Good evening and thank you for coming here tonight as we pray for the grace to live in the fullness of the freedom given to us by God. Our religious freedom isn’t a privilege granted by the state. It’s our birthright as children of God.
The ability to worship God without interference or fear of persecution has been contested almost forever. Throughout the centuries Christians have died for the right to openly live their faith. Even today, that right comes at a cost. It cannot be taken for granted. It imposes on us a duty as Christians to live in the light of Christ’s teachings. Doing that means we must also defend that right when it’s challenged.
St. Paul says it all so beautifully and so simply in this evening’s first reading. These are the duties of Christians: “Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good.” Every Good in life depends on us understanding the difference between good and evil. To truly live Our Lord’s commandment to love one another, we must recognize the inherent difference between good and evil in our society. Then we must act according to the wisdom we receive from God. Our faith requires us to be vigilant in keeping watch over our hearts to discern and reject definitions of good and evil that come from the world and not from God.
As Catholics, we are called to live our faith each day. We do that through the establishment and support of charities that comfort the sick, feed the hungry, care for the poor, and protect the dignity and sanctity of life. In the marketplace, our Catholic values guide our actions toward fundamental goodness. And as we know with certainty what is good, we strive to practice it in the way we live.
But today in America, the right to live our faith is being threatened by our federal and state governments. Regulations exist that try to force Catholic institutions to provide services that contradict our beliefs. The insistence of our government that Catholics turn away from what we believe will have the result of prohibiting our charities from serving the most vulnerable and needy in our society. And around the world, it’s even worse – Catholics face persecution and even death for their witness to the truth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Religious freedom is a cornerstone of the American experience and is fundamental to our society and our way of life. This was so obvious that many years ago, no one needed to say it. But the times have changed! It’s worth recalling that our founding fathers saw the need for the vibrant practice of faith as vital to the life of a free people. Liberty and happiness grow out of virtue: And virtue is grounded in understanding God’s truth and practicing the beliefs that flow from the truth.
Freedom of Religion is more than just freedom of worship. The right to worship is a necessary part of our religious liberty, but it’s not the only part. It involves more than prayer at home and Mass on Sunday–though they are vitally important. Living our Christian faith also requires us to preach it in the example of our life and teach it to others in their search for the truth.
Real faith bears the most fruit by the actions we take to put our beliefs into practice. We would all do well to listen to the words of St. James when he says:
“What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day and you say to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? Someone may say: ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”
We must have the freedom to put our faith into the practice of good works …otherwise our faith is just empty words.
The threats against our religious freedom are not imaginary. They’re serious and happening right now. We are witnessing a pattern of not-so-subtle government coercion that interferes with the conscience rights of medical providers, private employers, and individual citizens. Many of these government mandates directly oppose Catholic teaching on the dignity of life and human sexuality.
God revealed to us through his son Jesus, the universal and permanent truths about life. Those truths form our Catholic moral convictions about issues such as abortion, contraception, sexuality, and the true nature of marriage. These moral convictions are rooted in reason and natural law that reflect God’s truth. And, unless we work hard to keep our religious liberty, our society will lose sight of those truths.
Our Constitution is a magnificent document. It’s unique in that it preserves high ideals balanced by the realism of human nature. But in the end, unless we live up to those ideals, it’s just a fancy piece of parchment paper. In practice, nothing guarantees our freedoms except our willingness to stand up and fight for them. That means fighting without tiring and without apologies.
St. Paul tells us: “Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction and persevere in prayer.” He continues: “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the Will of God.”
We should never lose sight of the truth we received from Jesus, and what he asks of us as his disciples. If we value our religious freedom and want to keep it, we need to be worthy of it. Knowing God’s will, it’s up to us to honestly live it. The right of religious liberty has no value if we don’t live what we believe.
During this Holy Hour for Religious Freedom we pray for what we know is right…seeking the kingdom of God above all else. We pray that God will open our hearts to His Will instead of our own. We pray for the grace and strength to pursue the truth with zeal. For when we do that, true freedom and the joy it brings, can never be taken from us.
We all know the duties we are called to shoulder as Christians. How we respond to that call is up to each of us.
God bless you.