health care institutions and to civil society, to Dioceses and Christian communities, to religious congregations engaged in the pastoral care of the sick, to health care workers' associations and to volunteers. May all realize ever more fully that 'the Church today lives a fundamental aspect of her mission in lovingly and generously accepting every human being, especially those who are weak and sick' (Christifideles Laici, 38).
I entrust this Twenty-first World Day of the Sick to the intercession of Our Lady of Graces, venerated at Altötting, that she may always accompany those who suffer in their search for comfort and firm hope. May she assist all who are involved in the apostolate of mercy, so that they may become good Samaritans to their brothers and sisters afflicted by illness and suffering. To all I impart most willingly my Apostolic Blessing."
Fred H. Summe is Vice President of Northern Kentucky Right to Life, P.O. Box 1202, Covington, Kentucky 41012
"The challenge facing you, dear friends, is to increase people's awareness of the importance of religious freedom for society to defend that freedom against those who would take religion out of the public domain and establish secularism as America's official faith," warned Pope John Paul II in Baltimore on October 8, 1995. The pope continued: "And it is vitally necessary, for the very survival of the American experience, to transmit to the next generation the precious legacy of religious freedom and the convictions which sustain it."
Seventeen years ago, this challenge he laid before the American people received little response from the Catholic hierarchy, clergy, religious orders, Catholic institutions, or diocesan-owned newspapers. Perhaps in 1995, it was hard for Americans of faith to even imagine that someday their freedom of religion would be in jeopardy.
More and more Americans today are coming to realize what Pope John Paul II could see back in 1995.
"At no other time in memory or [U.S.] history has there been such a governmental intrusion on freedom, not only with regard to religion, but even across the board with all citizens," stated Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik.
As authorized under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), in 2011 Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama's Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, boldly announced the new federal requirement that all private hospitalization insurance provide women with coverage for FDA-approved contraception, including sterilization and "contraceptives" that have an abortifacient effect.
From the most pro-abortion president in the history of the United States comes a federal requirement that insurers not even charge a co-payment for such "services" as they would do for all other prescription drugs and surgical procedures.
Archbishop Dennis Schnurr
In response to this HHS mandate, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, Cincinnati, issued the following statement: "The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraceptives. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those 'services' in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies.
"We Catholics will be compelled to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so)….We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law."
Not only will the Catholic Church and its schools, colleges, and universities, its hospitals and nursing homes and charities will be faced with fines well into the millions of dollars, but so also will be any employer who refuses to comply with the Obama administration's HHS mandate.
"Our freedom to carry out our mission is totally threatened by this new mandate. As I have said, the issues at stake go far beyond the morality of contraception. This government mandate threatens the basic character of our society and puts every American's freedom at risk…" instructs Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles. He continues: "What's been happening in recent decades is that the government on all levels has been exerting greater influence in almost every area of American life. In the process, nongovernmental institutions are being crowded out of our public life.
"Religious freedom is now reduced to the freedom to pray and go to church…Church agencies are now treated as if they are arms of the government. Increasingly, these agencies are expected to serve and submit to the government's agendas and priorities…
"This new mandate moves us closer to what Pope Benedict XVI warned against in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est: 'The state which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself – a state which regulates and controls everything.' "
Cardinal Francis George
Restricting "freedom of religion" to "freedom of worship" is practiced in communist countries, as pointed out by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who recently wrote: "Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship – no schools, religious publications, healthcare institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice, and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government."
The Obama administration's growing hostility towards freedom of religion has not gone unnoticed in the Vatican. On January 19, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the bishops of Washington, D.C., and the surrounding areas at their ad limina visits in Rome:
"In the light of these considerations, it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States comes to realize the great threats to the Church's public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life.
"Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience."
Across the country, numerous lawsuits have been filed challenging the HHS mandate by a number of Catholic dioceses and Catholic and Protestant universities, hospitals, and charities, in addition to a number of businesses, such as O'Brien Industrial Holdings, Hercules Industries, Tyndale House Publishers, Weingartz Supply Company, and Hobby Lobby.
Decisions rendered so far by federal judges have varied greatly with some courts upholding the HHS mandate, some dismissing the case because it is not "ripe for review," and some ordering the legal actions to go forward.
On December 18, the federal D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College, reinstating their lawsuit, which a lower federal court had dismissed.
With the federal courts issuing such diverse rulings, the issue whether Obama's HHS mandate violates the First Amendment's freedom of religion will be no doubt settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
People of all faiths need, especially now, to pray that the majority of the nine unelected justices will rule that this federal requirement will be held unconstitutional, as well as to support and vote for only candidates who hold the Judeo-Christian principle of the sanctity of all innocent human life.
If those who hold the Judeo-Christian principle of the sanctity of all innocent human life are unsuccessful in restricting this newly claimed federal government's power to mandate that employers pay, through healthcare policies, for contraceptives and abortifacient drugs, be assured that the next tyrannical step in the war on religion will be federally mandated coverage of all abortions.
Many voices are agreeing with Pope Benedict XVI's message for this year's World Day of Peace, though perhaps without realizing it. In "Blessed Are The Peacemakers" the pope said, among other important things, "In order to emerge from the present financial and economic crisis — which has engendered ever greater inequalities — we need people, groups, and institutions which will promote life by fostering human creativity, in order to draw from the crisis itself an opportunity for discernment and for a new economic model."
In the introduction to his book, Rediscovering Values, Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief of Sojourners, credits the Pope. Benedict warned, as had other popes before him, "Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty." (Caritas in Veritate)
He also quotes Gandhi's social sins, politics without principles, commerce without morality, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, but particularly focuses on wealth without work. He also quotes Franklin Delano Roosevelt quoting the Bible, "When there is no vision the people perish." Many are now being involuntarily humbled, forced to make sacrifices, giving up homes and jobs.
Willis put the current situation in perspective with statistics. The lowest five percent of America's 181 million credit card holders account for twenty percent of the debt, much of it college debt. In 1800 eighty-five percent of Americans were "extremely poor," by 2007 just the opposite was true. So, as he points out, now eight-five percent are afraid of becoming poor.
"The current crisis was created by decades of social deregulation," he says, ". . . which ultimately compromises not only the common good, but [corporations' and banks'] own good in the long term." The crisis of shortsidedness must be countered by foresightedness, social services by social change.
"The opportunity this crisis offers now is the chance to rethink the important question of work." He recommends simplifying, buying less, buying locally, downsizing. He encourages sharing or doing without a car. This is much the same as the pope's, "True and lasting success is attained through the gift of ourselves, our intellectual abilities, and our entrepreneurial skills."
Mike Gerson, author of Heroic Conservatism, says, "One does not need to agree with Jim Wallis on everything to find Rediscovering Values insightful and timely."
Commenting on this "conservatism elevated by a radical concern for human rights and dignity," Wallis refers to what he calls New Old Values, Catholic social teaching. "While it affirms the principle of limited government — asserting the existence of a world of families, congregations, and community institutions where government should rarely tread — it also asserts that the justice of society is measured by its treatment of the helpless and poor. And this creates a positive obligation to order society in a way that protects and benefits the powerless and suffering."
Michael J. Sandel, professor of government at Harvard, says about Rediscovering Values, "Jim Wallis argues persuasively that the financial crisis is also a moral crisis . . . and how repairing the economy requires a moral awakening and a new commitment to the common good."
His book, What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, makes a similar point. "The problem with being able to buy and sell increasing numbers of things," he says, "is that we devalue the things we are buying and selling."
He notes many outrageous examples. A single mother in Utah got $10,000 for tattooing a casino ad on her forehead. Others sell their bodies as human guinea pigs for pharmaceutical companies for up to $7,500. Lobbyists pay others to stand in line for a congressional hearing $20 an hour. School children are being paid $2 for reading a book.
As he puts it, "It's hard to imagine a reasoned public debate about such controversial moral questions as the right way to value procreation, children, education, health, the environment, citizenship, and other goods. I believe such a debate is possible, but only if we are willing to broaden the terms of our public discourse and grapple more explicitly with competing notions of the good life."
His "Justice" course has become a PBS series and a book. They "try to model what public discourse would be like if it were morally ambitious than it is," Mr. Sandel said. "The title is 'Justice,' but in a way its subject is citizenship."
Rich Stearns, author of The Hole in Our Gospel, says Wallis "argues that the world can change when people of good faith make different choices and act collectively."
That is the same message he tells in his own book, the story of how an encounter with the poor in Kenya changed his life. He realized that the gospel was not "just me and Jesus" but was always meant to be a world changing social revolution. He is now president of World Vision.
Reader Scot McKnight called the book "a return to the themes and to the fire of his classical period of fighting for American Christians to cut back and help the poor and to take stock of how we live." Todd Bartholomew called it simply "challenging, yet also invigorating."
(Editor's note: Mr. Carlisle writes from Florida. We welcome contributions from prisoners. We would like to hear from a variety of prisoners.)
P rison seemed like the end of my life
R eaching rock bottom, I could sink no further
I n the depths of my anguish, a light shined from above
S lowly, I raised my eyes to the heavens
O h, my heart filled with wonder, surpassing all understanding.
N ever again do I need to feel so lost and alone!
We hold the key to our salvation.
A ttitude is all that we control
L ove God with all your heart, mind, and soul
L ove your brother as yourself
S alvation is in our hands.
"I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put My spirit within you and make you live by My statutes, careful to observe My decrees." (Ez 36:25-27)
Because we are sons and daughters of God, saved by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we do not merely read the news but make the news. We direct the course of world events by faith expressed in action and intercession. Please pray for the stories covered in this paper. Clip out this intercessory list and make it part of your daily prayer.
Published by: Presentation Ministries, 3230 McHenry Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45211, (513) 662-5378, www.presentationministries.com