Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Holy Hour for Religious Freedom
June 26, 2014
To listen to an audio recording of this meditation, please click below:
The following notes guided the meditation:
Thank you for coming for this prayer service during the Fortnight for Freedom, the two week period of intense prayer, fasting, study and public witness in defense of religious freedom that began last Saturday and will continue through the Fourth of July, the day on which all Americans give thanks to God for our freedom and celebrate this gift.
This year the US Bishops have asked us all to focus on the Freedom to Serve. Christ calls us, following his example, to serve others rather than to be served, to be Good Samaritans crossing the road to care for others, to love our neighbor as God has loved us first. Over the course of centuries, Catholics have done that individually and come together to do that institutionally. At a time when the rich had private doctors, we formed the first hospitals to care for both rich and poor, nursing people back to health or preparing them for meeting the Lord. At a time when only wealthy or noble families had access to an education through tutors, we formed the first schools and open universities. We formed diakonia in the early Church to care for the poor. We formed leprosaria to care for those with Hansen’s disease. We established orphanages for abandoned babies and homes for unwed mothers. We formed programs for immigrants to learn languages, for young girls to learn to sew, for street children to learn trades. The Catholic Church has done so much good in serving others and improving the common good.
But that ability is now being restricted and threatened by aggressively secular policies in federal and various state and local governments. There’s no need to give a comprehensive list here, but we can briefly mention some:
- Catholic Social Service agencies needing to get out of the adoption business because of requirements to give kids to those in same-sex relationships, which the Church doesn’t believe is for the integral good of kids. In order to be involved in adoption, you need state licensing and to acquire that license, one must refuse to discriminate against same sex couples.
- Give up contracts for sex-trafficking victims or humanitarian assistance programs through Catholic Relief Services if we don’t refer to abortion.
- Catholic hospitals, schools and universities and other institutions are being compelled to offer health care plans that pays for free chemical abortions, contraception and sterilizations or pay crippling fines of $1,000 per day per employee or cut health care altogether.
- And now, in order to participate in any federal contract, President Obama is considering making it dependent on not discriminating in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Josh Earnest, President Obama’s new press secretary, told reporters on June 16, that “the president, following on his pledge for this to be a year of action to expand opportunity for all Americans, has directed his staff to prepare for his signature an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Four American archbishops, the Chairman for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, the Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development Archbishop Thomas Wenski, of Miami, the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, and the, Chairman of the Committee on Doctrine, Archbishop John Nienstedt, of Minneapolis issued the following statement, last Friday: “The enduring commitment of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to uphold the dignity of each and every human person impels us to oppose unjust discrimination, to proclaim the truth about marriage, and to protect religious freedom. Therefore, we view with great concern the reported intention of the President of the United States to issue an executive order forbidding what the Administration considers ‘discrimination’ based on ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity.’ … We do not know how the executive order will define these critically important terms, or if it will provide sufficient (or any) religious freedom protection.” What this means at a practical level is that Catholic Social Services, which receives lots of money for programs for the poor, the homeless and the disabled, wouldn’t be able to continue to receive any of that assistance unless, for example, it refused to consider when a gay activist should be the main receptionist, whether a transgendered transvestite’s situation should be totally overlooked with regard to a marriage counselor, etc.
All of these threaten our freedom to serve others while still obeying God.
I’d like to speak to the larger issues involved, however.
Last Friday, the day before the Fortnight commenced, Pope Francis gave an address in the Vatican on the importance of religious freedom. There was a global scope to his remarks, but his five main points about the “very intense… debate about religious liberty” are highly relevant to what American Catholics are trying to illumine during this Fortnight. I’d like to take them in turn.
He first indicated that the right to religious freedom is essential to ensure man’s transcendent nature.
“Reason recognizes in religious liberty,” the Pope said, “a fundamental right of man that reflects his lofty dignity, that of being able to seek the truth and adhere to it, and it recognizes in it an indispensable condition to be able to display all his potential.”
If the human person is not permitted to act in accordance with a well-formed conscience, then his growth will be stunted and he will never be free.
Second, religious freedom isn’t merely the ability to go to Church or pray at home but the capacity to live by faith.
“Religious liberty,” the Pope said, “is not only that of thought or private worship. It is freedom to live according to ethical principles consequent upon the truth found, be it privately or publicly.”
This point used to be obvious to everyone, but the Obama Administration has made a coordinated effort in both foreign and domestic policy to reduce freedom of religion to freedom of worship. The reason for this reduction, as then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a 2009 speech, is to promote the “right” for people to “love in the way they choose.” In other words, to smooth the path or those of the same-sex to marry each other, the U.S. government wants to restrict the rights of believers not to live according to the values of their revealed religions.
Pope Francis is reminding us that religious freedom includes the liberty to live publicly according to that faith’s moral principles — something that is being denied not just in fundamentalist Muslim regions or communist countries but also in aggressively secular ones.
Third, religious freedom is being undermined precisely by many trumpeting tolerance and freedom.
Religious liberty, he indicated, “is a great challenge in the globalized world, where ‘weak thought’ … also lowers the general ethical level, and in the name of a false concept of tolerance ends up by persecuting those who defend the truth about man and the ethical consequences.”
This “weak thought” includes, along with nihilism, an intellectual and moral relativism. At first there is a push for “tolerance” of what was formerly morally censured but then ends in intolerance and persecution of those who don’t progress beyond acquiescence to acceptance and approval.
The pro-choice movement, for example, originally just asked for the “freedom to choose” abortion, but now seeks to force all doctors and nurses to be trained in abortions and all citizens to pay for it. Those pushing for marriage between those of the same-sex first asked just for tolerance but now push for the resignation of those, like ex-Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who defend marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Fourth, without religious freedom, a democracy is sick and undermines its own legitimacy.
Political and judicial bodies, the Pope insisted, “are called to recognize, guarantee and protect religious liberty, which is intrinsically inherent right to human nature … and is also an indicator of a healthy democracy and one of the principal sources of the legitimacy of the State.”
In the Bill of Rights of course, the United States recognized, guaranteed and protected religious liberty, but recent offenses against this first and fundamental freedom show that our democratic republic is not strengthening but sickening.
Fifth, attacks against the religious freedom of Christians are not only the most common today but the most ignored.
“It is for me a reason for great sorrow,” the Pope lamented, “to see that Christians in the world endure the greatest number of such discriminations. The persecution against Christians today is in fact stronger than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs than at that time.”
More Christians have been martyred in the last 100 years than in all previous 19 centuries combined.
The type of deadly persecutions he’s describing are happening mainly in fundamentalist Muslim regions, but they flow from the same denial of the right to religious freedom that is spreading like cancer in supposedly free secularist nations where the last acceptable prejudice among elites, Christianophobia, is enabling it.
If the types of school and church bombings, kidnappings, and massacres happening routinely to Christians in various parts of the world were happening to Jews, gays or women, there would justifiably be a media and international obsession about it. The fact that they happen unabated with most ignoring it ought to be as “incomprehensible,” “worrying” and “unacceptable” to all of us as it is Pope Francis.
The Fortnight for Freedom is a time for all Catholics in the United States to ponder these realities, to pray, and to get involved to help nurse our nation back to the health Pope Francis indicates. Tonight we help with our prayer before the Divine Physician.