I do not do much crusading against the encroachment of our nation’s laws upon our religious freedom.
I recognize this is a serious issue, and that fighting it would constitute a noble endeavor, but I also must choose my battles wisely, and carefully decide how my time is spent. It would be a true tragedy to lose our civil rights to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and indeed there seems to be new occasions of this by the week, but a far greater tragedy — and not a hypothetical one, but an actual current epidemic — is the neglect, by Catholics, of the corresponding duty to perform them as we now have the right to.
Consider the following:
We are legally entitled to pray and sidewalk counsel outside any abortion clinic in the country, and yet most Planned Parenthoods and other such “clinics” remain unattended by prayer warriors for the majority of their hours of operation, despite the fact (proven by the testimony of former abortion clinic workers) that the mere presence of one person praying outside a clinic usually causes a substantial amount of the women who go in to quietly choose not to have the abortion.
Our Churches enjoy near-total freedom of operation; Mass can be held whenever, the doors can be opened whenever, and we can have any sort of event we please in them, and usually even outside them. Despite this, most Churches have: horribly chosen daily Mass times seemingly to ensure that only retirees can make them (e.g. 9am), doors locked almost all the time so that no one can get in to pray (footnote 1), no attempt to start up perpetual adoration, no effort whatsoever to reach out to the poor of the surrounding areas and invite them in for prayer, no Eucharistic processions throughout the city streets, and no door-to-door or city-center evangelization efforts — all of which should be expected norms for each Catholic parish, which must be both a monastery and a mission in the heart of a world now perishing for lack of what the Church has.
Catholics can worship and pray whenever and wherever they please, and we all know the heartbreaking statistics about how few nominal Catholics attend Mass each Sunday, but neglect to consider how very sad it is that so few actually practicing Catholics take advantage of our freedom and our modern conveniences to attend daily Mass, regular Confession, weekly Adoration hours, etc. Our freedoms and conveniences give us opportunities of grace that could turn us all into great saints, but instead most Catholics are far too laden with hobbies, business, laziness, or worldly ambition to bother applying that great virtue of magnanimity to the universal call to holiness.
We are permitted to bear any external sign of the Faith wherever we please, and yet most Catholics seem to have blending in as their modus operandi. Despite the enormous channel of grace for lost sheep that the sight of a crucifix, Divine Mercy Image, image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, pro-life message, or Scripture quote can be, most Catholics’ personal appearance, external appearance of cars, and external appearance of homes are indistinguishable from that of any secular person’s.
We enjoy a great freedom of association, and can have anyone we so please over to our homes, and can do whatever we please inside these doors. Despite this, it seems that most Catholics’ social gatherings remain limited to a small, “safe,” and perfectly trustworthy self-enclosed group of friends and family — as if we were a formally outlawed underground secret community — instead of reaching out to the needy and lonely as Our Lord demands (cf Matthew 5:46, Luke 14:12-14), and that even as the gatherings are, we seem to be too embarrassed about prayer to do anything more than say grace before meals together, with even faithful Catholic families wasting entire days just “hanging out.”
We do not suffer from child-limitation policies that hundreds of millions in our world today do, and yet so few married Catholic couples choose the path of fruitfulness. Whether by the intrinsic evil of contraception, or the intrinsic good of NFP — that, when abused and used at the subjective whim of personal preference instead of only being used to avoid conception for serious reasons (as the Magisterium has insisted upon on multiple occasions), becomes an evil — most Catholics choose to seek first the Kingdom of Mammon and only have as many kids as their financial planner deems “reasonable.”
Parents still have the right to educate their children however they see fit, and yet most Catholic parents send their children to schools that they must know will only indoctrinate them – unless their heads are so far buried in the sand as to pierce Earth’s crust – instead of diligently researching to see if there is a faithful local Catholic school, or homeschooling their children (despite the sacrifices this may entail).
We do not live under a regime of censorship, which has been the case for so many Christians throughout history and today. Despite this, most Catholics’ reading does not consist primarily of Scripture, Encyclicals, and writings of the saints (even if these aesthetically adorn their bookshelves), but of secular news, whatever work of fiction is found on the NY Times Bestseller list, whatever diet and nutrition fad research they feel will give them perfect health, whatever vain magazine is available in a waiting room, or worse than bad reading: sitting in front of a television.
Dear friends, I am no cynic. I recognize there are enormous forces for good active today, and growing (what first comes to mind is 40 Days for Life, the continued expansion of perpetual adoration, the boom of vocations in orthodox religious orders and the great work with the poor that many of the inner city ones are doing, etc.), but what I present to you here is a sort of an Examination of Conscience. Let us be sure that, before we dare complain about our rights being violated (and again, we indeed ought to fight for our rights), we are fulfilling the duties that correspond to the rights we now have – let us above all remember that this is what we will have to give an account of on Judgment Day, not whether or not we were born in a society friendly to our good deeds. It is up to us whether He says to us, on That Day, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” or “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” and know that the latter response is reserved for the lukewarm, the indifferent, the apathetic.
“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”
— Our Lord to the Church in Ephesus. Revelation 2.
1: I would like to draw special attention to this point. This was point #2 in my “Plea to Pastors” from two years ago. I have long spoken against the practice of locking Churches, and was usually rebuked for doing so; “Things could be stolen! Liabilities! Dangerous! You are insisting upon something very imprudent!” people would say. But now the very Vicar of Christ himself has spoken against locked Churches, calling all of those types of responses “excuses.” See also Evangelii Gaudium Paragraph 47. Dear Pastors: unlock your Churches. Seek first the Kingdom. God is not outdone in generosity.