(SNR) - Last November, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved a nationwide Call to Prayer that is intended to encourage Catholics across the nation to pray and practice penance for the issues of life, marriage and religious liberty.
According to the USCCB website, the bishops had two goals in mind as they issued this call.
First, they want to increase awareness of the challenges that Catholic citizens face from governmental and cultural threats to religious freedom.
Second, they wish to "build spiritual stamina and fortitude among the faithful," so that each Catholic can become an effective and joyful witness of "faith, hope, and charity and agents of the New Evangelization."
The bishops’ five-part strategy includes Eucharistic holy hours, daily rosaries prayed by families or individuals, special intentions at every Mass, Friday fasting and/or abstinence from meat, and the celebration of another Fortnight for Freedom.
"The pastoral strategy is essentially a call and encouragement to prayer and sacrifice — it’s meant to be simple," explained Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco and chairman of the bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.
As Archbishop Cordileone explained in a USCCB press release, "Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty are not only foundational to Catholic social teaching but also fundamental to the good of society," he said.
Serious threats to each of these fundamental goods have challenged both the nation and the Church.
One example is the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring almost all employers, including Catholic employers, to pay for employees’ contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs, regardless of conscientious objections.
As the USCCB noted, "This is a clear affront to America’s first freedom, religious liberty, as well as to the inherent dignity of every human person."
A second threat is the current trend toward redefining marriage as the union of any two persons, which has rapidly gained support both in the government and in the U.S. culture at large.
This philosophy belies marriage’s fundamental meaning and purpose as the institution that has — in all cultures, all eras, all religions — united one man and one woman in a union from which children are conceived and born.
"With the challenges this country is facing, it is hoped that this call to prayer and penance will help build awareness among the faithful as well as spiritual stamina and courage for effective witness. We also hope that it will encourage solidarity with all people who are standing for the precious gifts of life, marriage, and religious liberty," Archbishop Cordileone said.
Catholics throughout the Diocese of Lincoln are encouraged to observe all five elements of this nationwide call to prayer, either individually, within their families, or within their parishes, working with their pastors as needed to increase awareness and participation.
Eucharistic Holy Hours
Beginning last Sunday, the Feast of the Holy Family, and continuing on or near the last Sunday of every month until Christ the King Sunday on November 24, 2013, parishes are urged to hold a special Eucharistic holy hour on behalf of the protection of life, marriage and religious freedom. A template is available from the USSCB website.
Families and individuals are encouraged to pray a daily rosary for these issues.
Prayers of the Faithful
At Sunday and daily Masses, specific intentions should be added to the Prayers of the Faithful regarding respect for all human life from conception to natural death, the strengthening of marriage and family life, and the preservation of religious liberty at all levels of government, both at home and abroad.
Abstinence and Fasting
All Catholics age 14 and older whose health allows are encouraged to abstain from meat on Fridays, and all those between the ages of 18 and 60 whose health and daily work allows are encouraged to fast. The Church defines fasting as one meal a day, and two optional smaller meals, which, if added together, would not exceed the main meal in quantity.
Fortnight for Freedom
From the end of June to the beginning of July 2013, a second Fortnight for Freedom will emphasize faith and marriage during the same time the United States Supreme Court is expected to issue rulings affecting the intentions of this call to prayer. The Fortnight would also focus on praying for conscience protection as U.S. Catholics near the August 1, 2013 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS mandate. Additional intentions will include immigration, adoption, humanitarian services and other issues of religious freedom.
For more information, the USCCB has prepared resources that can be downloaded at www.usccb.org/life-marriage-liberty.