.- For Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., the Churchâs ongoing battle for religious freedom in America highlights the need for Catholics to bring their faith into the public square.
In his latest book, the cardinal challenges lay Catholics to participate in the New Evangelization through their daily activities, a task that he describes as particularly important in a democratic society like the U.S.
Cardinal Wuerl told CNA that the Obama administrationâs contraception mandate illustrates an âerosion of religious libertyâ that is âone of the most worrisomeâ challenges ever faced by our nation.
âNever before in the history of our country have we been told you canât participate in the good works of the common good unless you violate your conscience,â he said.
He asserted that the Churchâs ability to serve is being threatened by the HHS mandate, which would require employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so is in violation of their firmly-held religious beliefs.
At the heart of the problem is the governmentâs attempt to âdefine what constitutes legitimate expressions of religious faith, Catholic ministry and Catholic ministers,â he said.
The cardinal warned that Catholics must not sit by while their freedom to express their faith is under attack. He encouraged Americans to âspeak upâ about the mandate and other important issues, explaining that when they do, the government hears them and often institutes change.
The connection between Catholic faith and public life is a central theme in the cardinalâs new book, âSeek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living Our Catholic Faithâ (Our Sunday Visitor, $19.95).
He writes in his book that all those who live in a democracy have a duty to participate in the political processes that elect public officials and develop public policy.
For Catholics, this means bringing their principles and values into the public forum. The convictions of oneâs faith should impact public policy views âbecause the same person who is a citizen is also, for the most part, a believer, a participant in the life of the Church,â he said.
Unfortunately, Cardinal Wuerl observed, religionâs contribution and place in society are largely dismissed today.
The often-cited principle of âseparation of church and stateâ was not intended to remove religious values from political life, but rather to protect religious freedom in order âto ensure that the voice of religious conviction would always be felt in our society,â he said.
People forget that the Catholic Church has had a place serving the common good for centuries, since âbefore there was even a Democratic or Republican party,â he added.
Cardinal Wuerl explained that defending the Churchâs fundamental freedoms is one of the ways Catholics can respond to Godâs call to manifest his kingdom in their lives as citizens.
âIt is precisely in the day-to-day activities, whether it involves our family, our profession, our work or our ministry, that the presence of the kingdom is realized,â he said.
With his latest book, the cardinal hopes to encourage the lay faithful âin their vocation to bring about the evangelization and sanctification of the temporal order.â
âThe Catholic laity have a role in carrying out the work of the Church and responding to Jesusâ commissioning that we are all to be his witnesses,â he said.
He pointed to Pope Benedictâs call for a New Evangelization and said this makes it an âappropriate timeâ to highlight the laityâs role in responding to Christâs commission to witness to the world.
Participating in the New Evangelization, he explained, requires âa deepening of our own faith, a renewing of our confidence in the truth of our faith and then the outreach of sharing our faith.â
It also means responding to the âgreat need today to reach out to Catholics who have drifted away from the faith,â he said.
The cardinal called on Christians to resist the temptation to get lost in a world that is becoming âincreasingly secularâ and to âsee in our daily actions the spiritual dimension that is intricately a part of them as we do our part to manifest Godâs kingdom among us.â