As you may know, the Bishops of the United States have launched a Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty. We invite Catholics during this Year of Faith to pray for rebuilding a culture of life, the strengthening and defense of marriage, and the protection of our religious liberty.
We have issued this call since these three great goods are threatened in our day. For decades, we have seen the erosion of respect for human life. This past week, hundreds of people from our diocese joined me in Washington, D.C., for the March for Life. After 40 years of legalized abortion in our nation, we continue to stand up for the right to life of the unborn and for the protection of all human life from conception to natural death. In the Call to Prayer, we encourage prayer for this specific intention.
The Call to Prayer includes prayer for the protection of marriage. Current trends in both government and culture promote the redefinition of marriage as the union of any two persons. This ignores marriage’s fundamental meaning and purpose as the universal and natural institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and with the children born from their union.
The Call to Prayer also includes prayer for religious liberty. Religious liberty is America’s first freedom. This freedom is threatened in various contexts today, most notably by the HHS Mandate that requires almost all employers to pay for employees’ contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs, regardless of conscientious objections.
The Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty also includes a call to penance and sacrifice for these three goods.
The Call to Prayer specially
recommends five practices:
Eucharistic Holy Hours.
Prayers of the Faithful at Masses.
Abstinence from meat and fasting on Fridays.
Observance of a second Fortnight for Freedom in late June and early July 2013.
I encourage the five components of this Call to Prayer in the parishes and other institutions of our diocese. Of course, individuals and families are also encouraged to participate in the practices recommended by the Bishops for these important intentions.
I would like to elaborate on the 4th recommendation: abstinence from meat and fasting on Fridays for the intentions of life, marriage, and religious liberty. Since the law dispensing from the canonical obligation of abstinence from meat on Friday back in 1966, it seems that we have lost the observance of Friday as a day of penance in memory of the passion and death of Our Lord. I encourage a renewal in our diocese of the observance of Friday as a day of Penance, not only during Lent, but throughout the year. One way to do so is to abstain from eating meat on every Friday of the year, unless it is a liturgical Solemnity (a major feast of the Church). I encourage this act of penance for the intentions of life, marriage, and religious liberty.
Of course, people may choose other practices of self-denial and sacrifice as ways to observe Fridays as penitential days. Yet, I think it is especially appropriate to have a common act of penance, in this case, abstinence from meat. Also, as Pope Paul VI said back in 1966: “fast and abstinence have a privileged place” among the forms of penance. Abstinence from meat is obligatory on all the Fridays of Lent, yet I hope that we will voluntarily abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year for the intentions of life, marriage, and religious liberty.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice” (#1438). Our penance during Lent and on Fridays throughout the year should be both internal and external, individual and social. Not excluding other means of penance, I am particularly recommending the practice of Friday abstinence from meat for the intentions of life, marriage, and religious liberty.
The Lenten season will begin soon, on February 13th, Ash Wednesday. This penitential season is an opportunity every year to unite ourselves to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. This season prepares us for the celebration of Easter through more frequent prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I hope that our observance of Lent during this Year of Faith will be especially fruitful.
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has called the Year of Faith “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world.” In our journey of faith, we all need purification and continual conversion. The practice of penance reminds us of this need and helps to configure us to Christ whose death expiated our sins.
Let us approach the season of Lent with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of His grace. May the Holy Spirit give us the grace for repentance and conversion!
May the Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty bear good fruit in our nation!
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