This week begins the Fortnight for Freedom, what the Bishops call “a great hymn of prayer for our country. . . Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.” * Such is our call for the next two weeks: June 21-July 4.
I have refrained from writing much about current questions of religious liberty in general and the HHS mandate in particular, not because they are not important but because they are THAT important. Something as weighty as a fundamental human right (religious freedom being just one) deserves more than spontaneous, emotional, reactive, commentary. It demands intentional, reasoned, nuanced responses that aim to convince, not verbally bludgeon.
Catholics and non-Catholics alike disagree even as to what they are arguing about: women’s healthcare? contraception? religious freedom? partisan election-year politics? a combination? Some don’t see any problem at all.
I have my own understanding of the situation, but a very real secondary problem exists. Many people engaging in this question publicly don’t seem to care what OTHER people think the problem is. You don’t have to worry about what the OTHER thinks if you don’t care about convincing. If utterly defeating your theological or political enemy in an intellectual battle is your goal, only what YOU think matters. If, however, you want to convince; if you want to form or remain in a relationship with the other person, you MUST care about what THEY think. . . even if they are wrong. . . especially if they are wrong.
It is simply not enough that we know the truth that religious liberty is not merely freedom from government interference or even freedom to worship, but freedom to live as Catholics fully, faithfully, publicly, and institutionally. We also need to communicate that truth, not for ourselves, but for the sake of the common good of our nation. HOW we communicate will make all the difference.
My recently designed “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: At a Glance” insists, we must NEVER IMPOSE our views. Rather, we must PROPOSE them with charity and in a way that aims at conversion of heart and mind.
Many of us have been trying to spread the news that there is a crisis of religious liberty in this country. Chances are there are people in your life (as in mine!), co-workers, strangers, friends, even family members, who disagree with you about what the problem is, its extent, or its existence. How do you respond to that disagreement? Do you try to “pound” your view into them, as I heard one person say recently? Have you “lost your cool?” Do you question people’s Catholicity when they disagree? OR do you ask questions, attempt to discover why they disagree, and respond charitably, but critically, to their position?
This type of response requires care and takes time because it always comes in the form of a gift. It’s also the only type of response that is worthy of us . . . worthy of the Church.
When you give someone a gift, do you try to give them something you want or something they want? Something that is good for you or good or them? Do you give gifts so you can feel great about yourself or because you genuinely want to give something good to another person? Good arguments are like good gifts; they are about the receiver not the giver.
We don’t usually think about arguing in this way, especially when the topic is so charged with emotion. Emotions aren’t bad but they can distort the situation. Currently there is a lot of fear about the role of the Church in the public square, the influence of politics on religion and vice versa, the fate of our social service, medical, and educational institutions. There are those who want you to fear, those who want you to despair. That would be a mistake.
Be not afraid! We are saved by hope! Is there a crisis of religious liberty? Yes. Must we respond to it, as Cardinal Dolan would have us, with “all the energies the Catholic community can muster?” Yes. But we cannot forget that we do not ultimately rely upon judicial, legislative, or executive relief for our freedoms . . . any of them. We rely upon Jesus Christ, our one true Lord. Place your hope in Him, not them.
You can find our resources for the Fortnight, Faithful Citizenship, and Religious Freedom on the Archdiocesan homepage. Click here for daily prompts to help you reflect, ponder, and act to foster and protect our religious freedom during the Fortnight. (Spanish and Polish also available) Click here for suggestions for parish participation in the Fortnight.