West River Catholic: June 2015

Enjoy the July

edition of the West River Catholic

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Religious freedom rooted in the dignity of humans

Once again, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops invites every diocese and every Catholic faith community, united together, to celebrate the Fortnight for Freedom, June 21 to July 4. This year’s theme will focus on the “Freedom to Bear Witness” to the truth of the Gospel.

Why is protecting religious freedom essential today more than ever before? The very moral fiber of our country and our world depends upon people of faith being able to practice their deeply held religious beliefs in a way that promotes peace, harmony and love. As religious freedom is diminished, so goes the moral and virtuous life. People lose their way and the dignity of the human person is diminished.

In an address to Albanian religious leaders, Pope Francis said, “When, in the name of an ideology, there is an attempt to remove God from society, it ends up adoring idols, and very soon men and women lose their way, their dignity is trampled and their rights violated.” (Sept. 23, 2014)

As religious freedom continues to be taken away from us by our government leaders, our human dignity is being trampled. Every person must be free to profess and live his or her faith, whatever it may be, because that man or woman is a child of God. Each of us is created in God’s image and likeness, and to take away our religious freedom is to deprive us from being who we are and from living our true identity. At the Second Vatican Council, the Council declared: “The right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right” (Dignitatus Humanae, #2).

Therefore our allegiance is to God and, because of our Catholic faith, we are obliged to bear witness to the truth about marriage as the union of one man and one woman; the truth about the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death; the truth about the need to feed the hungry, comfort the sick, and welcome the migrant; and the truth about the need to protect and preserve our first freedom — religious liberty. Isn’t this precisely what the Gospel of Jesus demands of us?

It is clear today that when we publicly exercise our “Freedom to Bear Witness,” we will not only be ridiculed, but redefined. When we as Catholics speak out for what we are for, many others attempt to define for us what we are against. For example, when we promote God’s plan for marriage, it is viewed as discrimination against homosexuals. When we speak out for the rights of unborn children, it is viewed by many as discrimination against women.

In bearing witness, we must never let others define who we are and what we believe. We must continue to fight this cultural battle and speak strongly against the voices which are attempting to redefine our culture altogether and what we stand for.

When we think about the life of Jesus, he too, had his religious liberty taken from him. It cost him his life. He too, was ridiculed for being faithful to his dignity and beliefs. Let us be mindful of his words in the Gospel where he says, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn 15:20) and “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first” (Jn 15:18).

Another reason this fight is important is because it is a fight for humanity. We must defend religious freedom because the church loves God and humanity. When we practice our faith, we share our love for God and at the same time, take care of the most vulnerable of society. It is not about the church getting preferential treatment, but we do not truly have religious freedom without the freedom to live the Gospel, serving especially the poorest and most vulnerable among us (Mt 25:31-4).

“Only faith,” St. John Paul II once wrote in a message to the Albanian people, “reminds us that, if we have one Creator, we are therefore all brothers and sisters. Religious freedom is a safeguard against all forms of totalitarianism and contributes decisively to human fraternity.”

But as western culture becomes increasingly self-focused, human fraternity becomes increasingly challenged because the mindset turns to personal gratification instead of what is best for the common good of all. The demands of the Gospel become greater and are more likely to be rejected as the culture becomes more secular. This has resulted in people of faith experiencing religious persecution for their beliefs across the country in particular, but also around the world.

The fight for religious freedom must continue by people who keep the spirit of the Gospel and seek to build a world of peace, justice and love based upon truth as revealed by God. We must not be afraid of being marginalized nor should we hesitate to say that we are pro-life, for traditional marriage, for the poor, for the migrant and for religious liberty. We only have to think about the Christians who have been kidnapped and killed in places like Syria, Iraq and Africa. Let us stand up for them by standing up for the teachings of Jesus Christ and his church.

During this Fortnight for Freedom, may we all take the time to pray, educate ourselves on these important issues surrounding our religious freedom, and take action in bearing witness to our call to follow Christ in all things, supporting our rights to religious freedom!

Our own thoughts distract us from seeing other’s needs

Recently a married couple told me about their Memorial Day weekend. The couple’s daughter and son-in-law and their two young children came for the holiday and accompanied their parents to Mass. This young couple was quite surprised when they found themselves walking down the center aisle to find a place in one of the front pews. The couple protested as they were led with their young toddlers toward the front of the church. They worried about fussy behavior or the possibility of having to escort a child back down the aisle out the back doors. In the end, after the Mass finished, the young couple looked at their parents and said, “You were quite brave today.”

Isn’t this what church is about? Belonging to a parish community where one feels so comfortable and at home, walking to the front of the church with two young children causes no worry about what others might think or say.

We want our parishes to be such places of welcome and comfort. In the next several installments of this column, I want be take a deeper look at hospitality, the first lens of our stewardship process to promote A Catholic Way of Life. In the January issue of West River Catholic, Bishop Robert Gruss described the stewardship of hospitality as one in which, “each person in our presence is important to us. Each person is deeply valued because they, like all of us, have been created in God’s image and likeness.”

Hospitality is an attribute of God. Because we have been made in God’s image and likeness and are united to him in our baptism, we have become partakers of the divine nature and temples of the Holy Spirit (CCC1265). It is through our baptism that we are called to share in the priesthood of Christ. It is through our baptism that we begin to realize that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19).

Even with the graces received at our baptism, we still struggle to live generous hospitality. Selfishness persists within us. For the most part, we have not cultivated a habit of reaching out to one another. Often our own thoughts, needs and desires consume our time and distract us from seeing the needs of those around us. At times we simply do not want to be bothered with the difficulties of our neighbor, as we attempt to juggle our own problems. Other times we shrink from getting involved in the life of a stranger out of fear. How do we rescue this lost art of kindness?

Father Robert Rivers, CSP, in his book, “From Maintenance to Mission: Evangelization and the Revitalizing of the Parish,” describes hospitality in these two terms. First, “the word hospitality is derived from the Latin word hospes which means host as well as guest. It has been defined as the act, practice, or quality of being friendly and solicitous towards guests or new arrivals.” Secondly, “Christian hospitality goes back to the practice of philoxenia, a Greek word that means to make the stranger a friend.”

These two definitions of hospitality give us an opportunity to reflect more deeply on our baptismal call to really imitate the life of Christ not only as a host, but as a guest and to truly make the stranger among us a friend.

This month have the courage to introduce yourself to the stranger or the visitor in your parish. This month look for an opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. This month invite your neighbor over for dinner and dessert.

I encourage you to spend some time this month with this passage from Matthew, as Christ calls us to hospitality:

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (25:31-35).

Remember when welcoming the stranger, one welcomes Christ. As we continue to embrace A Catholic Way of Life through the lens of hospitality, let us recommit ourselves to live the grace of our baptism more fervently by being more aware of the needs of our neighbor and the stranger in our midst.