Here in America, there is a growing awareness that our government at the federal level is seeking to dislodge the last remnants the Catholic Church's influence by means of federal regulation of medical care. Most recently the Health and Human Services (HHS) controversy has revealed that the government is hitting the American bishops where it hurts most: the moral issues of contraception and abortion.
The HHS controversy is frequently hailed as a "religious liberty" crisis, but it's more profound than that. The Obama administration knows that American Catholics by and large do not submit to the Catholic teaching regarding contraception. This is the weak underbelly of American Catholicism and the powers at large have honed in on this sad reality.
This is not the first time that the government has exploited sexual sins to foster confusion, anger, heresy, and worst of all, schism. King Henry VIII of England also attempted to break the influence of the Catholic Church in his nation. Like the current administration, Henry VIII began by restricting the activity of the clergy. First, Henry VIII pressed the bishops into a compromise, next he made it illegal for tithes and ecclesiastical judgments to leave England - for example annulments and controversies over succession and wills could not be referred to Rome any longer. While not officially creating a schism at this point, Henry VIII practically separated the bishops of England from Rome.
The next step was for Henry VIII to request the title "Protector and Supreme Head of the English Church." Although compromised, the bishops rightly refused and Bishop Saint John Fisher led the charge. Then Henry VIII asked for the title, "Protector and Supreme Head of the English Church - quantum per legem Dei licet - so far as the law of God permits." The "so far as the law of God permits" addition alleviated the consciences of the bishops. The bullied bishops submitted in 1531 and against the wishes of the Pope granted the title to Henry VIII. The clarification "so far as the law of God permits" was, of course, quickly forgotten.
Four years later all the bishops except for Saint John Fisher capitulated. Saint John Fisher and Saint Thomas More's heads were on pikes over the the river. Mother Church lost England...
What can we learn? Civil persecution starts slow and subtle. It's built on small, tiny compromises. The bishops in the time of King Henry VIII were neither malicious nor fools. Almost all to a man had studied at either Cambridge or Oxford. The Chancellor was a genius, revered diplomat, and a saint. England at this time was renowned throughout Europe for its devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pilgrimages, daily Mass attendance, church buildings were at a high, according to historians.
What happened? The king wanted something and he would stop at nothing. He worked slowly and perseveringly. Henry VIII did not attack the Church outright. He waited year after year.
This HHS controversy in America is not really about religious liberty. They want us to think that. The HHS mandate is the beginning of many subtle attacks against the Catholic Church in America. The HHS mandate is designed to remove the Catholic Church from the public realm of medicine (and hence medical ethics) and eventually divide the Church over "reproductive rights" or "contraception."
Something similar may likely happen in the realm of education in the coming years - perhaps a mandate that Catholic schools must submit to a "lifestyle diversity agreement" in order to retain their accreditation and ability to receive government loans. Catholic colleges are another huge weak spot in the landscape of Catholic America. You can be sure that the devil has plans there, too.
What do we do about it? We must be humble about everything. "God resists the proud" (Jas 4:6). God resists the proud even when they are magisterial Catholics who attend daily Mass and tithe. Pride comes before the fall. If we our proud, God will resist us even when we are right.
We must pray for our bishops. They are already uniting against the threat. They need prayers. We have no idea as to the difficulty and stress they are under. We cannot complain or judge. Again, we must be like their humble children. We can piously aid them and pray for them. That is what Christ expects from us.
We pray the Rosary daily. Most of all, we try to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Saint John Vianney once said, "All good works taken together cannot equal the value of one Holy Mass, because they are the works of men, but the Mass is the work of God."
Saint John Fisher, the nemesis of King Henry VIII, once shared with a Carthusian that he wished that he had not spent so much time writing theological works defending the Catholic Church, but had instead used that time for prayer. "Prayer would have done more good and was of more merit."
As lay people, our ingenuity won't accomplish much. Instead, humble prayers will break the snares of the devil.
Saint John Fisher and all holy martyrs, pray for us.