In seeking religious liberty, Catholics are seeking the freedom to serve in response to Christ’s love in the Eucharist, said the archbishop of Baltimore at the start of the 2014 Fortnight for Freedom.
“May we find in the Eucharist, the source and the summit of our charity, and in that charity may we advocate by word and witness for the robust freedom of individuals and of Churches,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore during the opening Mass for the third annual Fortnight for Freedom.
“Not only to worship without fear, but indeed to serve others and the common good in love, in truth, in joy, and in freedom,” he added.
Archbishop Lori, who chairs the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, delivered the homily at a June 21 Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the nation’s oldest Cathedral, in downtown Baltimore, Md.
The Fortnight for Freedom – currently in its third year – is a two-week period of prayer, education and action to promote a greater respect for religious liberty both in the U.S. and abroad.
The first Fortnight for Freedom was held in 2012 amid threats to religious freedom stemming from the Health and Human Services mandate, which requires employers to fund or facilitate insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions, even if such cooperation violates their firmly-held religious beliefs.
A potentially far-reaching ruling on the mandate as it relates to for-profit employers with religious objections to these requirements is expected from the Supreme Court within days.
Other religious liberty concerns that have been raised include threats to religious organizations and businesses caused by the redefinition of marriage and laws that consider objections to “gay marriage” to be illegal discrimination, as well as state immigration laws that could prevent charitable outreach and pastoral care to undocumented immigrants, and pressure on Catholic medical personnel and others who object to abortion.
Foreign religious freedom concerns include the threat to historic Christian communities in war-torn Syria and the danger to religious minorities, including Christians, in Pakistan. The U.S. bishops have also highlighted threats posed by the terrorist Islamic extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria and by religious conflict in the southeast Asian country of Myanmar.
Archbishop Lori’s homily focused on the Eucharist, which is the “source and the summit of Christian life.”
He explained that the Eucharist is “the Sacrament of Charity, the gift Jesus makes of Himself” in giving his body and blood, and by consuming it, “it’s meant to change us, to transform us interiorly.”
However, this interior change is connected to our exterior life. The Second Vatican Council “illuminated that link between Eucharistic worship and service of the common good,” Archbishop Lori said.
The love of Christ we receive in the Eucharist “opens our minds and our hearts and our eyes to the dignity of the poor and the vulnerable,” he said, leading Christians to “spend ourselves” in a variety of works of service to the hungry, homeless, migrant, vulnerable and impoverished.
“By entering the dynamic of Christ’s self-giving love, we are impelled also to work for a just and a loving society where the dignity of each human life is respected from the moment of conception to natural death and at all stages in between,” he noted.
By “digesting” the truth of Christ’s love in the Eucharist, the archbishop continued, Catholics are called “to bear witness to teachings on human life, on marriage and family, on sexuality and on a range of social issues, even when those teachings are unpopular and countercultural,” because these teachings contain “the very key to human happiness and freedom.”
But the ability to live by this freedom contained in the truth of Christ’s love is threatened, the archbishop said.
“In many parts of the world, people are dying for the faith they possess,” he explained, adding that “here in the United States, challenges to religious freedom are more subtle. They are less easy to see, but they are very real.”
“Increasingly government at all levels is inserting itself in the internal life of Churches,” dictating what parts of Catholic teaching and service are acceptable to be protected, he said. This places at risk the “millions and millions” of people aided by Catholic agencies and individuals.
Archbishop Lori called the government and Catholics to “look at the poor and needy not only as statistics but as persons made in God’s image and called to enjoy God’s friendship.”
In looking for religious freedom protections, the Church is not looking for special treatment for the Church and Church institutions, he stressed. “We are seeking the freedom to serve.”