These are days when it can seem as if things are coming undone and breaking apart in our society.

Last week, we witnessed police officers being targeted and executed in Dallas and others being ambushed and assaulted in Missouri and Georgia.

These attacks followed the fatal police shootings of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota — killings that became national events after cellphone videos went “viral” on social media platforms.

We mourn the dead, we pray that the injured be healed, and we ask God to comfort their families and loved ones.

As a society we still have a long way to go in addressing racial bias and inequalities in our criminal justice system.

But the truth is that police, prosecutors, religious groups and community leaders are working together and we are making real progress — in the areas of community policing and sentencing reform; in promoting alternatives to incarceration; and giving job opportunities to those who have served their time and are reentering society.

Now is the time to build on this progress, to encourage those seeking paths of dialogue and reconciliation. We cannot give in to the temptations of anger and despair.

Even before last week’s tragedies, we could see signs that our social fabric is pulling apart.

Those who govern and shape the directions of society have grown hostile to religion and to traditional family and community values. More and more we see that they are using the raw power of law and public policy to impose their views and to deny the rights and freedoms of those who disagree with them.

We see this in all the debates surrounding same-sex marriage and gender identity. We see it in the way federal and state governments are using contraception, abortion and assisted suicide policy to dictate that religious believers and others must abandon their core convictions in order to continue operating their businesses or ministries.

Some recent examples:  

Here in California, the state government has been trying to coerce every health insurance plan in the state to pay for abortions, including abortions performed in the final weeks of a pregnancy. New York’s leaders have been trying to do the same thing in that state.

Late last month, the Obama administration upheld the California plan — refusing to enforce a longstanding federal law (the “Weldon Amendment”) that protects Americans’ rights not to participate in abortions.

Also late last month, a court in Washington state ruled that every hospital there that provides maternity care must also perform abortions.

These decisions are outrageous and will only further the destruction of innocent human life and disregard for women’s health needs in our society.

But more than that, they are part of a disturbing pattern — of our government mandating policies that erode religious freedoms and conscience protections that are essential for democracy and civilized society.

We could bring many examples. There is California’s new law giving doctors the power to help patients kill themselves. This law even provides $1 million a year in taxpayer money to pay for lethal medications for poor people.

We could also point to new federal mandates regarding gender identity in schools and employer health plans. Or the California legislature’s efforts to force faith-based colleges not to teach or express their beliefs about marriage and the human person. Or the new lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union that seeks to force the U.S. bishops to provide birth control and abortion to refugee children we serve.

The list could go on.

It is no exaggeration to say that government and cultural elites now seem to be functioning as if they are a new religion imposing a new “orthodoxy” on the rest of society — forcing the rest of us to believe what they believe and to act the way they want us to act.  

At the heart of this new orthodoxy is a false “humanism” — a dangerous set of beliefs about what it means to be human and what makes a person happy.

In confronting these dangerous directions in our society, as Catholics we need to commit ourselves to being people of prayer and compassion. We need to pray for strength and wisdom and as the apostles did we need to pray for those in authority.

Our identity and mandate as Catholics has never come from a government. It comes from the Lord Jesus Christ — who calls us to follow him in serving the poor and the weak and proclaiming liberty to all who are in captivity.  

We need to insist on our freedom to serve God and to follow and promote the beautiful vision of human dignity and happiness given to us by Jesus.

Pray for me this week and I will pray for you. And together let us ask Our Blessed Mother Mary to bring healing and peace to our country and a new regard for human life and human dignity.

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