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Leaders ­and Apostles

A case for faith in the public square

By Tom Wehner

People of good will across the United States are preparing to do their part for the second Fortnight for Freedom, which kicks off Friday, June 21.

Tom and Lynn Wehner with their daughters Allie, Leah, Julia and son Zachary.

Tom and Lynn Wehner with their daughters Allison, Leah and Julia and son Zachary.

Thousands of Catholic faithful will attend special Masses, pray novenas and offer rosaries. They will ask for God’s grace to rain down on the members of a presidential administration that is seeking to restrain the religious freedom of millions of people by forcing them to pay for contraception and abortion services in their health plans.

The kick-off date for the Fortnight is notable because it falls on the eve of the feast of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More.

Bishop John Fisher vigorously denounced King Henry VIII’s bid to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, marry another woman and set himself up as the spiritual and temporal leader of his country. He was the only bishop who did not swear the oath that confirmed Henry as head of the Church of England. Henry had him beheaded June 22, 1535.

Thomas More, a layman, was King Henry’s friend, as well as the chancellor of England. A devoted family man, he was pained greatly that his fall from Henry’s favor would bring suffering to his wife and children, yet he steadfastly held to the faith till Henry VIII beheaded him July 6 that same year.

Both men were loyal to the crown, but More’s famous line at his execution spoke the truth for both of them: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

With that in mind, the Fortnight for Freedom, culminating on July 4, Independence Day, providentially encompasses the feast days of such heroic men as St. Joseph Cafasso, “the Priest of the Gallows” (June 22); St. John the Baptist, a martyr for Christ (June 24); St. Josemaría Escrivá (June 26), founder of Opus Dei; St. Cyril of Alexandria (June 27) and St. Irenaeus (June 28), both of whom defended the faith against early Church sects; Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29), First Martyrs of Rome (June 30); Blessed Junipero Serra (July 1), founder of the California missions, and St. Thomas the Apostle (July 3).

Recalling the lives of these great men of faith brought to mind a conversation I had a few years ago with some priest friends who are also in the media.

We were discussing (more like deploring) the hurdles the Church and, by extension, orthodox Catholic media face when confronted with a well-known Catholic — whether a member of the clergy, a politician or a celebrity — saying or doing something that puts that person at odds with timeless Church teaching.

“That’s the trouble,” one priest said. “There are many leaders in this country and there are many apostles. What the Church needs here is leaders who are apostles.”

Leaders and apostles. T his is a rare combination for those in positions of authority in our country. But those in public office are not the only ones with this two-fold calling.

As a husband and father, my vocation both compels and inspires me to be a leader of and for my family. My most important role in life is to firmly and lovingly guide them along a path that will help bring us all one day to heaven. This is a call and a promise to God that I — and my wife as my partner in this effort — take very seriously.

And yet, how empty and ineffective my leadership would be if I were not also living a life of apostleship, faithfully following Church teaching, being the hands of Christ here on earth, and leading by example in word and deed? Simply put: I am a better leader when I am actively following the Lord.

This Fortnight for Freedom, and every day after, let’s pray for our national leaders and also give our vibrant witness to their dual calling. Let’s show them that, by being faithful apostles, they can truly lead this country.

Tom Wehner is managing editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper, published by EWTN.