These are not ordinary times. Recently, I read some challenging words from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the head of the U.S Catholic Conference of Bishops. He was speaking about the bill being debated in the U.S. which could force Church institutions to pay for birth control for their employees.
He says, "Brothers, we know so very well that religious freedom is our heritage, our legacy and our firm belief, both as loyal Catholics and Americans. There have been many threats to religious freedom over the decades and years, but these often came from without.
"This one sadly comes from within. As our ancestors did with previous threats, we will tirelessly defend the timeless and enduring truth of religious freedom."
This new law is indeed a grave and serious matter. The Church is seemingly being pushed into a head-on confrontation, an epic battle of morality and conscience.
Cardinal Dolan goes on to say that Catholics should "prepare for tough times."
Religious freedoms are under attack in the United States and throughout the world. The Church and Christianity in general are being threatened by those who would force us to submit to a radically secularized agenda. It is encouraging to see that many of our leaders are beginning to stand up and lead the way. This is encouraging to see.
So how should we respond when we hear words like, "prepare for tough times"?
These are hard words that call us all to see the reality of what is unfolding all around us. They call us to the Way of the Cross. In this week's Palm Sunday Gospel we read about Jesus coming into Jerusalem. The people lay out their palm branches and shout, "Hosanna to the King!"
They do not comprehend that Jesus will soon suffer and die on the cross.
Many who are ready to acclaim him as an earthly king will soon disdain him when the tide of popular opinion turns.
'Look, your king is coming sitting on a donkey's colt.'
Jesus is the truth and this week we remember how the truth was rejected, tortured and hung on a cross to die. Is it really any different today?
This call to suffer for truth is central to our lives as Christians today. Pope Benedict recently said, "We must be willing to pay personally, to suffer in the first person misunderstanding, rejection, persecution. . . . It is not the sword of the conqueror that builds peace, . . . but the sword of the sufferer, of he who knows how to give his very life."
Suffering can only be understood in the profound light of the cross. It is by meditating daily on the passion and death of Jesus that we can truly become instruments of his saving mercy.
We are called to walk as he walked. We are called to love our enemies. Pray for those who persecute us. Stand for the truth even if it leads us to death.
The cross is the tree of life. It leads us to the glory of the kingdom of God. Are we willing to use all our suffering by uniting it with the passion of Jesus - for the salvation of all?
Everything we suffer can find meaning when we "offer it up." Now is the time for all the Church to awaken and meet her destiny. We don't know how the future will unfold.
But one thing is certain. All of us must take up our cross. All of us must learn to allow the heart of Jesus to live in us.
When we fall we can meet the Lord in the sacrament of Reconciliation and begin again and again. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. Jesus travels every step with us.
We should not be surprised when the truth is rejected. We live in a world that promotes abortion, sells vice as virtue, and rejects the fundamental principles of liberty and justice for all.
So we prepare. We meditate, pray, and internalize the cross while looking forward to the ultimate victory of life over death. We become on earth today the instruments of divine mercy and love.
The great epic of humanity continues to unfold day by day. Great battles give us great heroes and saints. All of us must face whatever battle God allows to come into our lives.
The question is, "What will be the story of my life?" Will you and I allow the passion of Jesus to speak to us and through us? Will we allow Jesus to prepare us spiritually, mentally, and even physically for tough times?
Each day our story unfolds. Each day we make the choices which become our destiny. Let us unite in prayer for our Church and secular leaders. Let us all walk with Jesus on the divine road of the cross. Then one day, with Him, we will rise and all our battles will become our legacy. These are indeed exciting times.
Lord Jesus, give our leaders and us the courage to stand for truth. No matter the cost. Have mercy on us and on the whole world.