The Supreme Court’s welcome surprise

Archbishop Aquila

Right in the middle of the Church’s celebration of the annual Fortnight for Freedom, good news came down from the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving religious freedom that should inspire people of faith. The court ruled, in keeping with the First Amendment, that Trinity Lutheran school could not be barred from a state-run playground resurfacing program because it was a religious institution.

You might be thinking, “What does a playground have to do with religious freedom?” The details of the case are revealing. Trinity Lutheran Church Learning Center is a preschool located in Columbia, Missouri that wanted to improve the safety of its playground, which consisted of gravel and grass. It applied in 2012 to a state program that provides grants to buy shredded, recycled tires and was rejected because it is affiliated with a church.

That year there were 44 applicants to the program and based on its proposal Trinity Lutheran’s application was ranked fifth best. And yet, the state of Missouri disqualified the preschool, citing its Blaine Amendment. These anti-Catholic amendments were added to more than 30 state’s legal codes – including Colorado’s – in the late 1800s and early 1900s to prevent state funds from going to Catholic schools in favor of the Protestant-dominated public schools.

The cultural force behind these amendments was the “Know-Nothing” movement, which fomented fear of Catholics as papal agents plotting to take over the country and immigrants as competitors for jobs. They earned their nickname by replying, “I know nothing,” when they were asked about their political beliefs. Among their objectives were to prevent Catholics and other immigrants from being elected for political office and denying them jobs in the private sector.

Things have improved since those days, but it is still not that case that people of faith always receive the same benefits that are publicly available to the rest of society, without being forced to check their faith at the door. Take, for instance, the Little Sisters of the Poor, whom the federal government tried to force to provide contraception through its Health and Human Services mandate.

At an even more local level, one only need to look at the Douglas County school voucher case for a recent example of this discriminatory treatment. Citing our state’s Blaine Amendment, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in June 2015 that the county could not provide scholarships to low-income students who wanted to attend a religious school. Rather than treating students who wish to attend religious schools the same as those who choose to attend public schools, the court ruled against the program. States with Blaine amendments use it as an excuse to override a low-income parents desire to choose the school their child attends. The implication of the court’s ruling is that they know better than parents what would be best for their children. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court has asked the Colorado Supreme Court to revisit the Douglas County case, following its Trinity Lutheran decision.

When he visited the U.S. in September 2015, Pope Francis rightly noted that “various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or […] try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square ….” Every Catholic has a right to speak in the public square and to contribute the gifts of their faith to the common good!

As we celebrate the birth of our country, let us all strive to protect and promote the valuable contribution of faith to our nation by living out our faith in the public square and through the witness of our personal holiness. Let us support one of the inalienable freedoms guaranteed by our constitution – religious freedom. May we imitate the example of St. Thomas More, who was “the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” May God bless our country and strengthen it in protecting religious freedom!

Featured image by Joe Ravi via Wikipedia

COMING UP: Carmelite lived the cloistered life ‘to the full’

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In 1950, at the ripe age of 18, Sister Mona Claire of Our Lady entered religious life as a Carmelite of the Holy Spirit. For the next 67 years, she went on to live a cloistered life away from the world in deep prayer.

It would seem it was no coincidence, then, that she passed away on May 20 — the feast of Pentecost.

“For her to die on the feast of Pentecost — it’s our biggest solemnity next to Christmas because we’re the Carmel of the Holy Spirit,” said Mother Mary of Jesus, prioress of the discalced Carmelite nuns of Littleton. “Our blessed Lord really favored her, I think.”

Over 20 of Sister Mona’s 67 years as a Carmelite were spent as a secretary answering phone calls and responding to requests for prayers and Mass offerings. Sister Mona was also a talented seamstress and spent much of her time making clothes for the Sisters and altar linens.

Sister Mona’s most unique job was perhaps taking care of sheep, which the monastery had up until the 1980s, and her most beautiful work was likely her profound prayer life.

“She always prayed,” said Mother Mary. “Even in her last few days, if she said anything, it was a prayer.”

Mother Mary recalled that the doctor who attended to Sister Mona at the hospital after she experienced a fall shortly before she passed asked her to open her eyes, and she was unable to follow his commands.

“But I would say a prayer, and she’d finish it for me,” said Mother Mary. “I would say, ‘Praise be Jesus Christ,’ and she would say, ‘Now and forever.’ I think her last words were ‘Now and forever.’”

Mother Mary admired Sister Mona for her patience and efforts to please God, as well as her positive attitude in all circumstances.

“I noticed that even in the pain she was in when she was dying, she never moaned or anything,” said Mother Mary. “She never complained one little bit.”

Mother Mary believes it was a blessing that Sister Mona was able to remain so close to God even during her final days — a grace that likely stemmed from the consistent efforts she made to be close to him throughout her life.

“If you’re constantly corresponding with grace and praying, it’s going to come to you in those last moments,” said Mother Mary. “It will strengthen you for the journey. I think that’s what happened.”

Mother Mary witnessed graces showering down during on Sister Mona even during her funeral, particularly when Bishop Jorge Rodriguez blessed her coffin before it was lowered into the ground.

“There were turtle doves. You could hear turtle doves cooing,” not back and forth, but in unison, Mother Mary said. It reminded those in attendance of Song of Solomon 2, which mentions the voice of a turtledove in a chapter about the love of a bride groom.

The beauty of the moment didn’t go unnoticed, much like Sister Mona’s life of service.

“She was the loving and praying heart of the Church and the Carmel [community] here for almost 68 years,” said Mother Mary. “Everything she did was for souls and for our dear Lord’s greater glory and honor,” she said.

Mother Mary believes Sister Mona had a profound impact on the world, even though she had little contact with it.

“Having been in the convent as long as she was, she really impacted the diocese and the world with her ever-flowing prayers,” said Mother Mary. “It’s just the nature of cloistered life — and she lived it to the full.”