We are called to be true to our faith at all times, in all things. We must be Catholic at work, even when the subject of abortion comes up; at our mom’s group, even when birth control comes up; at family gatherings, even when a group of relatives portray defense of traditional marriage as bigoted, and in the voting booth regardless of other issues. Either we live our Catholic faith or we deny it. Can our faith stand the “test of fire”?
Dr. Manuel and Adriana Gonzalez of Florida, began the group, Catholics Called to Witness – CC2W – to spread that exact message. They were responding to Pope Benedict XVI’s call to engage in our culture and loved his statement that some issues are non-negotiable. Manuel is a medical doctor and Adriana is busy homeschooling their seven children, so Manuel said that initially, they were not exactly sure how they would answer the Pope’s call. They began last November simply by holding an informal meeting of friends in their home. Inspired by Pope Benedict’s message of non-negotiable issues for Catholics, CC2W included his exhortation in their core message.
“Many issues are crucial, like immigration and feeding the poor, but some are not negotiable,” said Manuel. “We have to be able to say there is no room to negotiate on these issues: Life, from conception to natural death, marriage between one man and one woman – our God is the author of marriage so there is no room for redefining marriage – the right or parents to raise and educate their children, and religious freedom.”
Religious freedom became a prominent issue this last year when the HHS Mandate forced all employers to provide birth control and abortion-inducing drugs regardless of religious beliefs. “We have not picked up that fight, it has come to us,” said Manuel. “The Church is under attack.”
One of the first things the Gonzalezes did was to have the video, Test of Fire, made by a friend who owned his own video company, Creative Lab. An old-fashioned blacksmith is seen forging words that represent election issues. The video message is that there are non-negotiable values that are under attack in our society and we must vote the values that will stand the test of fire.
View the video…
Before their own YouTube channel was set up, the video electrified the whole Christian community with over two million views in a couple of months. “We are also getting a lot of response from non-Catholics who have told us, ‘We love your message and we are standing with you,’” said Manuel. As a result they have made two more versions of the video – one for Evangelical Christians and another for the Hispanic community.
Adriana said that living the Catholic faith is not just a private undertaking. “We want to encourage a return to a deeper faith. Deep faith moves God’s people to loving obedience. As Catholics, we must be part of the vocal majority and not be silent. God calls us to boldness.”
Catholics Called to Witness encourages others to be faithful to God and to trust Him. “We can get depressed about the world or be afraid,” said Adriana, “but instead, we should remember that we have access to the power of God. God is engaged in our nation. He is acting on our behalf, and what He did with our video is one small example,” she said.
Throughout his 59-year priesthood, Monsigner John Esseff, a priest in Scranton, Pennsylvania has been challenging Catholics with that very same message: Place complete trust in God and live your faith publically. Esseff has been a spiritual director to many seminaries across the country and often gives instruction to priests on the Church’s official Rite of Exorcism. He is the author of the book, Building A Kingdom of Love, Your Role in Building a Kingdom of Love and offers spiritual direction through audio talks on his website, Building a Kingdom of Love; The Triumph of the Sacred Heart.
“What is happening in society will affect us all,” he said. “For like a chain that is dependent on the weakest link to determine its true strength, it is a society’s moral decay that weakens its inner strength. Spiritual weakness renders us fearful and ultimately weak when our link to the Divine is broken. We need strength beyond this world to prepare for what lies ahead.”
He attributed the rejection of religion in place of secularism with eroding our country. “We are a brave nation that has overcome adversity and conflict throughout history, but we are again confronting an enemy. This time, he is within. Christianity once taught values that were the backbone of our democracy. Now, the powers that be are demanding freedom from religion and Christians in general have slacked off on the vigor that once made our country great.”
“We need not be afraid,” said Esseff. “We should fight fire with fire. Our fire is the blazing heart of Jesus through which we will be filled with the Holy Spirit – the ultimate power.” He said that it is not others that are the problem but that we are the problem. “We have the truth but we are not on fire with it,” he said. “We need to change that.”
Thus USCCB is urging all Catholics live out their faith in the voting booth.
Many Catholics may not head out to the polls because they do not think their one vote will really made a difference. The Gonzalezes beg to differ. They are even using the image of fire in their “Test of Fire” video to set hearts ablaze for the truth and hope that they will help influence Catholic voters, especially those in the swing states, to vote their values. The “Test of Fire” video clearly states that, “your vote will affect the future and be recorded in eternity.” The blacksmith in the video puts words of different issues such as jobs, energy, and economy made from iron in the fire. Then the video continues to show the non-negotiable issues made also into iron words then put into the fire.
Esseff likes the image of fire to talk not only about the burning heart of Christ but also about the culture. “We cannot minimize the fire that is coming against us,” Esseff warned. “Thus far, we have been like a group of Cub Scouts on a jamboree instead of forces in the battle of the woman and the dragon referred to in Chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation in the Bible. During the early Church, there was warfare against Christians but the forces for love ultimately conquered.”
Msgr. Esseff has dedicated his priesthood to the power of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, encouraging people to enthrone him over their families and homes. He said that under the kingship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Catholics and all Christians need not fear darkness. “We must assemble our army under the kingship of Jesus. In union with the Blessed Mother, our first step is to run to Jesus and accept his Lordship over us.” Monsignor Esseff was a friend and confessor to Mother Teresa and continues to give retreats to her Sisters of Charities all over the world. It was Mother Teresa who led him to the True Devotion of Mary and total consecration to The Blessed Virgin Mary.
Mother Teresa has a famous quote that encouraged Catholics to be mindful when taking action, “It is not how much we do… but how much love we put into that action.”
“The two kingdoms of the world are clashing, Esseff said. “Jesus Christ is not calling just a few of us to this divine love, either. It is a universal call to holiness. Responding is the only way to change hearts, beginning with our own.”
The video echoes this message, ending by challenging us to look inward, “Will you vote the values that will stand the Test of Fire?”
Patti Maguire Armstrong is a speaker, author, and winner of the 2011 About.com “Reader’s Choice Award”. She has appeared twice on EWTN’s Bookmark program, and EWTN with Father Mitch Pacwa, as well as on Catholic radio stations across the country. Her latest books, Big Hearted Families (Scepter Publishers) and children’s book, “Dear God I don’t get it” (Liguori Publications) will be released in Spring 2013.
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