Let’s get ready to focus on religious freedom with the fortnight for freedom at the end of this month! View the video prepared for this year’s event.
Lessons from Evangelii Gaudium #17
Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium or “The Joy of the Gospel,” has many points that are relevant to the work of Marriage: Unique for a Reason. This series will explore some of these themes and apply Pope Francis’s words to the culture of marriage and family in the United States.
Religious Freedom (nos. 255-258)
The Church recognizes the importance of religious freedom for maintaining a healthy social dialogue and an atmosphere of peace; but what, exactly, do we mean by peace? Peace is not an absence of difference, but a respectful harmony within a healthy pluralism of beliefs, which “respects differences and values them as such” (no. 255). Attempts to privatize religion as an individual matter of conscience that must stay behind church doors reflect “a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism,” rather than the progression of religious freedom (no. 255). Because our religious beliefs are meant to be embodied and manifested in our relationships and work in the public sphere, this kind of delegation does not grant us true freedom.
This lack of freedom is particularly prevalent in the intellectual and cultural realms. Pope Francis sees the modern tendency to disregard all religious thought as an attack not just on religious freedom, but also on reason. This discriminatory dismissal serves a “certain rationalism” that has largely dominated our culture, but is actually opposed to reason in the fullest sense. To ignore the history of thought that has arisen within a religious context is an impediment to, rather than a triumph of reason. This is evident in the narrow-minded views of most media representations of religion. When these “crude and superficial generalizations” become the norm, we lose a wealth of human understanding that the context of faith has developed.
To combat this rationalism, the Holy Father encourages interreligious dialogue, including that between believers and those who—though they don’t identify themselves with any religious tradition—“sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we believe have their highest expression and source in God” (no. 257). Such dialogue—especially in the realms of ethics, arts and sciences—can help to bring about peace through a mutual respect for the dignity of life and a mutual search for transcendent meaning.
Dialogue that respects and values difference should begin in the home! As we face increasing opposition in the public square, it is ever more important that our families be a place of openness and dialogue. Family members with differing beliefs must be accepted and loved, and this respect will be a model for children to follow. The peace within a family that appreciates the uniqueness of each member can serve as the starting point for peace in society.
This past March, Bishop Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska gave an address for the “Catholics in the Capitol” annual Legislative Advocacy Day at the Nebraska State Capitol. It is entitled: “Martyrs, Witnesses and Public Life: Catholics at the Capitol”
Here are a few sections from his address that are pertinent to the work of the USCCB in promoting and defending marriage. He says, “The freedom to practice the faith is threatened by aggressive unchecked secularism, which stops at almost nothing to establish what Pope Benedict XVI called the ‘dictatorship of relativism.’ Relativism today is veiled by words like ‘tolerance’ and ‘non-discrimination’ and ‘progressivism.'” Indeed, the truth about marriage is currently being portrayed as bigoted or discriminatory.
Bishop Conley notes, “Today, our lives are not threatened in the state of Nebraska. But our liberties are. But in our state, faithful Christians face threats to their livelihood, to the education of their children, and to their family life.” These will only continue and become more serious as time goes by if we do not have the courage to stand up for our religious freedom now.
He reminds us that it is the call of the laity to bring Christ into the public sphere. “The Second Vatican Council said that your [lay] task is to ‘animate the temporal order’ with the Spirit of Jesus Christ. This means that our civil laws should reflect truth: the truth about the dignity of every human person; the truth about the sovereignty of families; the truth about the rights of children, and the disabled, and the elderly.” Catholic laypersons cannot sit on the sidelines on the debate about marriage.
Marriage is part of the common good for society. Bishop Conley notes, “Promoting human dignity is the common good. Promoting the family is the common good. Protecting truth and preserving justice is why we make law.”
And finally, Bishop Conley reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle with demons, “minions of the evil one,” and must fight for the good of all souls, including those who disagree with us. “We need to remember that those who disagree with us are created by God for salvation with him—and we are called to be missionaries to them, in order to invite them to a transformative religious relationship with Jesus Christ.”
This Easter, as we celebrate the Resurrection, we may also contemplate the gift of religious freedom; a gift that sometimes requires vigilance.
Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles wrote an article for The Tidings Newspaper in which he highlighted the importance of marriage and family to the plan of God, and the necessity of all citizens to be able to express their views about it. He noted, “Those who govern and shape the way Americans think and behave — in politics and law, education, entertainment and the popular media — form an increasingly secularized elite that has little tolerance for religious institutions or values.”
Regarding marriage, Archbishop Gomez reminded us that, “In his own teaching, Jesus pointed us back to this “beginning.” He told us that the marriage covenant between man and woman is at the heart of God’s design for creation — and that no one has the power to change that design.”
He encouraged us to pray for our country, and said, “But I’m sad to say that right now across the country, others are trying to impose their “faith” — a secularized ideology and an anti-religious morality — on religious believers and it is our rights that are at risk of being denied.”
On March 2, Cardinal Wuerl sent out an email to his people about being courageous in the face of the government’s increasing encroachment on religious freedom.
He writes, “We are being told that in our schools, social service ministries and other Church programs we may not insist that those who teach the Catholic faith and carry out Catholic ministry should do so in word and the manner they live their lives.”
The two laws the Cardinal draws our attention to are:
- The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act of 2014 (RHNDA) which would deprive the Church of its right to ensure that those whom it entrusts to carry out its mission are faithful to its teachings on human life and sexuality, and
- The Human Rights Amendment of 2014 (HRAA) which would require Catholic schools to formally recognize, endorse, and support student groups dedicated to promoting homosexual behavior.
The Cardinal connects all of this activity back to Lent, writing, “This Lent we all need to ask ourselves if we are prepared to stand up for our beliefs and to speak up on behalf of our schools, parishes and charities.”