By Archbishop William E. Lori
As you are reading elsewhere in this edition of the Catholic Review, the second Fortnight for Freedom is underway, a two-week period leading up to Independence Day set aside for three reasons: to pray for the cause of religious freedom at home and abroad; to reflect on the meaning of religious liberty in the Church’s teaching and in our nation’s founding documents as well as its history; and to take action in defense of religious freedom, including contacting those who are elected and appointed to serve our government locally and nationally.
What a joy it was to begin the Fortnight for Freedom once again in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Founded in 1789, our archdiocese began as the American experiment in limited government was just getting underway. Even the architecture of our nation’s first cathedral, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, reflects that heritage. Designed by Benjamin Latrobe, the architect of the United States Capitol and with a purported assist by none other than Thomas Jefferson, the basilica speaks to the hopes of our forebears that the faith of the Catholic Church would flourish in freedom and peace on American soil. To echo the words of the Mass preface for Independence Day, this remains “as our task for today and a promise for tomorrow.”
Many families in the Archdiocese of Baltimore have paid a heavy price for defending our fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom, and some have paid the ultimate price. We owe it to these families and to future generations to be vigilant concerning our freedoms, to discern not only those obvious threats to religious freedom on the surface but also those threats that are hidden from view, such as government regulations that would hamper religious institutions from fulfilling their mission or would deprive people of conscience from running their businesses according to Christian principles.
As we engage in the Fortnight for Freedom, however, we need to pause to ask ourselves why we should be resolute in defending religious freedom. A phrase from St. Paul might help answer that question.
“For freedom,” he wrote to the Galatians, “Christ has set us free.”
In other words, we won’t really see the need to defend and exercise the religious liberty guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights unless and until we have embraced the true freedom of the Gospel – the freedom to worship God without fear, the freedom to choose the good, the freedom to serve others in love, the freedom to keep the Commandments in the spirit of the Beatitudes. This is the freedom for which Christ has set us free as his followers and members of his body, the Church.
Last year President John Garvey of Catholic University gave a beautiful address on religious freedom to the U.S. bishops. He said, “Our society won’t care about religious freedom if it doesn’t care about God. That’s where reform is needed. We won’t have – and we probably won’t need – religious exemptions for nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers if no one is practicing their religion.”
He added, “The best way to protect religious freedom might be to remind people that they should love God. After all, that is why we have a First Amendment.”
Thus, the Fortnight for Freedom and the Year of Faith, which our Church celebrates through November, should converge in a single message in our minds and hearts. We have been called in this Year of Faith to open our hearts more widely to Christ. Encountering Christ anew, listening more deeply to his Word of life, we embrace the Church’s teaching with confidence and bear witness to it in word, worship and service. And it is by the witness of believers who are good citizens that the message of religious freedom is more readily heard: “For freedom, Christ has set us free!”
To view more of Archbishop Lori’s columns, click here.
Copyright (c) June 27,2013 CatholicReview.org