Religious liberty crisis a chance to grow in faith, says mother superior

By Michelle Bauman

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Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life.

The superior general of the Sisters of Life said that Christians should see modern threats to their faith as a summons to grow in love and solidarity.

“In spite of the pain and confusion and difficulties, this moment – which is our moment – contains within it tremendous spiritual potential,” said Mother Agnes Mary Donovan at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on April 19.

Mother Donovan explained that the growing intolerance and persecution of Christians across the world “can be a time for unprecedented growth and new life, if we respond with grace.”

While Christians overseas are violently oppressed for practicing their faith, a more subtle persecution has been growing “close to home,” she said.

Religious freedom within the U.S. has recently become a heated subject, sparked by a federal mandate that will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their conscience.

Mother Donovan said that the mandate threatens to shut down religious congregations that have survived wars and disease in America for more than a century.
But there is hope, for the crisis is a summons,” she said. “By its nature, a crisis has the power to focus our energies, clarify our vision and put life in perspective.”

A proper understanding of humanity is key, Mother Donovan noted, explaining that as we refocus on our lives and recall our great dignity and capacity for love, “we can only stand in awe before the mystery of the human person.”

“If we lose sight of the dignity of the person, all else will unravel,” she cautioned. “Peace will not last, for the violation of conscience makes any other human violation and tyranny justifiable.”

Recognition of this human dignity is the basis for our adamant defense of the freedom to practice one’s religion and live according to one’s consciences, which are “inherently human freedoms,” she said.  

The superior general explained that the Catholic faith, which “gives meaning and purpose to our life,” is also “a call to solidarity within the human family.”

Furthermore, we are summoned to “radical solidarity” as citizens of America, challenged to stand up for what is true and just, while defending the weakest of our brothers and sisters.
As we work to defend freedom, we realize that we are being drawn up into “the primordial drama of the battle between good and evil,” Mother Donovan said.  

She acknowledged that the battle is a serious one, for “evil is a pollutant far worse than carbon” and leaves “craters in the heart and longing emptiness in souls.”

But we do not need to fear, she explained, because if we remain united with the Church and firmly rooted in the grace of Christ, we can be confident that our actions will succeed in spreading light and life. 

The Judeo-Christian tradition has a long history of “freedoms won and lost,” as God’s people both lived out their great human dignity and surrendered their freedom to false idols and passions, the superior general added.

Ultimately, the gift of freedom was given to us so that we might choose to give ourselves to others in love, she said. Faced with a great crisis, we must therefore grow in this freedom by loving others, because “as we love, we grow in the capacity to love.”

Mother Donovan called on Catholics to remember that their greatest freedom is the freedom to live in Christ’s grace.

She encouraged a renewed focus on prayer and the sacraments in order to strengthen ourselves and become witnesses to this great freedom, living as “women and men fully alive in the Lord, capable of reflecting the glory of God.”

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