Fortnight for Freedom 2013

Maybe it's because I've traveled so much the past six weeks, but it doesn't seem to me I've heard much about this year's Fortnight for Freedom which kicks off tomorrow at Baltimore's Basilica of the Assumption at 7 pm tomorrow (409 Cathedral St. Baltimore).

It's a two-week period between the feast of the English martyrs for religious liberty and Independence Day to be marked by prayer, fasting, education and action in defense of our first freedom. The USCCB has an excellent (not pretty, but meaty) resources page. It includes fact sheets about the status of religious liberty here and abroad, links to great articles and columns, plus 14 ways to observe the Fortnight in your parish, graphics and downloads for your blog and social media needs, prayers and prayers of the faithful to use, links to events planned all over the nation, a daily quotation from the Founders....everything in a neat package, so go scroll around and start spreading the word and figuring out how you will help.

One thing I hope you will not do is assume the bishops have this covered. Ready for my periodic rant against clericalism and how passive and imprudent American Catholics are? Hah! Don't need it, because here's Chaput the Great saying it for me in an interview at the National Catholic Register. It's a really terrific interview -- I urge you to RTWT-- but here's the point.
Q. What responsibility do laypeople have to take action on behalf of the Church’s religious liberty? Why can’t this responsibility rest solely on the bishops’ shoulders?
The secular world is the place where laypeople exercise their leadership most naturally. It’s the environment of their everyday lives and their primary mission field. Bishops can counsel and teach, but their role in practical political affairs like the fight for religious liberty can only be indirect and secondary.
If laypeople don’t love their Catholic faith enough to struggle for it in the public square, nothing the bishops do will finally matter.
This is straight out of the the Vatican II document on the Apostolate of the Laity, by the way. Lay people aren't called to the sanctuary. They're called to be nourished in the sanctuary and then go out to redeem the secular order through their prayer, their witness of personal holiness, and their active engagement with other people of good will in the political process. The redemption of the secular world is explicitly entrusted to you and me -- not to the clergy.

Mission ought to be sufficient, but there are practical reasons why this fight has to be the laity's. There's the ugly one:
In the wake of the abuse scandal, bishops are too easily caricatured and marginalized by the mass media. The religious-freedom fight needs to be owned and led by laypeople.
And there's the clear-eyed realism one: 
Religious liberty as an ideal sounds lovely. But in the abstract, it has very little power. It has political force only to the degree that ordinary people believe and practice their faith — and refuse to tolerate anyone or anything interfering with their faith. The current White House has a clear track record of ignoring the traditional American understanding of religious freedom and interfering with the activity of religiously inspired organizations.
If lay Catholics accept that sort of government behavior without inflicting a political cost on the officials responsible for it, then they have no one to blame but themselves when they find that their liberties have gone thin.
And, by the way, you don't need your anyone's permission to just be who you are and gather with other like-minded people.
Should the laity wait for the bishops to green-light their ideas, or should they just go ahead and get involved? How do we work together?
Laypeople have the freedom and the obligation to actively witness their faith, alone and together with other believers. Obviously, zeal should be accompanied by common sense. That means keeping your local bishop informed and seeking his blessing for any major apostolate.
But the missionary vocation belongs to all of us — clergy, religious and lay — and we should commit ourselves to pursuing it as our circumstances in life permit.
In case you are not convinced that religious liberty needs defending, behold a short list of grievances. 
And these are just domestic threats. Around the world, it's the age of martyrs. More Christians (and with them Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, animists and others) are killed for their faith than at any time in all of human history and Christians are the most persecuted. This is why Pope Francis has been calling attention to religious liberty with every world leader he speaks with (here are two examples):
In the world today freedom of religion is often talked about rather than put into practice. Indeed, it is forcibly subjected to threats of various kinds and not seldom violated. The serious affronts inflicted on this primary right are a source of grave concern and must see the unanimous reaction of the world’s countries in reaffirming the intangible dignity of the human person, against every attack. One and all are duty bound to defend religious freedom and to promote it for everyone. The shared protection of this moral good is also a guarantee of the entire community’s growth and development.
 and why at Pentecost he asked Christians to keep their persecuted brothers and sisters in daily prayer.