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Today’s fiery furnaces

In the first reading for this Wednesday, April 9, from the Book of Daniel, we hear about three faithful Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—who disobeyed the king’s command to worship an idol, fully aware that a horrible death awaited them. For some of us, this famous story might be hard to relate to, but it is more relevant for our times than you might realize.

I am inspired by the profound courage of these men who trusted so deeply in God’s plan for them that they were willing to defy their king and suffer being burned alive in a white-hot furnace.

The questions being asked today are different and the consequences severe, but the underlying principle remains the same. Instead of a king demanding that we worship his idol, it is secular culture that is insisting on compliance.

This past week the news was filled with stories about Brendan Eich, the creator of JavaScript software and a co-founder of Mozilla, who was forced out of his role as CEO by gay activists for donating $1,000 in support of marriage between a man and a woman in 2008.

Because of his beliefs, Eich suddenly lost his rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. He also lost his livelihood, even though by all accounts his professionalism in the work place and his technical abilities were excellent.

As with King Nebuchadnezzar and other totalitarian rulers, Eich was told to cast aside his beliefs and adopt those of the culture. This is decidedly un-American and stands in sharp contrast with the principles our country was founded upon. And his case is not the only one.

The attempts to get Christians to abandon our faith are not confined to the area of marriage. They range from obvious acts of coercion like the Department of Health and Human Services’ abortifacient, sterilization, and contraception mandate to more subtle things like media or political campaigns that undermine Christian beliefs about the dignity of the human person.

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We must respond to these challenges with fortitude, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Let Jesus’ words to his disciples resound in your heart: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s response is also inspiring and instructive: “If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us!

“But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up” (Dan 3:17-18).

Their witness is a wonderful example of the Second Vatican Council’s reminder in “Lumen Gentium” that every Catholic is called to serve as leaven in society and “work for the sanctification of the world from within.

“In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may … continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer” (LG, 31).

This call stands in stark contrast with the secular culture’s insistence that we separate our faith from how we live our daily lives. The Second Vatican Council had stern words for this separation in its document “Gaudium et Spes”: “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age. Long since, the Prophets of the Old Testament fought vehemently against this scandal and even more so did Jesus Christ Himself in the New Testament threaten it with grave punishments. Therefore, let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part, and religious life on the other.

“The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation. Christians should rather rejoice that, following the example of Christ who worked as an artisan, they are free to give proper exercise to all their earthly activities … by gathering them into one vital synthesis with religious values” (GS, 43). The “vital synthesis with religious values” is what needs to be restored today in the lives of Catholics and Christians.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not follow the king’s evil command but chose obedience to God and to his laws. We can do no less today.

As we approach the final weeks of Lent, walking with Jesus toward his death and resurrection, let us all pray for the gifts of faith, perseverance and fortitude, so that we can bring the richness of the faith to our families, our jobs and the culture, placing our trust in Christ. Let us pray especially for the conversion of the hearts and minds of those who abandon God and desire to put requirements on people that violate their religious beliefs and consciences.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).

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