April 22, 2012

April 22, 2012 Column Father De Celles

“You have set us free.” As we continue with our celebration of the Easter Season, I would like to call to your attention to that part of the Mass in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer when the people respond to the priest’s proclamation, “The Mystery of Faith.” There are several different responses that can be given, but the one that I have chosen to be sort of our “default” response, especially when it is sung, is this: “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.” There are many reasons for my choice of this response, but two key reasons are that it reminds us of the absolute importance of freedom in the Christian life and that Christ is the source of true freedom: freedom from sin and death, from enslavement to the devil and our own passions, and freedom to choose to love and serve God, to become, by Christ’s grace, the good men and women we were created to be.

Another related reason for my choice is the importance the idea of freedom plays in lives of Americans: freedom is fundamental to Christianity, but it is also fundamental to America. As Christians we remember the words of Christ, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,” and the inspired words of St. Paul: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” And as Americans we cherish the unforgettable words of our Founders and our founding document, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men…are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

For over 235 years American Catholics have understood that the freedom won for us by Christ is reflected in the liberty recognized by the Declaration of Independence, and the various freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, especially as these “human laws” recognize and protect the underlying liberty given by our Creator to all men. Nowhere is this more evident than in the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment—the first liberty/freedom listed in the Constitution.

As you all know three months ago our President and his administration launched an unprecedented assault on this freedom—specifically on the Religious Liberty of Catholics—as new regulations required the Catholic Church, and Catholic institutions and individuals, to provide employee health insurance to cover the cost of contraception, abortifacients and sterilization. The Bishops of the United States responded swiftly, unequivocally and bravely: “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.”
In the subsequent weeks the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Loverde and the priests of St. Raymond responded in various ways to this attack (see for example: http://straymonds.org/rights/index.html). But in the last few weeks you might have detected a certain decline in our emphasis on this issue. For my own part, as we moved deeper into the season of Lent toward Easter, I intentionally tried to focus our parish more on the central mysteries of our faith: the Passion, Cross and Resurrection of Our Lord, and the life changing effects this should have on each of us here at St. Raymond’s. And I think this was the case for most priests and bishops.

But it would be wrong to think that the Passion, Cross and Resurrection of Christ have little to do with the battle to defend Religious Liberty. Because the freedom won for us on the Cross is the source and underlying meaning of any Christian’s love for the freedom protected by our nation’s laws and constitution. Our nation’s laws protect our freedom to choose to become good and great human beings, and most specifically and necessarily, as we understand it, to be good and great in the eyes of God—to live morally just and upright lives.

So do not think we have abandoned or sought to deemphasize the cause of Religious Liberty, or its fundamental importance to Catholics in America! Do not think we are retreating one inch from the battle the President and his minions have initiated against Catholicism, Christianity, and religion in general. What the Bishops wrote in defiance of this “unjust law” still stands, and will stand until, by the grace of Christ and the dedicated opposition of Americans of goodwill, our nation once again unambiguously recognizes and protects its foundational liberties, especially Religious Liberty.

To this end, on April 12, 2012, the Bishops issued a comprehensive statement, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” outlining the current situation and laying out specific courses of action they are calling on Catholics to pursue in the coming months. (See the parish website for a link to this document: www.straymonds.org). Most notably they have called on American Catholics to focus “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” in a special way during the fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, which they called a “Fortnight for Freedom”—“a great hymn of prayer for our country.” Individual dioceses and parishes will observe this in their own particular ways as a “special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action” emphasizing “both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.”

I look forward to this “Fortnight for Freedom” and hope to have several “events” planned for the parish, and to participate in any “events” Bishop Loverde will propose. We have, I think, already anticipated this call by our very successful and informative March 17th “Conference on Religious Liberty, Contraception, and the Catholic Church.” In this regard I can now invite and encourage all of you who missed the conference to visit the parish website where you can follow the obvious links to view the videos of this conference, and to share them with your friends.

There is a great battle ahead of us—a battle that must be peaceful and imbued with charity—but a battle nevertheless. But by the grace of Christ, and in the fullness of the freedom won for us by His Cross and Resurrection, I am confident we will be victorious.

“Living Your Faith in the Public Square.” In our fight to defend Religious Liberty, Pope Benedict has reminded American Catholics: “Here …we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with …the courage to counter a reductive secularism … in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.” With this in mind, and to help prepare for this “public debate” I am pleased to invite you to attend a very special talk this Thursday evening, April 26, presented by Ken Cuccinelli, the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia. General Cuccinelli’s topic is extremely timely: “Living Your Faith in the Public Square.” I strongly encourage you to take time from your busy schedules to attend this presentation by this outstanding Catholic layman.

Let us pray together: “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.”

Et oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles