Sunday, July 3, 2016

Good Christian, WAKE UP!!!

Five years ago I warned readers that folks on the left do not care one whit about your religious liberty.

Four-and-a-half years ago, Pope Benedict voiced particular concerns about "certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion".

Four years ago, the US Bishops launched the first annual Fortnight For Freedom,  running from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day. This event, once unnecessary but now imperative, seeks "to highlight the importance of defending religious freedom" in America.

Unfortunately, the situation for Christians has not improved, but is getting worse by the day.

Laws and lawsuits demanding that Christians violate their consciences and their faith have led to the closure of Catholic charities and adoption agencies, ruinous fines for many mom-and-pop bakers, florists, and photographers, and B&B owners, a years-long federal lawsuit pitting President Obama against the Little Sisters of the Poor, and in the past few days, the rulings against Christian pharmacists and Christian online dating sites, suddenly no longer "allowed" to operate according to the dictates of their Christian faith.

Make no mistake: Secular progressives (who are as fervent about their secular religion as any Christian is about Christ) are not bringing these lawsuits because of any lack of access to gay dating sites, or wedding cakes, flowers, or photographers, nor is there any lack of access to abortifacient pills and devices (all these things are easily accessible to all those Americans who desire them).

No, they are bringing these lawsuits specifically to make you comply to their worldview, specifically to force "acceptance" without dissent, specifically to publicly shame you, specifically to "fundamentally transform America". "Tolerance" was never enough, because it was never the goal. If you've noticed, the forces against religious freedom and conscience rights for Christians are only getting more angry, more fierce, and more unyielding.

If you think that I and others, or perhaps even the bishops, are simply overreacting, you'll want to know that three of the highest judges in our land are themselves explicitly sounding the alarm. Here's the dire warning from Supreme Court Justice Alito in his recent dissent -- which was signed by Justice Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts as well -- regarding the Stormans case (Christian pharmacy owners who did not wish to stock and sell abortion-inducing drugs):

This case is an ominous sign.
At issue are Washington State regulations that are likely to make a pharmacist unemployable if he or she objects on religious grounds to dispensing certain prescrip- tion medications. There are strong reasons to doubt whether the regulations were adopted for—or that they actually serve—any legitimate purpose. 
And there is much evidence that the impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the State. Yet the Ninth Circuit held that the regulations do not violate the First Amendment, and this Court does not deem the case worthy of our time. 
If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern. 

[all emphases mine]

In other words, we are coming to a day when you may have your "religion" and your "conscience" -- but only in your head, your church building, or your home. You may not bring or live your faith anywhere else, including your own business. If you do, you will be fined, ruined, shamed, and, well, we can look to history to see the next steps.

And that brings us to St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, and why they mean so much to US Catholics today. In honor of the Fortnight for Freedom activities, the relics of these two martyrs of conscience were brought from England to several American cities, including Phoenix. Local Catholics were blessed to be able to venerate these precious relics of two holy and courageous men.

St. John Fisher's ring on the left (the image is of Aristotle). Fisher was the only Catholic bishop in England at the time who stayed loyal to the Church. He was imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately beheaded, his head stuck on a spike on London Bridge. Two weeks later, St. Thomas More was beheaded, and his head replaced St. John Fisher's on the spike. St. Thomas' beloved daughter retrieved his head, and we see here part of his jawbone and half of his tooth (two of only three first-class relics of his in existence). 

We were also able to attend Holy Mass with our two bishops beforehand. Since the whole world couldn't be there, I'm bringing part of it to you.... Enjoy the inspiring homily of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, which is so profound that it has been shared far past the borders of the Phoenix Diocese (the video can be seen here):

Neither Thomas More nor John Fisher wanted to be martyrs. They wanted to be friends of God and to be faithful to those whom God gave them to love: as a husband and father, lawyer and chancellor of England, or as a bishop and servant of the flock entrusted to his care. Both of them sought to be, as Thomas More put it, “the king’s good servant but God’s first.”

That there is a cost to fidelity to God did not come as a surprise to Thomas More and John Fisher nor should it come as a surprise to you and me. Jesus tells us quite bluntly (Mt 10:34f), “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” The Kingdom of God clashes with the kingdom of darkness. God’s word is a two-edged sword. It requires each person either to accept it or to reject it. Earthly loyalties, even those within the family, are put to the test. “For I have come,” Jesus says (Ibid), “to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

In the last months of his life, Thomas More was called a traitor by King Henry; and his successor as Chancellor of England labeled him “a foolish scrupulous ass.” Far more painful were the words of his own family. His wife Lady Alice disagreed with his “scruple of conscience” and even his beloved daughter Meg, his closest and dearest confidante during his last days in the Tower of London’s dungeon, failed to understand her father, and repeatedly tried to convince him to change his mind so as to save his life in this world. Certainly her words but especially her tears broke her father’s heart.

Jesus goes on to say, in our Gospel, that (Ibid) “whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” When Jesus first spoke these words, crucifixion was the most horrifying form of execution employed by the Roman government. Not only was it excruciatingly painful, it was intended above all to be publicly humiliating. Public shaming was a political ploy to secure the grip of control by Rome. Shame was also a primary tool of torture in the days of Thomas More and John Fisher. Public shaming remains a popular tool today, used not only by ISIS terrorists but even by forces within our own country set on destroying the Church’s witness to the Gospel, aimed at silencing voices that uphold the dignity of every human person, that proclaim God’s plan for marriage and that insist on the first of all human rights, that of religious liberty.

In the daily administration of his duties, Thomas More was keenly aware of his own shortcomings and of his constant need of the mercy of God. He knew, too, of the need for reform among the clergy and religious in his day, and the need to restore honesty and civility among the powerful and those seeking positions of political influence. Both he and John Fisher resonated with the wisdom of our First Reading today where St. Peter writes (1 Pet 4:12), “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you.” It is not strange that followers of Jesus should face hard times, unfair criticism, public shaming, outright persecution and even death for the sake of the Kingdom of God. It is strange and foolish to think that you can be a disciple of Jesus without sharing in the cross.

The irony of the martyrdom of these heroic Englishmen is that both of them had faithfully served the King for many years and were among those he trusted most. Moreover, he knew their loyalty; in fact, he had depended on it constantly. He even appreciated their impeccable integrity—that is, until one day when he asked them to do something that their very integrity did not allow them to do. Even then, Thomas More and John Fisher refrained from speaking out against the person of the king. Still, they refused to tell a lie. They refused to act like false prophets who play with the truth, rather than shape their lives in accord with it. They would not say what the king wanted to hear because they knew it was not what he needed to hear, for his own good on earth and in eternity. They refused, in other words, to say that the king could pretend to be head of the Church in England instead of the Successor of St. Peter. No matter the cost to themselves, they would not betray a well-formed conscience, would not act contrary to the truth they knew by faith in Christ. Thomas More wrote, “When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short road to chaos.”

Since Thomas More is my patron saint, I trust you will understand if I focus a little more attention on him than on John Fisher, although the only bishop in England to remain loyal to the Catholic faith at the time of Henry VIII is certainly worthy of our veneration.

More important to Thomas More than his political influence and public office of Lord Chancellor were his wife and family, his Catholic faith, his daily pursuit of holiness, and his well-trained conscience.  Pope St. John Paul II said of him (Cf. Motu Proprio), “Thomas More witnessed the primacy of truth over power…He died as a martyr because of his passion for truth…for him his moral conscience was a defining voice, the voice of God in his soul.”

Thomas More’s ultimate stand in defense of the truth was determined long before his imprisonment and execution. It was the consequence of seeking, day after day and year after year, to know God’s will and put it into practice.

Already at the beginning of his public career, Thomas More knew that the greatest threat to freedom of conscience did not come from outside a man but from within his own heart. No one can force you to betray your conscience. Freedom of conscience requires freedom from self-deception, freedom from pride and freedom from fear. It has to be won anew through a daily examination of conscience, sincere contrition for any failures and sincere renewal of commitment to Christ. That is what Thomas More did.

It is highly instructive to recall that the first book he published was not about the law or the legal profession but about the spiritual life. At about the age of 25, he wrote, “…if you desire to be secure from the snares of the devil, from the storms of this world, from the hands of your enemies; if you long to be acceptable to God; if you covet everlasting happiness—then let no day pass without at least once presenting yourself to God in prayer, falling down before Him flat on the ground with a humble affection and a devout mind; not merely with your lips, but from the innermost recesses of your heart, crying out [to God].”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the heroic witness of Thomas More and John Fisher is needed today more than at any time in our nation’s history. We Americans are facing an assault on religious liberty from forces within our own country that is unprecedented and constantly on the increase. For this reason, Pope Francis spoke about it more than once during his historic visit last September. In the presence of President Obama at the White House, the Holy Father said, “[Religious] freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions… All are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”

When speaking at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pope Francis said, “Let us preserve freedom. Let us cherish freedom. Freedom of conscience, religious freedom, the freedom of each person, each family, each people, which is what gives rise to rights. May you defend these rights, especially your religious freedom, for it has been given to you by God Himself.”

We Americans must also take care not to close our eyes to far worse violations of religious freedom happening in many other countries around the world. We have refugees coming to Arizona as a result of these violations of conscience, and we have much to learn from their words and courageous example.

In its 2016 Annual Report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stated, “By any measure, religious freedom abroad has been under serious and sustained assault since the release of our commission’s last Annual Report in 2015…” The 2016 report said that the number of those held as prisoners of conscience, those imprisoned for reasons of religion, “remains astonishingly widespread;” and harsh conditions are faced by many millions of believers around the world. We must not close our eyes to these human rights violations or our ears to their cries for help.

In 1929, G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Thomas More is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death…but he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years’ time.” May the Lord give us the grace to imitate John Fisher and Thomas More. Let the words of St. Peter resonate in our minds and hearts (1 Pet 4:12f), “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when His glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.”

As we Americans celebrate this Independence Day, may we never forget that religious liberty was the impetus for the founding of this beautiful nation, and may we never be complacent. May the Lord safeguard our religious freedom and freedom of conscience in this difficult time for our country. God bless America!


  1. Leila,

    As always, thank you for your words and insights! How blessed you are to have the relics close to you to visit! I enjoyed learning more about St. Thomas More and John Fisher. I have a question and something I've been pondering lately. I just hope I can word it right. As you stated in this post and by observing the world around us, we see the world is getting more hostile toward religious freedom/Christians and satan seems to be having a party with our souls. So we are told things will get worse so it seems like things are going as "planned." And I know our faith teaches us to pray and persevere to combat evil. So my question is: Can we really reverse what is going to happen anyway with prayers, fasting, sacrifices if the crazy events of this world are going to happen anyway as foretold? I hope I don't sound like I just think it is best to "give up" because nothing will help us get back to a moral, Christian society. I guess I'm just trying to make sense of the evils of this world escalating and how our Christian faith and devotions can change/stall what is going to happen anyway. I hope I'm making sense. :) Please know I'm not implying that I am not going to continue to persevere and pray. I just am wrestling with trying to understand our roles as Catholic Christians in a world that is spiraling out of control, as we have been told will happen. Thanks for your time!

  2. Tracy, great question! Remember, nothing is inevitable (aside from Christ's second coming, the Final Judgement, and the end of time)! So, everything is still dependent on the free will of the souls on earth. Just because God is outside of time and sees what we will do or are doing, that doesn't mean He's pulling the strings on our choices. So, while it is looking bad for America and for Christians in the west, there is nothing stopping us from turning things around. ;) The question is, do we have the will to do it?

  3. Thank you for your response. Jesus I Trust in seems I say this more and more each passing day. We are blessed with the fact that no matter how tough life gets in this world, we always have the hope that all things are possible with God and of eternal life. But, life can still be soooo frustrating and tough. Thank God following the teachings of the Catholic Church brings truth and clarity to this upside world. :)

  4. Tracy, I always remind myself that if this life weren't full of sin and suffering, we'd already be in Heaven!

    And, thank you for your great witness in this upside down world!

  5. Tracy, I have been blessed beyond measure to read Immaculée Ilibagiza's accounts of the visionary's of Kabeho, as well as her miraculous survival of the genocide of 1994. How did I miss these apparitions? I have devoured each of her books in the past week! Our Lady promised the Rwandans that through the recitation of the Rosary, they could avert the "river of blood" that was to come. They didn't listen.

    Leila, Thank you for this post. I found this sentence to be particularly helpful in today's rapidly changing world and also as a parent.

    "They would not say what the king wanted to hear because they knew it was not what he needed to hear, for his own good on earth and in eternity."

    1. Haha, *Kibeho I can barely stop talking about it and now I can even spell it! Anyway, pray the Rosary!

  6. This really resonated with me today:

    "Thomas More’s ultimate stand in defense of the truth was determined long before his imprisonment and execution. It was the consequence of seeking, day after day and year after year, to know God’s will and put it into practice.

    Already at the beginning of his public career, Thomas More knew that the greatest threat to freedom of conscience did not come from outside a man but from within his own heart. No one can force you to betray your conscience. Freedom of conscience requires freedom from self-deception, freedom from pride and freedom from fear. It has to be won anew through a daily examination of conscience, sincere contrition for any failures and sincere renewal of commitment to Christ. That is what Thomas More did."

    Thank you for this post.

  7. Great piece. Greetings from Ireland where our idiot politicians are trying to emulate America if course backed up by a compliant liberal media. Already we have "gay" marriage and abortion in cases of suicidal ideation( the most bizarre reason possible) but that is never enough. Now they want full blown abortion. But you know oppression has been the same through human history. In Irealnd they did their best for hundreds of years to kill off the faith but a hardcore of people- brave and fearless- resisted. Now that people think economically that they are better off they have allowed aggressive liberal crisp to destroy their brains. But economically thinks are getting fire and collapse cannot be ruled out. When people have to worry about surviving they won't be concerned about sexual "freedom"! They might open to God then!

    1. Politicians only act out on what the culture is already living out. It is we the people who must help convert others, by our own lives as Catholics and by speaking our faith in the public square. 52% of Catholics voted for Obama in his last is not the politicians, it is we the people who create the culture we live in. We must work harder at speaking out our beliefs boldly in without fear, conversion of hearts is the only way to change a culture, a nation.

  8. RE: "Wake up!"

    I was talking with someone about what it will take to make the comfortable, couch-sitting, full stomached, fast asleep, people of this country wake up and realize that our freedoms are slipping away. We both agreed that maybe someone like Trump is necessary (I reluctantly say).

    With Clinton, it would be the same lazy, “Oh, here we go with whatever slow fall into progressive hell she has on her agenda” from comfortable, non-interested Americans, but with Trump, he’s polarizing and repugnant enough to maybe offend enough people quickly enough to wake them up and get them to actually do something active, whatever that might look like (politically).

    The point is that at least the comfortable people would be active for once, and not sleepily blinking in a stupor as our freedoms disappear one by one until that day they awake and say, “Golly, how did this happen?”

    It’s like Trump’s crap is the compacted version of crap we’d get from Clinton- only his is presented with more force and more in-your face spittle flying at you, that you cannot ignore it.

    From Clinton, it’d be a snail-pace method of 4years of sneaking, double speak, conniving to get her agenda through. With Trump it’s, “bam! Here’s my thoughts! Stick it!”, and you can get smoked enough under the collar to say, “Hey, wait a minute! I’m not standing for that!” He’s forceful enough and abrasive enough that he just might elicit quicker response from people. That’s my only hope.

    We might do better with a polarizing loud mouth who has no tact, because those are the types of people that can rouse you to a real fight. Shake the tree. He doesn't need anyone's money so he says what he wants. Good. Get the weak-spined Republicans to actually say what they stand for (since they don't like Trump), instead of sounding like a carbon-copy of the Democrats. We're headed down such a bad path, maybe a little shake up would at least wake some people from their stupor.

  9. 2875, you are my kind of European Catholic!! Never stop fighting!

    And Nubby, that's one big reason I'm voting for Trump. I want him to blow up the entrenched system.

  10. let's hope he doesn't blow up the world first.

  11. He won't. He's a blowhard, but I don't see him as a guy who wants to destroy the world. And unlike the current occupants of the WH, he seems to actually sort of like America.

  12. I disagree. He can't take any criticism of any kind from anyone. He goes ballistic and on the attack if anyone says anything unfavorable about him, even if he was friendly with the person before. How would he respond when world leaders criticize him? And remember what he said about killing ISIS" families? I think his ego is so big that he'd bomb a country just because he was offended. He has a classic narcissistic personality and I dont' think he considers his actions beyond how they make him feel. And i don't think he cares about America; he just cares about himself. He is a caricature of the worst American has to offer.

  13. Do you have any comment on the fact that Thomas More tortured people? Honest question.

  14. "Thomas More knew that the greatest threat to freedom of conscience did not come from outside a man but from within his own heart. No one can force you to betray your conscience. Freedom of conscience requires freedom from self-deception, freedom from pride and freedom from fear. It has to be won anew through a daily examination of conscience, sincere contrition for any failures and sincere renewal of commitment to Christ. That is what Thomas More did."

    This is an excellent account of what is going on today in the hearts of otherwise good and well meaning people all over the world. I have many family members who though they received the sacraments of the Church, have for one reason or another left it, or if they are still in it, they are liberal in their mindset about many of the issues of today- transgenderism, LGBTQ rights, same sex marriage, abortion, contraception, etc. There is no arguing with them on these points because they simply do not see the Catholic teachings as correct in today's society- so much the same as the seemingly growing numbers in this country and around the world. It is so vital to teach and cement in our children the teaching of Christ.

  15. Leah, that's the first I've heard those claims so I did a little digging but can do more in the next day or so. I read this, and then I saw the comment from a St. Thomas defender in the comment box, which you might want to read:

    And then there is this:

    Apparently this "Wolf Hall" book and adaptation is kicking up this monstrous (and false) portrait of St. Thomas More recently?

  16. Johanne and Leah, those things trouble me too. The idea of torture in any form is just repugnant to me.

  17. Hi Leila,

    Thanks for replying! I'm an early modernist, and Thomas More's participation in the (often grisly) prosecution of alleged heretics is well-documented and widely acknowledged in my field -- though, of course, I understand that the Catholic perspective on this aspect of work diverges from the academic perspective. I haven't read Wolf Hall.

  18. Lol, why would the Catholic perspective "diverge" from an academic perspective, when Catholics are just as academically interested about truth as anyone else (I'd argue even more so)? If it's well-documented we should consider the sources.

    IOW, let's calibrate the tools (including the angle of their philosophy) then take the measurements.

    Bottom line is that the Church isn't in the business of hiding faults of saints-- granting your assertion that More even did these things. St. Paul's hideous persecutions are the most obvious. Even within biblical references. He's a major saint of our faith, obviously.'s no secret that modern secular academia isn't friendly to the Church nor to Her history. It's not that "Catholic academia" diverges from some sort of academic endeavor of "the real truth". I'd argue the opposite.

  19. Leah, I have to agree with Nubby here. Are you really saying that Catholics are not authentic or trustworthy academics?

    Worth noting:

    John Foxe’s infamous Book of Martyrs is a chief source of the accusation that More tortured heretics. More denied similar charges in his lifetime, and historians like G.R. Elton, who is no great fan of More, also denied them. John Guy stated that they are “unsupported by independent proof. ... None has ever been substantiated” (The Public Career of Sir Thomas More, pp. 165-166).
    In the 21st century, we don’t understand how a state power like England could be involved in the suppression of religious heresy, but in the late Middle Ages, religious unity was important to the monarch. As Henry VIII’s lord chancellor, More was enforcing the heresy laws passed by the English Parliament. He investigated charges of heresy and questioned the accused — but he did not torture them.

    Read more:

  20. Just because it's interesting and baffling to me: When I was looking up things on St. Thomas More, one English journalist mentioned that St. Thomas' work Utopia had "baffled" professors and academics for centuries, because it promoted things like euthanasia and other practices contrary to Catholicism. I about fell off my chair! Ummmmmmmmm, Utopia is satire, as even my high school (classically educated) children could tell you. Very, very bizarre that someone purporting to summarize St. Thomas' life would not know this? Goodness.

  21. Trump is excessively enthusiastic about torture

  22. I like Trump. I think he genuinely loves this country and wants to make it better. I think he has some decent ideas. And yes, his policies do go beyond "build a wall."

    As for religious freedom, we have no hope to stand against our government unless we can convince our communities to stand with us. That's why I have forever argued Catholics CANNOT isolate themselves. We must be out and about talking to our neighbors and participating in our community.

    If we never go beyond our parish grounds it is naive to expect others to protect us based on "rights and principles." And we need a plan to protect the priests and not let them be arrested if it comes to that. So long as we have our priests, we'll be fine. It'll be wild, but we'll be fine.

    Or we can vote Trump because of the two I think Hillary is far more likely to try to jail our clergy.

  23. See, I don't like Trump as much as I like the fact that his having gotten this far is finally shaking the Republicans. They'd better wake up and start deciding to stand for something that their supporters have been wanting from them for a long time now; and if it means they need such a contrasting model like Trump gives, then I guess it's so be it. Wake up Republican party. Stand for something instead of being a carbon-copy of the Dem's we dislike.

    Trump shows them what that should at least look like (rather brashly, which doesn't sit well with policy-making and advisors). But at least he's the airhorn sounding the wake up call.

    I do not think he's very friendly to Catholics. He's got more of a nationalist mindset than a republican one.

  24. I am convinced that Trump will not overtly target, persecute, and prosecute Catholics for being Catholic, nor will he instruct his Justice Department to do so. Since he is the viable alternative to Hillary, he's got my vote!

  25. Leah-

    It would be helpful if you can point us to some accounts or some books which set out the view the Moore participated in torture. While I've never studied Moore I have to admit I don't recall coming across any accounts that Moore was a gleeful participate in the torture of heretics. I know he went after them with zeal and he was less than bothered by the State's execution of the unrepented. Is that what you are referring to?

    You have to understand the spread of heresy was viewed then as a spread of a biological weapon would be viewed today. Heretics put souls in peril by opening them to the risk of eternal damnation. Many of the day viewed giving them the option to repent was too good for them. (The Church obviously disagreed with that view.)

    Our secular and/or religious freedom-loving society (depending on where one falls) would be appalled with most of Moore's contemporaries' actions, be them protestant or Catholic. I wager Moore and his fellow Catholics and Protestants would be equally appalled with us.

  26. StarFireKK, Amen!! It's amazing how we judge other eras by our standards and sensibilities today.


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