Posted April 03, 2013 in MH Washington DC:
Words from Washington

by Cynthia Donnelly.

As most of you know, the Catholic Church is facing a serious challenge in the United States right now, but before I talk about that I will tell you a little bit about our house.

Our mandate, given to us by Cardinal James Hickey, who was the archbishop of Washington at that time, was to pray for the president of the United States, for those who work in the government, and for the archbishop of Washington; and to respond to the spiritual needs of people in the area.

This mandate has been both a joy and a burden for everyone who has served in MH Washington. It is not always easy to pray for a president or for a government. How can I pray for someone that I disagree with? How can I pray for someone whom I believe is wrong?

And how can I respond to the spiritual needs of someone I disagree with? How can I respond to the spiritual needs of someone whom I adamantly disagree with? Only with the help of God.

How do we live this mandate, day to day? By living our Madonna House life. Our day begins at 8:00 or 8:30 with Mass, morning prayer, and breakfast. After that we do the laundry or work in the office or the gardens.

And we offer hospitality to people who phone or who come to our house to talk or to pray—people who are struggling and need a listening heart. And we not only listen to them. All the while we are cooking and cleaning and doing the other ordinary work of our house, we hold all these people and those working in the government in our hearts and prayers.

Now, I would like to speak about what happened in January 2012 in the United States. The Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate, approved by President Obama, demanding that employers (including religious institutions) pay for contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in the health insurance of their employees.

This mandate is a grave violation of our religious freedom.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York explained it well when he said, "A line has been drawn in the sand by the Obama Administration, and we are being challenged to enter into a battle that we haven’t chosen."

How are we going to face this challenge when it is implemented in the coming months?

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia was the keynote speaker at the Cardinal O’Connor Conference at Georgetown University on January 20, 2012, just one day after this mandate had been issued. His speech was a stirring call to be witnesses to Christ in the public forum.

One thing he said that struck me deeply, was this: "We Catholics in the United States have always tried to fit in, and so we have conceded too much we shouldn’t have in that attempt. We are now in a position where we can no longer do this."

He also reminded us that Jesus commissioned us to be his witnesses to the world.

Yes, Archbishop Chaput challenged us saying, "we have not been faithful witnesses to Christ, and we need to change our ways."

I have thought about this a great deal over the past months. What does it mean to be a witness? How shall I be a faithful witness to the Lord?

I saw a movie recently, For Greater Glory, which is about the Catholic uprising in Mexico during the 1920’s. As I watched the movie, I was deeply moved by one of the characters, Blessed Jose Sanchez Del Rio, a fifteen year old boy.

In the 1920s, the Mexican government suppressed all practice of the Catholic faith. Priests were forbidden to say Mass, to administer any of the sacraments, or to wear clerics. Catholics were even forbidden to wear crosses or any other religious symbols.

The Catholics fought this, at first peacefully and then with an armed uprising, and the movie tells this story, a powerful story of people standing up and saying no to an oppressive government. Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio is one of these courageous persons.

In the movie, the first time we see Jose, he is a little boy throwing rotten fruit at a priest. This priest, Fr. Christopher, befriends him, and Jose begins to change. Then one day, as Jose watches hidden in the background, Fr. Christopher is killed by government soldiers. Inspired by this martyrdom, Jose joins the Cristeros, the Catholic rebel forces.

In one of the battles, Jose is captured and then tortured both mentally and physically. Finally, after these unsuccessful efforts to break him, he is brought to his place of execution, that is, to his open grave.

There he is told to deny Christ and say that what the government is doing is right. His mother and father, who are standing by, say to him "Jose, just say the words. They don’t mean anything; they are just words."

Jose responds, "I love you." "Viva, Cristo Rey" ("Long live Christ the King.")

Then he is shot and falls dead into his grave.

I am praying to Blessed Jose to help me be a witness to Christ. I don’t know about you, but when somebody disagrees with me, I want to reach across the table, grab them by the neck, shake them and say "You idiot, how can you be so stupid!"

So how can I be a witness of the Lord Jesus? How can I do that? How can I love my enemies? How can I be willing to lay down my life for somebody I passionately disagree with? How can I do that? I don’t know.

And, what I am even more worried about is, will I be faithful to Christ when the moment comes? What will I say when I am challenged? Will I concede or try to fit in? Will I be nice and not make waves?

A recent letter from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says, "The age of martyrdom is not over."

There are many ways to be a martyr, not all of them bloody. I might be called upon to speak the truth even though the truth is not popular. And, if I can speak it, will I be able to do so in love and not in aggression. Will I be able to keep from screaming someone into submission?

And how can I respond in love to someone who might harm me?

One bishop said to me recently, "This may be the best thing that could happen to the Church in the United States. God is giving us an opportunity to stand up for him. What is going to change hearts? What will bring us back to Christ? The Lord can use whatever is happening. Don’t be afraid."

Jesus said, "I will send the Holy Spirit and when he comes upon you, you will be my witnesses." (Acts 1:8)

I believe that God will be faithful to his promise. Will I be faithful? Please pray for me, that I will be a faithful and loving witness to the Lord Jesus.

—Adapted from a talk given in Combermere, May 2012, describing the life of MH Washington to the guests.


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