Maryland Catholics Open an Ecumenical Prayer for Freedom

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

“For love of country, let us bear constant witness, individually and collectively, to those moral truths and values which are the foundation of democracy and the basis for building a society that is just, peaceful, and charitable,” Archbishop William Lori implored last night as he invited an ecumenical prayer and labor for religious freedom during an opening Mass for the Fortnight for Freedom (I tweeted from @kathrynlopez).

Lori, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on religious liberty, encouraged those of us who have enjoyed this freedom, which “has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person,” to work to protect it with those throughout the world to seek it.

In his homily, Archbishop Lori highlighted the unprecedented nature of the Obama administration’s attack on conscience:

Until now, it has been entirely possible under federal law for conscientious owners to conduct private businesses in accord with one’s conscience and the teachings of one’s faith. Until now, federal law has also accommodated businesses which are not church organizations but which are related to the mission of the Church, Examples include catholic publishing houses such as Our Sunday Visitor, Catholic insurers, Legatus, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic fraternal organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, just to name a few. The freedom of conscientious and like-minded individuals to conduct such businesses in accord with the teaching of the Church now hangs in the balance. On August 1st, less than six weeks from now, the Health and Human Services mandate will go into effect. This will force conscientious private employers to violate their consciences by funding and facilitating through their employee health insurance plans reproductive “services” that are morally objectionable. As the United States Bishops recently indicated, the HHS mandate violates the personal civil rights of those, who in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and values.

“[O]ur Church and her institutions do find themselves today in perilous waters,” the archbishop told those gathered for Mass (which was televised live on EWTN, the Catholic channel). #more#He went on: 

For embedded in the HHS mandate is a very narrow governmental definition of what constitutes a church; and if it is not removed, it is likely to spread throughout federal law. In the HHS mandate, the federal government now defines a church as a body which hires mostly its own members and serves mostly its own members, and which exists primarily to advance its own teachings. In a word, so long as a church confines itself to the sacristy, then it is exempt from having to fund and facilitate in its health insurance plans government mandated services which are contrary to its own teachings. But if a church steps beyond the narrow confines of this definition by hiring those of other faiths and by serving the common good . . . then the government is telling us that such institutions aren’t religious enough, that they don’t deserve an exemption from funding and facilitating those things which violate the very teachings which inspired churches to establish their institutions in the first place.

Obviously, confining us to sacristies is not how religious liberty has or should work. It’s not freedom.

Archbishop Lori preached:

Friends, we must never allow the government, –any government, at any time, of any party– to impose such a constrictive definition on our beloved Church or any church! Our Church was sent forth by the Lord teach and baptize all the nations. It was commissioned by our Savior to announce that the Kingdom of God is at hand. It was sent into the world to do the corporal works of love and mercy. Don’t we see this all around us – in inner-city Catholic schools, in Catholic hospitals, in the work of Catholic Charities so critical for the well being of local communities? “The Word of God cannot be chained,” St. Paul wrote to Timothy, and now it is up to us to defend the Church’s freedom to fulfill her mission to freely manifest the love of God by organized works of education and charity. This is why the Church has engaged the Administration so earnestly, this is why we are working for legislative protection from the Congress, this is why, thankfully, so many have filed lawsuits in various parts of the country, and this is why there is a Fortnight for Freedom . . . so that the Church would be free of that government interference.

Those who would dismiss the Fortnight as some kind of political effort miss why the Church exists. I fear those who protested Mass last night are mistaking the call of the Gospel for political rhetoric.

“Freedom is not the power of doing what we like but the right of being able to do what we ought,’” Archbishop Lori said. “By prayer, education, and by exercising our rights as citizens, let us never cease defending the only notion of freedom worthy of our dignity as persons and sturdy enough to support our democratic way of life.” He continued: “This is the flame of true freedom which we should keep burning brightly not only for our own sake, but also for sake of many people in many countries who suffer terrible persecution and even death because of their religious beliefs.”

In 1806, Archbishop of Baltimore John Carroll laid the cornerstone of the Basilica in which Archbishop Lori celebrated Mass in last night, and the late archbishop’s successor invited all gathered to join in a prayer composed by the archbishop’s cousin, Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence: “God grant that . . . religious liberty may be preserved in these states to the end of time, and that all who believe in the religion of Christ may practice the leading principle of charity, the basis of every other virtue.”

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