By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde
**EDITOR’S NOTE: This column originally ran in the Arlington Catholic Herald (view it here). It serves as a reminder to us to continue praying for religious liberty, especially since the Diocese of Arlington will be celebrating the Fortnight for Freedom tomorrow, June 28, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Herndon. For more information, please see the Facebook event at on.fb.me/1lPC1PF. **
Freedom to Serve is the theme for the third annual “Fortnight for Freedom,” June 21–July 4. I join my brother bishops in urging you to participate in this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action devoted to upholding religious freedom at home and abroad.
What does it mean to be truly free? Who or what can make us free? For whom are we seeking freedom this Fortnight? I suggest three emphases that can illuminate the meaning and significance of authentic religious freedom: truthfulness, heroic witness in Christ, and vigilance.
The Gospel of John relates that as Jesus was teaching in the Temple, he was harassed by those who resisted the truth that He was revealing. Jesus assured those who believed in h
im: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jn 8:32). Truth is not simply factual data. It is essential because it expresses what is in accord with the nature of persons, things, and actions as they really are. Jesus did not hesitate to tell the truth in love and chose to identify Himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
In his series of audiences on Theology of the Body, Saint John Paul II explained how the opening chapter of Genesis celebrates the splendor of a free creation and the original design of God for human happiness. He describes what occurred when those at the fountainhead of humanity sinned, violating their relationship with God and one another. The effects reverberated throughout the world. Fundamentally, all sin is deceptive, seeming to promise happiness while undermining what is genuinely truthful and good. As Genesis relates, Adam and Eve, in their unhappy shame for what they had done, tried to lie even to God!
Whenever there is an attempt to subvert the truth about the reality of God, or the meaning of life and creation, freedom is lost. Respect for the true nature of people and things gives way to domination and the struggle to control people and events by force and legal fiats. Of ourselves, we cannot achieve or maintain freedom. We have just completed an intensified liturgical celebration of our Redemption in Jesus Christ and have sacramentally experienced how Christ, “the Way, the Truth and the life,” has indeed set us free.
The martyrs, and all who live a heroic witness to the truth in the midst of a world disfigured by sin, inspire and assist us as we enter the Fortnight for Freedom, which does not come without cost. We are accompanied by those who have been willing to suffer, even die, for the truths in Christ that make us free. Saint Paul encouraged the Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1).
How privileged we are to have Saint Thomas More the principal patron of our diocese! Under duress, he remained faithful to the truth of divine and ecclesial realities rather than yield to the force of an earthly king. Although condemned to death, Thomas More, like Christ, was truly free and faithful. After his sufferings in the Tower of London, Thomas joked with the man assigned to be his executioner, who would drop the sharp-edged blade on his neck. In a later age, the poet Paul Claudel, would honor such inner freedom in his admonition: “To mount the cross laughing.”
A third way to increase understanding of religious freedom is accurate knowledge of dangers to religious liberty in our nation and throughout the world. In a word — vigilance. Laws, mandates, and judges’ decisions are requiring actions that violate the truth of the human person and override principles of moral responsibility. For example, institutions and agencies that provide health care, serve immigrants, or enable the adoption of children are threatened with severe penalties or closure for refusing to perform services that violate the truths of sexuality and marriage. Business owners seeking exemptions from governmental directives that violate their consciences are facing crippling fines. Protecting religious freedom to be of service to others, especially to those who are in most need, without losing moral integrity, is urgently needed.
And so, as we once again mark these ongoing challenges with a Fortnight for Freedom, I urge you to participate in a tangible way, to inform yourselves, to advocate, to pray and to sacrifice. This is no small matter because our ability as Catholics to participate in civil society as full citizens is threatened, with directs impacts on the vital works of charity the Church performs. I am marking the Fortnight in a particular way on June 28th from 9 a.m. to noon at St. Joseph’s Church in Herndon, as I host a diocesan event explaining clearly our concerns regarding religious liberty and providing for intercessory prayer. Speakers include Catholic University of America President John H. Garvey in what promises to be an informative and meaningful gathering, and I urge you to join me if at all possible. We must be free to serve others as Jesus Christ has mandated us to do!