Beginning June 22, the Feast of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, celebrates Religious Freedom Week. All people desire to know their Creator. All people have a natural impulse to seek the good and to live in accordance with that good. All people can flourish when they pursue the truth about God and respond to the truth. Religious freedom means that all people have the space to flourish. Religious freedom is both an American value and an important part of the Universal Catholic teaching on human dignity. When we promote religious freedom, we promote the common good and thus strengthen the life of our nation and the community of nations.
Learn more at www.usccb.org/ReligiousFreedomWeek
I think for most of us, when we hear the phrase “Religious Freedom”, we tend to think of it in terms of one’s ability to attend the church, synagogue, temple, mosque, etc of our choice. This is in fact the most obvious and outward meaning. Many countries, by government mandate, have strict restrictions on religious gatherings within their boundaries. Other countries have majority communities that unduly hamper and harass the freedom of minorities to gather freely, safely, and spiritually according to their religious faith and personal conscience. In the USA, this type of religious freedom has not been a major issue for years. Praise God!!! Yet, reflecting on our collective March to May ‘Shut-down’ gives each of us a personal experience of what is so prevalent in so many other places in the world. There was a whole mix of emotions in me as I posted signs – “Church is Close, Effective Immediately”. It was saddening, scary, surreal. We collectively felt fear, anger, concern, being lost or shut-out. While the precipitating reason for our particular shut-down was understandable and so in some ways very different than existing religious liberty restrictions experienced elsewhere, it does provide a small window into what such a world is like to live in. And it didn’t feel good, nor was it good objectively speaking.
From this personal experience of temporarily restricted religious liberty, we should pray for, intercede for, have empathy with, and even act on behalf of those who live with daily struggles of restricted religious liberty. We can do that through our personal interactions with the people meet, in our conversations in support of the value of authentic religious expression not just within our church (synagogue, temple, mosque) but in our public life, in lives lived faithfully according to our Catholic faith & doctrine, in our expectations for political leaders, and in our voting.
These past weeks, much has been said about, even lawsuits and arrests, regarding the freedom to come together for religious gatherings. Those are worthwhile conversations, but they are also just the tip of the religious liberty iceberg. True Religious Freedom is more broad than the ability to gather on a particular day in a particular place in a particular way. That is definitely included and necessary, but religion is never just a day or an hour or a place. Rather, real Religious Liberty is at the heart of our inner most being; and as such, it must be lived out every day, and hour, and in every place – in our homes, our neighborhoods & communities, in our workplaces and the public square. We must be on guard that our personal religious liberty is not unduly restricted to the private sphere of our lives – but that true freedom allows us to be truly for God & neighbor in our public lives as well.
I am aware some of our parishioners are still feeling restrictions in a practical way. Know of my prayers for you. Know I frequently offer the grace of my reception of Communion for you and for your needs. I long for the day when we are all be able to gather freely around the altar of Word and Sacrament. You are missed… but not forgotten.
Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph, Pray for us.
~ Fr Jeremy M. Gries