My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the Peace of the Risen Christ be with you!
After the 11:00 a.m. Sunday Mass I went to the Athletic Club and had a hard work out. When I got back to the rectory, in an attempt to cool off, I opened the ice box (the frig) and discovered a bowl of cold seedless watermelon. I took it out and began to eat a piece after piece after piece. Boy was it good. It was so refreshing. As I was enjoying the last piece, I thought how great it is to be able to live in a country that gives me the freedom to choose first to participate in a Mass of my choice to worship God as I freely choose; to jump in my car and drive to a place to which I choose to belong in order to keep my body in shape; and to enjoy ice cold watermelon just because I want to. Wow what a country!
But when you stop and think about it, these freedoms that we have come at a great price. When our founding fathers decided to get out from under the yoke of being ruled a king that lived in a far distant land and who had no personal idea of what life was like in this new land, they willingly put their lives on the line to provide for us a country that is ruled by laws that are based on the constitution which they wrote in order to guarantee us our freedom. One of the basic freedoms guaranteed by our constitution is the freedom to worship God. Those wise men who wrote the constitution did not want a state religion where the government would have the right to dictate to us how we are to pray and or to define what actions are religious.
As we mark the 242ndanniversary of our independence, let us also take the opportunity to reflect on the obligations that are ours as a free people. Freedom does not give us the right to do as we please to whomever we want. We must respect the dignity of all people – born and unborn. We do not have the right to act unjustly towards others because of their race, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation. Racial and religious prejudice should have no place in our lives. We should never forget the words penned by our founding fathers: “All men are created equally.”
A few years ago our government threatened our religious freedom by issuing unjust decrees that dictate to us as a Church to act contrary to our beliefs. Primary among these unjust decrees is the mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services, which requires employers, including Catholic institutions, to violate the moral law by providing contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in their health plans.
Less noticed, but equally offensive to both Catholic doctrine and the constitution, is the determination by the government of what constitutes a religious institution. The HHS mandate grants an exemption to parishes, but it defines religious institutions in such a way that it excludes, for example, Catholic universities, hospitals, food pantries, publishing houses, and social services. According to the HHS definition, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Knights of Columbus wouldn’t qualify as religious institutions! Indeed, according to the federal rule, if we serve people who are not Catholic in our agencies, or educate them in our universities, or employ them in our institutions – we cease to be religious. If we provide for the needs of the sick and the poor, but don’t ask whether they are Catholic or teach them catechism – we are not religious.
It is an absurd position and a clear violation of the Bill of Rights. Our first freedom is religious liberty, and the First Amendment explicitly forbids the government from establishing religion, which means that a government department doesn’t get to decide what religion is, and what the proper work of the Church is.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, reminded us that the works of charity are as essential for the Church’s mission as is preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments. The Catholic Church can no more abandon the sick in our hospitals or the immigrant at the border than she can set aside the Word of God, or the Holy Mass. As Catholics, we have the right under our constitution to practice our faith according to the dictates of the Church. Recently Pope Francis said that we Catholics are to “tenderly” reach out to all people regardless as to whether or not they believe in God. He reminded us that we are to always remember that Jesus came to love all people, and we are to do the same.
As you celebrate this Fourth of July, remember people everywhere who do not enjoy the same freedom that you and I enjoy. Keep them in your prayers so that one day they too will be free. Live your lives in a way that is an example to others, always respecting the rights of others.
On this 4th of July, let us pray from the bottoms of our hearts that the freedoms we enjoy, the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution, will stay intact, and that the laws that set forth our religious liberty will be honored by all.
As Americans, we can be proud of our history of being a welcoming country that has made room for all with the guarantee that our laws, derived from our constitution, will assure them of the freedom to religious liberty.
Let me encourage you to take the time to look up the web page of the United State Catholic Bishops and read more about how we stand up for our religious freedom. Check out the recent statements from the Bishops at their meeting a few weeks ago in Florida.
Happy Fathers’ Day.