IRONDALE, Ala.: Bishop-designate James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb. began a novena to the Virgin Mary for religious freedom in the U.S. on Saturday by stressing the “heavenly and angelic battle” against sin, not against Americans’ fellow citizens.
“As we pray together for religious liberty, let us recall a simple fact,” he said in his Sept. 29 homily at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel in Irondale, Ala. “The role of religion in America will be respected when religion is lived with enthusiastic and infectious vitality. When we proclaim Jesus Christ with joy, in authentic freedom, the world will listen.”
The defense of religious liberty is not merely a political or cultural battle, he said. He urged Catholics to “get serious about the spiritual dimension of the Christian life” and begin with “hidden things” like prayer, fasting and sacrifice.
Bishop Conley said that “offering up a small sacrifice in the quietude of our hearts may do more to build up the Kingdom than all of the world’s preaching and teaching combined.”
The Sept. 29 - Oct. 7 Novena is organized by the EWTN Global Catholic Network to pray for the United States ahead of the November elections. The elections come at a time when the Catholic Church is at loggerheads with the Obama administration over a federal mandate that requires many employers, including many Catholic institutions, to provide employees with free insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including abortion causing drugs.
Bishop Conley also addressed the spiritual sphere of reality, in particular, the realm of angels and demons.
He said Catholics’ enemies are not their fellow citizens who threaten religious liberty or “slaughter” the unborn or “seek to destroy the Catholic Church,” because there is hope for them in redemption in Jesus Christ.
“Our enemies are the demons who entrap them. And who seek to entrap us,” the bishop said. “Our enemy is sin, and the father of sin, the evil one.”
He reflected that Sept. 29 is the Feast of the Archangels. Angels, he said, are “real creatures” who do “real work” in building up the Kingdom of God. They are a “blueprint” for efforts to defend religious liberty because they represent the primacy of the spiritual life and each serve as a “healer, herald and defender.”
“Our vocation is to join the angels in their spiritual battle against evil. Our call is to share in their work,” he said.
“Let us call upon the intercession of the mighty archangels, and let us imitate their work -- lived out in the freedom of choosing what is good,” Bishop Conley said.
On each day of the novena, a leading Catholic bishop will celebrate Mass at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel in Irondale, Ala. at 8 a.m. Eastern Time.
Besides Bishop Conley, bishops participating in the novena include Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City; Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Ala.; Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia; and Bishop Robert J. Baker of Birmingham, Ala. --CNA