In AD 64 the Roman Emperor Nero called for a serious persecution of the Christians in Rome. Many were martyred in blood giving witness to their faith in Jesus Christ. The Church should always remain free to act and speak in the public square. We celebrated the memorial of the Roman Proto-martyrs on June 30th, following the June 29th Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul who also died a bloody martyrdom in Rome. These brave members of the Church gave their lives to bear witness to Jesus, to the fact that they believed He is God and that he deserves their absolute fidelity. We can also see in their witness an act of witness to the liberty that the Church insists she have in all times and all places.
Throughout her history, the Church has faced governments that were bent on taking this right away or maintaining its lack. Why? Because the Church speaks the truth and when coupled with a live of charity speaks very persuasively. When she challenges the state she risks angering the state and in extreme cases this has resulted in persecutions that follow the model of Rome in AD 64. The Church has suffered at the hands of many like Nero through the years. However, not all persecution comes in the form of a bloody execution. Often it comes in the form of ridicule, restrictive laws or coercion. The challenge we face today in the HHS contraceptive mandate (which includes abortion causing drugs and sterilization) is not unlike a host of other issues placed before us. Will we give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God? Or will be fudge a little here, compromise a little there and end up giving away our most sacred right, that of freedom of conscience? Will doctors and nurses be forced to perform acts they consider morally reprehensible? Will they be allowed to hold this belief and act on it? Will people of faith be forced to pay (and therefore cooperate) for things they find morally reprehensible? Will hospitals have to offer services that are evil for the sake of just getting along? Will Catholic Charities throughout the country be forced to perform adoptions that they cannot in good conscience do, just to stay open? Many Catholic adoption agencies have been shut down for exactly this reality. Many medical professionals have already been coerced into violating their conscience “just to get along” or keep their job. Where will this stop? It only stops when someone stands up and says, “No, I won’t do that, go ahead and fire me.” It stops when Catholic hospitals and charities say, “No, we won’t do that even if you shut down our agency or take away funding or close our doors.”
Let us pray that the many Catholics who find themselves in situations that will test their resolve will choose the path of most resistance rather than the path of least resistance. It is hard to paddle against the current. May the Lord strengthen our resolve and may each one of us have the courage to risk it all for the sake of fidelity to Jesus Christ.