Lincoln, Neb., Jul 2, 2013 / 12:07 am (CNA).- The recent threats against religious freedom are an opportunity for the faithful to grow closer to God through prayer, fasting and penance, said Bishop James C. Conley of Lincoln, Neb., in a recent column.
“When God’s people start living like everyone else, there is trouble in store,” he said in a June 27 article for the Southern Nebraska Register.
Throughout the Old Testament, he explained, we see that as the Israelites wandered from God, they were made captive by pagan nations.
“The Lord takes no pleasure in the oppression of his people. But he permits it, to call us back to faithfulness,” he said.
Even today, believers must turn back to God and remember that “we have been set apart for God’s sacred purpose.”
The Church must continue to serve God, he said, otherwise we risk “becoming captive to hostile powers.”
“We know what it looks like when the Church forgets her holiness: Daily discipleship gives way to weekly churchgoing. Tough demands of the Gospel are ignored. Prayer, fasting, and penance are bypassed.”
Already we see the threats against religious freedom, Bishop Conley said, in the form of government and cultural movements that oppose natural law.
“This, I suspect, is the deeper cause of the many present threats to religious freedom in America,” he observed. “When Catholics spend six days of each week living like everyone else, we find that our right to practice our faith in everyday life starts to come under threat and even disappear.”
“The prophets tell us that this is no coincidence,” the bishop warned.
He noted that the “worst of these ongoing threats to religious freedom” is the Obama administration’s federal contraception mandate, which will go into effect for many non-profit religious groups on Aug. 1.
Issued under the Affordable Care Act, the contraception mandate requires employers to offer health insurance plans that provide for contraception, sterilizations and some drugs that can cause abortions.
More than 200 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against the federal government challenging the mandate, arguing that it violates their right to religious freedom by forcing them to violate their consciences.
“Every citizen’s rights are in jeopardy if this mandate stands,” Bishop Conley said.
Recent efforts to redefine marriage are another alarming development, he added, stating that such a redefinition “will inevitably cause conflict with religious believers’ rights.”
Some Catholic adoption and foster care agencies have already been forced to close for refusing to “compromise the truth about marriage and family,” he observed.
Bishop Conley added that he and his brother bishops are also concerned about anti-immigration measures that could restrict the Church’s ministry “by penalizing those who provide charitable help to illegal immigrants.”
To combat these threats leading up to July 4, the U.S. Bishops have been leading a two-week period of prayer, sacrifice and fasting for religious freedom known as the “Fortnight for Freedom.”
During this final stretch of the event, the Lincoln bishop recommended that the faithful fast, pray and offer penance for our sins.
Bishop Conley’s column, in its entirety, can be found at http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=2608.