Archbishop Chaput on Saint Thomas More and religious freedom

Read this great article by Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia on Saint Thomas More and religious freedom.  

The Archbishop discusses the de-Christianization of Europe and the vulgarization of the culture, and the model of Saint Thomas More.  He then asks, why should the legacy of Saint Thomas More matter today?  His answer:

Barring relief from the courts, Christian entities, employers, and ministers in the coming year will face a range of unhappy choices. As the Affordable Care Act takes force and the HHS contraceptive mandate imposes itself on Christian life, Catholic and other Christian leaders can refuse to comply, either declining to pay the consequent fines in outright civil disobedience, or trying to pay them; they can divest themselves of their impacted Christian institutions; they can seek some unexplored compromise or way of circumventing the law; or they can simply give in and comply with the government coercion under protest.

What will be the result of cooperating with the government in this matter?  What should the Catholic bishops do?

Good people can obviously disagree on the strategy to deal with such serious matters. But the cost of choosing the last course—simply cooperating with the HHS mandate and its evil effects under protest—would be bitterly high and heavily damaging to the witness of the Church in the United States. Having fought loudly and hard for religious liberty over the past year, in part because of the HHS mandate, America’s Catholic bishops cannot simply grumble and shrug, and go along with the mandate now, without implicating themselves in cowardice. Their current resolve risks unraveling unless they reaffirm their opposition to the mandate forcefully and as a united body.  The past can be a useful teacher. One of its lessons is this: The passage of time can invite confusion and doubt—and both work against courage.

 

Archbishop Chaput returns to constant question: why does Thomas More still matter, and why right now?

More’s final work, scribbled in the Tower of London and smuggled out before his death, was The Sadness of Christ. In it, he contrasts the focus and energy of Judas with the sleepiness of the Apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane. He then applies the parable to his own day and the abject surrender of England’s bishops to the will of Henry VIII: “Does not this contrast between the traitors and the Apostles present to us a clear and sharp mirror image . . . a sad and terrible view of what has happened through the ages from those times to our own? Why do not bishops contemplate in this scene their own somnolence?”

 

More urges the bishops not to fall asleep “while virtue and the faith are placed in jeopardy.” In the face of Tudor bullying, he begs them, “Do not be afraid”—this from a layman on the brink of his own execution.

Does this apply to our own bishops?  More spoke nearly 500 years ago.  Archbishop Chaput asks us to remember John Fisher, More’s friend and another martyr, and the only bishop who refused to acquiesce to the will of King Henry VII,

…who shortly before his own arrest told his brother bishops: “. . . the fort has been betrayed even [by] them that should have defended it.”

Pray for our bishops.  Pray that more than one of them will continue to the end, to refuse the government’s demand that we violate our faith.

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