Witnesses for Christ: Prayer, Fasting and Bonfires!

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Jun 22, 2015

Today is the memorial of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, English martyrs who died defending the faith. After a week of ferial days except St. Romuald, the Church calendar unfolds several important feast days these next two weeks. 

June 21st marked the beginning of the Fortnight of Freedom promoted by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. 

The U.S. bishops invite the faithful to join a movement of prayer and sacrifice for the protection of life, marriage, and religious liberty in our country. Serious threats to each of these have raised unprecedented challenges to the Church and the nation. When confronted with challenges, our Lord calls us to sacrifice and pray.

The theme this year, “Freedom to Bear Witness,” corresponds to the witnesses of the saints whose feasts we celebrate the next two weeks:

[These are] a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. The theme of this year's Fortnight will focus on the "freedom to bear witness" to the truth of the Gospel.

With bated breath we await the rulings from the Supreme Court on marriage. We can join together in prayer and sacrifice as we wait for the announcement. Today’s saints and St. John the Baptist died for defending God’s laws on marriage. We live in a time where marriage and the family are being constantly attacked and “revised” to personal definitions instead of God’s. The Church celebrates a saint that heralded the way of Christ over 2000 years ago, and two beheaded English saints from the 16th century. The battle against marriage and family continues, and these saints are not out-of-touch witnesses but pertinent to our modern era. 

Next week the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the memorial of the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome and St. Thomas the Apostle. As Tertullian said,

Semen est sanguis Christianorum
The blood of the martyrs is the seed [of the Church] (CSEL 69).

These saints gave their lives to bear witness to the Gospel, to defend Truth. Their work and blood are the roots of our Faith, and their fruit is ever-bearing. There are other saints celebrated during these weeks that were not martyrs, but also gave tirelessly of their lives to bear witness to the Gospel: St. Josemaria, Cyril of Alexandria, and soon-to-be canonized Junipero Serra.

This two-week slice of the Liturgical Calendar is filled with examples how our recently celebrated feast of Pentecost and the work of the Holy Spirit changed the hearts of the saints. “I have come to set the earth on fire” (Luke 12:49). Ordinary Time is when we leave that Upper Room and go forth, bearing witness to our Faith. The Church generously provides us these examples of witnesses, but also as brothers and sisters in Christ, the Communion of Saints that we can invoke and ask for help as we wage this battle.

Leila Lawler recently encouraged her readers about the importance of our praying and fasting this week to make amends and to ask for forgiveness for the sins of this country against marriage, the family and life at all stages. She is also sharing a discount code for the fabulous book by Mary Reed Newland, so I encourage you to visit her blog. (And as I'm about to publish this post, I see Phil had similar thoughts.) This is a perfect way to unite our Domestic Churches with the Universal Church.

Leila then invites us to put aside the fasting to celebrate like Catholics for the Solemnity of St. John the Baptist (the Church's highest feast ranking, after all) and light those traditional bonfires (see the main entry for more ideas on bonfires, and my post from last year) on the Eve of St. John the Baptist (June 23). Those fires (whether they be just a candle) are our lights in the darkness. They celebrate our Faith, focus our thoughts on the Light of the World, recall how St. John said "he must increase and I must decrease" just like the Summer Solstice marks the waning of the sun until Christmas where the days grow longer again.

But most importantly, those lights or fires are also the light of our witness. We are striving to change the world, and let our lights shine for the world to see. Let us be those modern witnesses for the Gospel, defending our Faith against all the attacks against marriage, family and the human person. May the saints, especially those of the next Fortnight, pray for us and our country!

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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