[Note: The following is paid advertising sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.]

For decades, Catholics have worked to serve the common good in the United States.  We have faced opposition at times, but our commitment to doing the works of mercy through our institutions, like hospitals, schools, and charities, has remained steadfast.

In recent years, a new set of challenges has arisen.  Laws, regulations, and executive orders have been passed that would require Catholics, as well as other people of faith both within and beyond religious institutions, to engage in activities that they believe to be immoral.

In other words, ironically, we are told that we must drop our religious tenets if we want to live out our faith in service to others.

In response to these challenges, the U.S. bishops have called for a Fortnight for Freedom, two weeks for Catholics to reflect on religious freedom, to celebrate our Catholic heritage of contribution to the good of our country, and to pray for our country and for our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, who suffer violent persecution.

The Fortnight for Freedom runs from June 21 (the vigil of the feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher) to July 4 (when we celebrate our national Independence Day).  Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore will celebrate the opening Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, MD on June 21 at 7:00 p.m.

The closing Mass takes place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC on July 4 at 12 noon.  Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington will celebrate, and Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh will serve as homilist.

The theme for this year’s Fortnight is “Witnesses to Freedom.” The USCCB is lifting up for reflection 14 stories of women and men—one story for each day—who bear witness to freedom in Christ, such as Venerable Henriette Delille, the Little Sisters of the Poor, Blessed Miguel Pro, and the Coptic Christians who were killed by ISIS last year.

The USCCB is also working with Stonyhurst College in England to coordinate a U.S. tour of relics of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, two exemplary 16th century Catholics who bore witness to freedom in the face of a government that sought to violate the conscience rights of its citizens.

Witnesses to freedom show what freedom through discipleship to Christ looks like.  They show that Christian freedom means commitment to building up the common good.

The witnesses on whose lives we reflect this Fortnight were all committed to service to the people of their countries.  But when they were forced to choose between loyalty to Christ and loyalty to the state or other ideology, they chose Christ.

Their commitment to service teaches us, and their courage in the face of challenge encourages us.

St. Edith Stein found freedom in the truth of the gospel.  Blessed Oscar Romero found freedom in speaking out for the poor.  The Martyrs of Compiègne found freedom in offering their lives as martyrs for their country, roiled by revolution.

All of these Witnesses to Freedom found freedom in Jesus Christ.  And that freedom was and is not a freedom of indifference, a freedom to simply do whatever we want.  Rather, Christian freedom means freedom to put our faith into action by serving others, including our neighbors.

One way that Catholics have served our neighbors is by building institutions, which have become vital to the fabric of American society.  We seek to build up the common good through our obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is through this service that we find true freedom.  We ask for the space to continue to serve the common good.

There are several ways to participate in the Fortnight for Freedom. We can gather for reflection, we can pray for our country and for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters abroad, or we can make a pilgrimage to venerate the relics of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher.

During this time, let us look to the lives of the great witnesses, who give us the courage to work for freedom so that we might serve others in imitation of our Lord, Jesus Christ.