The Mother of All Freedom

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Earlier today, Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, a former Columbia University professor, spoke at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. 

She capped off a morning that included a riveting rally to the defense of religious liberty in America by Knights of Columbus head Carl Anderson (who you heard from here earlier today) with her own call to action about this first freedom:

We insist upon the civilly-protected freedom for the practice of religion and freedom for the free exercise of conscience because they are inherently human freedoms. No person may become the pawn of the State no matter how small or diminished; no matter how inconvenient. If we loose sight of the dignity of the person, all else will unravel. Peace will not last, for the violation of conscience makes any other human violation and tyranny justifiable. 

As inheritors of the Judeo-Christian faith, ours is the “freedom story”: A history of freedoms won and lost, both as a people and individually. It is the story of a people who exercised the freedom to live the great dignity of the human experience becoming who we are — and this same freedom shamelessly surrendered in weakness to the sirens that excite our passions, in fear to oppressors, and in faithlessness to the idols of the age. 

Freedom is given us by God that we may choose to love, and follow the way of transformation in Christ allowing ourselves to become a total self-gift to another.  In the words of the Exultet, “Awake, O sleeper,” for the crisis we face urgently demands that we exercise and grow in this precious freedom by loving others (in the words of Mother Teresa) “until it hurts.”

As we love we grow in our capacity for love: to love and to be loved, and to live out of the truth of whom we are. Regrettably, because we cannot see and measure love, we are often immune to the impact which the interior movements of one’s will toward good — or sadly toward an embrace of evil — has upon the spiritual and moral climate in our families, neighborhoods, workplaces, congregations and our nation. Evil is a pollutant far worse than carbon leaving craters in the heart and longing emptiness in souls, not just footprints on the earth.

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As we gather today, Christians throughout the world in this Easter season celebrate our final and definitive liberation – the freedom of the sons of God! The Church’s celebrations are founded on the reality that, as prophesized by Isaiah, we have been ransomed by a Savior, Jesus Christ who came to “set the captives free”. We rejoice in the freedom won for us by so great and loving a God. This is a freedom whose beauty surpasses all civil freedoms – the freedom to live in Christ – the freedom to live in grace. Seize that freedom! Avail yourselves of the sacrament which frees us from the bondage of sinfulness. Secure that freedom! Receive from the treasury of grace at Holy Mass, in times of personal prayer and in the praise and adoration of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Be a witness to the greatest freedom of all — women and men fully alive in the Lord capable of reflecting the glory of God. 

You are free not to believe that last part, of course — but isn’t that the point? That we have lived in a nation where Mother Agnes Donovan and her Sisters of Life can live and serve and not be told by the federal government that they have to violate their consciences? 

To give you an idea of how narrow the HHS-mandate exemption the Obama administration so generously offered is, consecrated religious sisters of Mother’s order do not qualify.

Mother Agnes quoted from a legal brief filed by the Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of St. Cecilia in Nashville, which included: 

In their 151-year history, this congregation has, with the help of God, survived a Civil War on their doorstep, deadly epidemics, devastating floods, economic depression and tumultuous social upheaval. Today, however, they face a new, more insidious threat — their own government. Should HHS persist in implementing the [Interim Rule and its contraceptive] mandate without major modifications, the Congregation will be forced to curtail its mission. What war and disease could not do to the Congregation, the government of the United States will do. It will shut them down.

Her full remarks can be read here.