If you’re familiar with the "Madagascar" animated movies for kids, you may recall that in the third film the animal characters find themselves in Rome, at the Coliseum. As they gazed at this historic landmark, the lion whispers to the others: "My ancestors used to work here" – a reference to the bloody spectacles during which prisoners- many of them Christians- were torn apart by lions and other wild beasts.
Today we honor two of our ancestors: Saint Peter and Saint Paul. In our second reading, we heard how Paul himself was almost a lion’s victim! On that occasion and many others, Paul found himself in danger on account of his faith. Saint Peter frequently found himself in danger too, as our reading from Acts made clear.
One danger we face is to think that serious challenges to our faith are something of legend from ancient days: lion’s dens, men in togas, and stuff like that. Yet our faith is being challenged today, and some of us have been caught unawares. As Cardinal Wuerl said last week, most people didn’t think that religious liberty would ever be challenged in our country, in our day.
But we were wrong. We don’t face lion’s dens, but our religious freedom has been challenged- the freedom to adhere to our faith’s beliefs, without interference, and without penalty. In the face of this challenge, we have an opportunity not only stand up for our freedom, but also to remind our fellow citizens what true freedom is. Blessed Pope John Paul put it well: "Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought."