- - Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Our recent Sunday Scripture reading — the story of Jesus calming the turbulent waters — has always provided a message of confidence and consolation.

From the early Christians facing persecution in the Roman Empire, right up to ourselves in our own tumultuous time, this little scene from the Gospel of Mark offers assurance that He who has control even over the stormy sea can clear a way for the boat (His Church) to reach its destination.

A point not often considered, however, is that while Christ made their way safe, the disciples still had to row that boat. In other words, it’s up to His people to do the church’s work. And that’s something we need to focus on right now, as storm waves rise about us.

There’s no doubt we face challenges. The so-called “Equality Act” threatens to redefine the very concept of religious freedom. This misnamed legislation would force churches and religious organizations to act in ways contrary to their basic principles, even possibly putting pastors in legal jeopardy for preaching that some behaviors are morally wrong.

Likewise, elected officials who claim Catholic identity have become astoundingly bold in their opposition to church teaching. Among the more outrageous, Congressman Ted Lieu has called the Catholic bishops “partisan hypocrites.”

The California Democrat recently went online to declare his defiant sinfulness. In a tweet addressed to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops he said, “I’m a Catholic and I support: contraception, a woman’s right to choose, treatments for infertility, the right for people to get a divorce, the right of same sex marriage. Next time I go to Church, I dare you to deny me Communion.”

Dare? What could be more insolent?

A lot of people are under the false assumption that we can count on the courts to defend our First Amendment rights. For instance, much has been made of the recent 9-to-0 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Fulton v. Philadelphia. The justices decided that Catholic Social Services could not be deprived of certification as a qualified foster care agency because of its refusal to place children with same-sex couples.

This ruling has been hailed as a victory for religious freedom. But in truth — as Justice Samuel Alito has pointed out — it was a highly specific technical finding on the language of Philadelphia’s adoption law. It was not any kind of conclusive statement on constitutional principles. Consequently, with a slight change in legal verbiage, the Catholic Church could find itself back in court defending its agency again.

The ruling reflects a pattern we’ve seen in cases decided by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts. There’s a tendency to seek broad agreement among the Court’s members on findings of very narrow legal detail, rather than making larger, divided decisions on fundamental rights. This approach “kicks the can down the road,” evading substantive choices, and guaranteeing continued conflict.

Hopes have also been raised that the U.S. bishops are finally going to stand up against rogue Catholic politicians like Ted Lieu or, more prominently, Joe Biden. Word is that the bishop’s conference will draft a pastoral letter clarifying under what terms one can receive Eucharist. The implication is that political figures who champion immoral laws and government policies had better stay out of the Communion line until they mend their arrogant ways. 

Well, not to rain on anybody’s parade — but I wouldn’t call out the brass band just yet.

Many voices within the Catholic Church hierarchy, and especially in Rome, are cautioning against the church becoming overly political regarding the Sacraments. The favored expression just now is that we mustn’t “weaponize” the Eucharist.

Joe Biden himself has said he doesn’t expect that the bishops will take such a hard position, and he’s probably right. The document that emerges (expectedly, by November) will likely have a “pastoral” tone, recommending prayerful consideration of the particular circumstances of each individual public figure. In other words, no clarification at all. No push-back at defiant politicians. No change.

I don’t doubt that Christ will see us through the tempest and bring us to a safe harbor in the end. But like the disciples in that storm-tossed boat, we’ve got to do the rowing. It’s up to the mass of believers, the faith-filled laity, to do the church’s work.

We can’t count on our spiritual leaders. We can’t count on the courts. And, God knows, we can’t count on the current administration.

If our religious rights are to survive, we’ve got to blitz our senators and representatives with phone calls, emails, telegrams, even old fashioned letters and face-to-face visits. Go to their local offices in person. Attend those home-district public forums.

Let them know that there are clear-eyed Christian believers out there who understand the threat — and that there’ll be a high political price for them to pay if they don’t step up and defend the Constitution.

The boat’s rocking, and the water coming over the sides. Get on those oars and pull.

• A priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, Rev. Michael P. Orsi currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, Florida. He is host of “Action for Life TV,” a weekly cable television series devoted to pro-life issues, and his writings appear in numerous publications and online journals. His TV show episodes can be viewed online at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyFbaLqUwPi08aHtlIR9R0g

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