Rights to use--or lose

"Use it or lose it," the familiar saying goes. But what American thought that bit of folk wisdom could ever apply to the rights that are enumerated, enshrined, and yes--guaranteed--by our Constitution's Bill of Rights? Who could have imagined actually needing a Fortnight for Freedom here, among the purple mountains and fruited plains that lie between the shining seas? Repression is for other lands, other peoples, other times. But here, in the good ole US of A? Not a chance! This is the land of liberty, remember? We're the free people of a Constitutional Republic that keeps us free. Right?

Well, so much for taking freedom for granted. The organized assault on religious liberty and the freedom of conscience, speech, and assembly we find gaining strength is proof that America is not exempt from the darker forces of history. It appears we are no longer above the will to collectivize, dehumanize, or dominate others to further an agenda of social engineering by an imperial State.

I'm proud that our bishops are standing up to the HHS mandate not only from pulpits or pastoral letters, but in the media and in the courts. I'm encouraged by priests and deacons who preach the truth at the risk of being criticized for taking a side or being too political. I'm inspired by the wave after wave of Catholics who voice opposition to what appears to be a governmental attack on both institutions and individuals of faith. I'm uplifted by the outcry of those of other faiths and none, who have publicly recognized the bigotry of recent attempts to diminish our fundamental rights under the First Amendment.

But I have a question. If we win in the courts; if we succeed and once again secure the free exercise of religion; will Catholics actually start practicing our faith openly in the public square? I ask because I don't think I have the stomach to fight for rights no one will bother to enjoy.

I am convinced that the fastest way to lose a right is to stop exercising it, and equally convinced that this is how we came to where we now are. It's difficult to erode a hillside full of trees or close down a store with a long line of customers. But it is very easy to turn an empty park into a parking lot or annex the vacant lot next door when no one is looking. Likewise it isn't difficult to attack the beliefs proclaimed in empty churches and marginalize people who have already chosen to marginalize themselves. We have made it easy. It happened when we weren't looking.

New evangelization is a lovely, in-vogue catch-phrase. That will not be enough. If we're going to preserve to the right to live our faith, we're going to have to share our faith. It takes much more courage to do that now than it used to. Most of us don't want to be thought of as "haters," racists, sexists, homophobes, or Neanderthals. But we are naive if we think that the new evangelization won't be accompanied by a new martyrdom. Witnesses in every generation have paid a price.

I don't know about anyone else, but I intend to look for ways to be Catholic in public. I expect we'll take a few hits from those who make a hobby of feigning offense. But all that will just give us a few more ways to practice our faith in Christ: loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, and doing good to those who hate us.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.