“We should be planting trees … the tree of life”

(Original version posted June 23, 2013.)

Bishop Joseph Libasci sees a storm coming as religious liberty is challenged in today’s America. In his June 22 homily in Manchester, New Hampshire at a Mass dedicated to the Fortnight for Freedom, he declared “the winds have begun to blow, and they are coming with gale force….Fighting for freedom includes standing for the freedom to stand before God in clear conscience.”

  • The Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. “The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services forces religious institutions to facilitate and/or fund a product contrary to our own moral teaching. Further, the federal government tries to define which religious institutions are religious enough.”
  • Threats to Catholic foster care and adoption services. “Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, the State of Illinois, have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services by revoking their licenses, ending their government contracts, or both, because those charities refuse to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit. [This] cut[s] down the tree of civility, and indeed cut[s] down the tree that is the healthy, good, life-giving, charitable alternative to abortion.”
  • Threats to State immigration laws. “Several states have recently passed laws that prohibit what they deem as harboring of undocumented immigrants and what the Church deems Christian charity and pastoral care for these immigrants. And I know it’s a hot topic. …The fact of the matter is when the winds blow strong enough that we become refugees, and don’t think it can’t happen, …could we find ourselves in great need? ‘Blessed are the merciful; they shall obtain mercy.’”
  • Barring use of public facilities by people of faith. “New York City adopted a policy that bars the Bronx Household of Faith, a small community, and other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services, even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for many other uses. This is still in the courts, still eating up the little money they have.” [2014 update to this case here.]
  • Threats to programs aiding victims of human trafficking. “After years of excellent performance by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services, administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require migration and refugee services to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services, in violation of Catholic teaching.”

Bishop Libasci repeatedly used a metaphor from the 1966 film A Man for All Seasonsabout St. Thomas More, onetime Chancellor of England, martyred for his faith. In the film, More addressed a young protegé who expressed impatience with the law. As recalled in the Bishop’s homily, More counseled caution. “If you cut down all the laws, it’s like the trees in a forest. You begin to cut them down until you cut them all down, and when the winds begin to blow, where will you run then for shelter?”

Back to the Bishop’s own words: “We should not be allowing others to cut down the trees, and God forbid we help cut them down. Instead, we should be planting trees. The tree of life. The tree of salvation. The tree from which hung the Savior of the world.”

“We can and we do lobby for just laws, and for the overturning of those laws, the repeal of those laws, that are unjust. But whenever it is unsuccessful, we are called to make those laws obsolete. … We’re probably not allowed to do something about tying up our horses outside on Lowell Street. There must be some law somewhere. But it’s useless. Such must be the unjust law. That we have grown beyond such things… because we live in such a time where adherence to God’s law has turned us away from discrimination, murder, inordinate living, disordered belief, and the shame of a people who no longer value the true dignity of human life. Let us grow beyond, so that where Jesus said I have come to set one against the other, in that balance of justice, the justice and the mercy of God will cause the others to float off into space.”

I looked around the Cathedral as the Bishop spoke. I saw no cameras or press. Perhaps a hundred people were there.   In a secular environment, I’d have said that the man needs an agent. This was a church, though; a community of faith was present. Everyone there is the “agent,” so to speak, charged with getting out the message. In how many other  churches will the same message be delivered in the coming days? From there, who knows where it could go? Small beginnings, perhaps, but with great potential and great hope.