Evening Prayer for Religious Liberty – ??

A reader writes:

Dear Fr. Ruff,

Thanks very much for all of the interesting posts on Pray Tell!  I check it often and enjoy it greatly.

As you know, we’ve entered the “Fortnight for Freedom” as promoted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  On Sunday my parish will celebrate “Evening Prayer for Religious Liberty” as part of this campaign.  I would love for someone on PTB to reflect on liturgy as political ideology (not that this is a new thing). The liturgical resources from the USSCB for this fortnight all seem like they have an axe to grind.  Is the liturgy the best way to do this?  Is it appropriate?  What are other avenues to promote the social and political goals of the US bishops besides the liturgy of the Church?


  1. In one of the dioceses that has filed the lawsuit and has been preaching the F4F. Interesting, tho, the only diocesan wide event is tomorrow nite at our parish (not the cathedral); and it will be led by our pastor (not the bishop or auxiliary bishops)…..our pastor who is not a big advocate of the F4F. After the 5:30 mass, they will do a prayer service ending with the *Litany of Liberty* (really!!) and then a guest speaker from the Thomas More Society and member of the Beckett Fund. How objective…

    Have serious doubts about this – as you state. What a waste of money and resources and what does it say when you join the lawsuit but don’t even have something at the cathedral; much less involved with episcopal presence – we have three bishops in a medium size diocese.

    1. It sounds like there are a lot of bishops out there who feel they have to be seen agreeing with Cardinals Dolan and Lori, but their hearts aren’t really in it! On the other hand, maybe that’s what you get when you promote loyalty over competence!

  2. As of late, I’ve had to sit through a fair amount of rhetoric in church (some of the persecution complex variety) comparing the current kerfuffle with HHS to the Cristero war; amplified with the release of the file “For Greater Glory” recently. There’s a big F4F banner hanging on the chain link fence outside the parish. Not sure of the amount of participation it’s drawing, or the ultimate effect of it all.

  3. I have had the good fortune to spend the bulk of week one of F4F on retreat at a monastery, far from the internet and pretty far from F4F mentions. I did hear of it in the Sunday prayer of the faithful and during the intercessions during Evening Prayer one night, but just mentions.

    Now I am back and trying to re-enter without losing too much of my peace,

    This Evening Prayer mentioned in this post is one of many reasons I am upset over the F4F, all of which seems pretty ridiculous to me.

    I downloaded the PDF for EP for F4F – wow. What psalms, chosen with such care. It is truly disturbing to my spirit. And I am someone with pretty significant issues around the HHS mandate, but this hardly seems the way to solve anything.

    What a mess.

  4. JP – the link to the USCCB and on their website the recommeded prayers, litanies, etc. is in the post.

    1. Bill, I already did that before I posted my question: I followed the link in the post; I found a PDF with a litany.

      What I did not find was anything that says “Evening Prayer”. I just want to know if I’m looking at the prayer which people are talking about.

  5. Most of the implementation at the parish level seems to be coming from pro-life groups. In the last presidential election they were disappointed at the level of explicit partisan support they got from the bishops and priests. I was on parish council and heard about it. They probably feel that at last they are getting the partisan support they want, that “religious liberty” is just a rebranding of their campaign.

    Of course there is the IRS problem.

    Last election cycle parish bulletins published warnings about partisan politics, e.g. leafleting cars in the parking lot. That still happened. I was at a dinner held in a parish hall after a leafleted Saturday evening Mass; the Democrats were extremely angry. They were so angry in another diocese that they intercepted and stopped the leafleting by threatening to call the police. If the pastor had rescued the pro-life people the parishes IRS standing would have been in jeopardy. Will the culture wars in the parish parking lot move inside this year???

    We should not underestimate the damage that the combination of Republic party politics with religion is doing to Christianity in America. Before the rise of the Religious Right in the 80s, the percentage of Nones (i.e. no religion) in polls had remained at about 5% for decades. Now it is above 15% for the general population and above 20% for young people.

    If you want to make a nation secular, just combine religion with politics. That is essentially what happened in Europe. Catholicism was against democracy until after WWII. The reforms of Vatican II were not able to make much of a dent in the secular trends in Europe. Those secular trends never took place in the USA until now.

    The emerging Democratic coalition consists of Minorities (on their way to being the Majority), women, the young, and the Nones. It seems to me that the Religious Right benefits neither Republicans nor Christianity. It is bringing about a more secular Democratic country.

  6. And what happens if we move the culture wars inside the Church?

    What happens if priests give political sermons, coming ever so close to the IRS line? Will we have people interrupting and challenging the sermon? Walking out in the middle of the homily? Tearing up their collection envelope in half and removing the check before putting it in the basket? Tells the priest exactly how much his words cost. One can think of many creative ways of protesting! Could electronic devices be used to create “mob” actions during homilies?

    And if secular politics moves into the church, can church politics be far behind? Will people begin to demonstrate for women preaching by excusing themselves during the homily? or wearing earphones during the homily? Again there are a lot of creative ways to bring church politics into the assembly.

    1. And what happens if we move the culture wars inside the Church?

      I think that active Catholics are split 50/50 between Republicans and Democrats. (I could be in error)

      If so, partisan sermons backing either party are going to enrage about half the congregation. It might not be that bad; it’s possible that Parish A is mostly of one party and Parish B mostly of the other. Still, partisan sermons would seem to be a fast track to a smaller, purer Church!

  7. I tried to justify my support of the F4F, believing that praying for religious liberty must be a good thing. But in reading the prayer given us by the bishops I realize I cannot recite it nor promote it. Praying for “this great land” of ours is both nationalistic and exclusive, and “liberty and justice for all” is ludicrous coming from the pens of those who refuse justice to others… Do gay couples feel justice from the church when they try to adopt a child… how many women feel justice from the church in terms of ministry and empowerment?
    When I read Richard Rohr’s blog on the subject I offered a great prayer of thanksgiving for the catholic church. And I pray that others of his prophetic goodness will rise up and lead us in Truth.
    Greg Corrigan
    associate pastor, Parish of the Resurrection Wilmington, Delaware

    Fortnight For Freedom
    Posted on June 23, 2012 by Richard Rohr, OFM
    The Catholic Bishops of America have initiated a two week campaign to fight for religious freedom in America. It is called a “Fortnight for Freedom”. It strikes a large part of the population as crying wolf when there is no wolf. Probably no population in human history has had more religious freedom and more religious support than the present population of the USA. (I myself, as a Franciscan vowed to common purse, pay no taxes. Nor do our local parishes or institutions.) It feels like entitled people wanting more entitlement.
 How different from the early Christian martyrs, whom we piously venerate, who became holy and courageous through the limitations imposed on them by empires and emperors. Too bad Sts. Perpetua and Felicity could not sponsor a fortnight for freedom from their prison cells. Now we suffer no limitations or constraints, refuse to dialogue fairly or up front, and just complain that “our freedoms are being taken away”.
    The final irony is this was initiated by an issue that 98% of Catholic women do not even believe in contraception. It…

  8. It’s tough to hold on to the faith in days like these. I’ve tried to walk away from a very strident, moralistic, rubrically rigid Catholicism only to find that I am only a few steps ahead of the shadow my former “faith” casts.

    Religious self-righteousness based in hatred and political strife is always planted in shallow soil. No democratic government, no constitution, no party, and no high court ruling can convert the fallen nature of a human political state into an environment without obstacles for “religious freedom”. In a fallen world there is no snapshot of time when human-written laws align both in favor of the institutional Church and Catholic belief. All the “Catholic” confessional states of history ultimately resorted to violence and the violation of human dignity in order to create a false liberty for the institutional Church.

    What is the worth of a “consistent life ethic” if the baptized consistently cut each other down to “earn” what cannot be earned, justification? I see no need to cooperate with grace and participate in the sacraments if other Catholics are indeed correct that their self-righteousness saves them.

  9. “O God our Creator,

    from your provident hand we have received our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

    Do they not know the Pelagian and Deist background to this? Rousseau, whose 300th birthday we celebrated lately, blasted the churchmen of his day for the doctrine of Original Sin, again which the phrases “liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are directed.

  10. It seems to me the only way to true peace is to think and act on what is best for the Church…not what particularly fits within one’s political ideology. Whether democrat or republican, with every situation, we should ask ourselves what the consequences will be for our faith life and the role of the Church in society.

    Homilies should never be politically motivated, but they should always speak of truth and adhere to the doctrines and moral tenets of the faith. Sometimes there’s a thin line between preaching morals and politics, but it’s also very hard sometimes to completely isolate the two.

    Anytime we are offered the opportunity to pray for the Church, we should do so joyfully.

    1. “Anytime we are offered the opportunity to pray for the Church, we should do so joyfully.”

      This principle leaves adult conscience on the shelf.

      Would you have said the same when the Church urged prayers for the success of the Crusades and for the Holy Inquisition?

      1. Because we all know that the call for religious freedom in America is exactly the same as the Crusades and the Inquisition. The mind of the Church you refer to is not the same mind of the Church today. But I’ve noticed among folks with your mindset that anytime we are called to spiritually support our Church, the two things that are always brought up are the crusades and the sex abuse scandal. The unfortunate part is, those are usually brought up by Anti-Catholics more than anyone.

  11. The whole issue (HHS Mandate) has made at least one thing clear….neither the Republican Party nor the Democrat Party are entirely comfortable with the all of the positions of the Catholic Church, and vice-versa. While there is certainly some “political ideology” in the opposition to the HHS, I would be hesitant to go as far as to say this is a “Republican Thing”, any more than I would say that the church’s support of the global tax, climate change and a general “socialism” is a “Democrat Thing”.

    Our Bishop (Frank Dewane) has been very supportive of the F4F and has been present at all of the events, including the quite large rally in Naples last weekend. However, I can’t help but feel that the attitude towards the church’s activism would be more enthusiastic if it were, let’s say, activism in support of the pro-global warming position or in favor of increasing taxes on the wealthy. If that were the case, there would be massive coverage in the press of rallies and vigils and no end to praise for the Catholic Church.

    1. It is a campaign based on PR policy — attack as the best method of defense — drowning out the noise about sex abuse.

      1. I would turn it around and say that the Church is simply defending themselves against a change in federal policy…a policy they see as attacking Catholic institutions and individuals who don’t adhere to what the government now mandates.

  12. So we wait in silent treason until reason is restored
    and we wait for the season of the Word of the Lord.
    We await the season of the Word of the Lord.
    We wait…we wait for the Word of the Lord…

    —Stephen Schwartz and Leonard Bernstein

  13. I guess I’d like to register what I hope amounts to a mild dissent to the prevailing opinion here. Religious liberty is a human right, and human rights should transcend partisan divisions. Both conservative believers and progressive believers are able to gather in worship, and to take our faith out into a world that desperately needs transforming, because of religious liberty. It should be possible to give public prayers of thanks for the blessing of religious liberty, and to pray for our leaders that they continue to foster religious liberty, in a way that doesn’t inflame ideological divisions. If our public prayers during the Fortnight sound too much like Republican talking points, that certainly means that we failed in our writing or our delivery. I don’t see that it means, ipso facto, that any mention of religious liberty is a descent into ideology.

    A number of the arguments given here strike me as partisan political arguments for ignoring the bishops. In other words, they are themselves exercises in political ideology. It has been argued that the liturgy itself seems to reinforce our communion with the Holy Father and the bishop – an arrangement that I suppose could be described as an ideology of rule, hierarchy, order and obedience. What about the scriptural texts that sought to reinforce the Davidic monarchy – are they too ideological to be included in our lectionary and our psalmody? What about the political factions that engineered Jesus’ death? or the Baptist’s death? Or Paul’s death? Or the Roman martyrs’ deaths? This ideology business seems difficult to avoid in our worship, and it may even have brought about some good, albeit not always intentionally. Should it be avoided? Can it be avoided?

    1. You fail to mention the concrete upshot of this campaign about “religious liberty” which is: blocking access to contraceptives for women; blocking stable relationships between samesex couples.

      1. Do our religious liberties prevent women from obtaining contraceptives? Do our religious liberties prevent same-sex couples stable relationships? Why must our Church accept these things in order for them to occur? Same-sex couples will have stable relationships whether the Catholic Church approves of it or not. Women will obtain and use contraceptives whether the Catholic Church approves of it or not. Why is our society so obsessed with making sure every institution (religious and otherwise) condones such behaviors, even if they contradict the moral teachings of said church? It’s a large country out there….there should always be room for disagreement without the government forcing people and institutions to adhere to the same set of principles that they espouse.

  14. A most blessed feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, everyone. I’m just returning to my computer after praying Morning Prayer this morning. Most of the elements for MP today are taken from the Common of Apostles, the order of service for which could be seen, I suppose, to be as deliberate an attempt to reinforce a particular social arrangement as any royally-sponsored ritual in Old Testament times. Paradoxically, istm that, for the prevailing US culture, the Common of Apostles’ reinforcement of submission to hierarchical authority comes across as quite counter-cultural – there is something almost subversive about it.

    1. So the bishops are supposed to submit to the government per the hierarchical order? Or we are supposed to not submit to the government and instead adhere to bishops? Not sure which hierarchy you are pointing to.

      1. I’m responding to the original post, which invited reflection on ideology in liturgy.

  15. I attended a prayer service for religious freedom in my parish and a discussion which followed. The homily at the prayer service was nicely done, perhaps unintentionally revealing the conflict in the bishops’ position between the rights of conscience and the primacy of truth. The discussion afterward turned into something more like a Tea Party rally. What struck me most was the passion (I think Archbishop Chaput recently characterized it as “venom”) of extreme conservatives. Clearly, the folks in this group believe in a radical form of personal liberty which ignores the common good and vilifies government, taxes, and mandates of any kind, and they feel blessed by the bishops. Wittingly or not, I’m afraid the bishops have launched a crusade, which is always a dangerous and destructive thing. I think this is what happens when you disconnect liturgy from the messiness of everyday life where reality is never black and white, right and wrong, but in a process of transformation and, yes, transubstatiation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *