Catholics, the Day After

Last night, in his graceful, humble concession speech, Mitt Romney said: “We look for our pastors, priests, rabbis, and counselors of all kinds to testify of the enduring principles upon which our society is built: honesty, charity, integrity and family,”

And this morning, Cardinal Dolan sent a letter to President Obama:

In my capacity as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I write to express my congratulations on your re-election as President of the United States. The people of our country have again entrusted you with a great responsibility. The Catholic Bishops of the United States offer our prayers that God will give you strength and wisdom to meet the difficult challenges that face America.
In particular, we pray that you will exercise your office to pursue the common good, especially in care of the most vulnerable among us, including the unborn, the poor, and the immigrant. We will continue to stand in defense of life, marriage, and our first, most cherished liberty, religious freedom. We pray, too, that you will help restore a sense of civility to the public order, so our public conversations may be imbued with respect and charity toward everyone.
May God bless you and Vice President Biden as you prepare for your second term in service to our country and its citizens.

Life. Marriage. Religious freedom. Doing justice in the lives of the poor, most compassionately and efficiently, most lovingly. These are challenges. To him and all of us.

“The Catholic vote,” as we will hear, helped President Obama win reelection. “The Catholic vote,” of course, consists of Catholics who go to Mass on Sundays and those who do not. Many of those who do heard about the new understanding of religious freedom being advanced by the Obama administration. Others, not so much. They may have had a vague understanding of a political battle over contraception going on, and who wants a political battle over contraception?

When you poll people about the specifics of the HHS mandate issue (without even getting into the abortion-drug aspect of it, making it all the more shocking), people are on the side of religious freedom, not federal-government-mandated conscience violation. It was a consistent, under-the-radar issue with obsessives like me talking about it as individuals and cultural stalwarts like the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Alliance Defending Freedom went in and out of court trying to combat it (the fight goes on, there is hope there). It got the occasional campaign-trail mention, most memorably from Governor Romney in Bowling Green, Ohio. But the issue was largely obscured in the popular media and a vice president simply lied about the facts of the matter.

And so here we are. But at a moment when the Catholic Church is reawakened to its need to fully and authentically and courageously engage in the daily life of our country. Inspiring and guiding policy, yes, but more fundamentally leading with integrity.

There was a Year of Faith launched in Rome this past month and it is about just this: Making sure Catholics know what it means to be Catholic. It was a remarkable historic moment to have two Catholics running for vice president. But it was also a scandalous one, where what has been clear for a long time now, was on display in an unprecedented way during these past weeks: That the public face of Catholicism has become, all too often, an abdication of what it means to be Catholic. That will only change with a revolutionary transformation, where believers renew, recommit, and reengage. In the most public of roles, yes — but that will only be born of a soul-change in our individual souls, a rejection of the practical atheism that all too often marks the lives of those of us who claim to be religious believers, an encounter with Christ in everyday life.

That’s the new revolution and that’s one that we have seen begin in a whole new way. That’s the New Evangelization. That’s our work, that restarts with prayer today. We have some tremendous challenges to come. Living and speaking truth in love — what Cardinal Dolan modeled at the conventions and in this letter today — is the way, always beginning and ending with, wholly sustained by, prayer.

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