December 2, 2011 – Is Religious Freedom Really In Jeopardy?

Well, Catholics this week took a big sigh of relief as we made it through the first weekend of using the 3rd translation of the Roman Missal.  I personally thought, at least at the Saturday evening Mass which I attended, that things went pretty smoothly.  It is hard to change when these prayers have become so ingrained in us, but I think in a relatively short time the new translation will become part of us.  I admit, I did OK when I had the book in front of me, but when I went to the altar to distribute the Eucharist, I caught myself saying “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you … DOH!”.  It will continue to be a learning process for all of us.

Stephen Colbert, who is host of his own show on Comedy Central and is a Catholic, gave his own reaction to the new translation as well as to a couple other issues.  Some may find it unhumorous, even offensive, but I think many Catholics will see it as an opportunity to laugh at ourselves.  Here is the link to the video below (about 6 minutes long):

yahweh-or-no-way—altered-catholic-mass–papal-seat-belt—offensive-vodka-ad

Well way back when as the idea came to mind to begin a blog, I wasn’t sure what I would write about each week, but I knew that I wanted to keep things light-hearted and that I didn’t always want to get into topics that were really “deep”.  But sometimes as a Catholic you can’t help but see what is going on around you and defend the basis of your faith.  Many of the items I have been seeing on Catholic information sites have dealt with the erosion of our religious freedom.  So before I give humble opinion about whether or not I think this is a true concern for us, I thought I would refresh my 7th grade lessons and see what the first amendment of our Constitution actually says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Seems pretty clear cut, doesn’t it?  We are all free to exercise our religion as we see fit without fear of consequences.  So if this is so clear cut, and if this has been the law of the land for well over 200 years, then why did the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops feel compelled to make the loss of religious liberty a part of their agenda at their fall meeting?  Why are a group of nurses in New Jersey suing the hospital where they work claiming their religious freedom is being violated for being forced to assist for abortions?  Why is Belmont Abbey College suing the federal government for being forced to provide a mandated health plan that includes coverage for contraceptives, claiming that it is a violation of religious freedom?

The million dollar question then is whether there truly is a religious freedom crisis in this country.  Or is this just a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that the pews in many of our churches are becoming emptier?  In all fairness, I can see both sides.  I think the basic rights that the first amendment allots us are still in tact.  The fact that I can write this blog and post it on the web for the entire world to see is proof of that.  The fact that we can have a rosary rally, that we can pray at meals, that we can pray at a gravesite are all proof of this. 

However, we see those seemingly subtle things that weaken our ability as Christians to make our message seen and heard.  We see policy decisions being made that force us to go against our beliefs in order to comply with them.  We see our kids being unable to express their religious beliefs in public schools.  We even see references to “Christmas” disappearing from public places.  So is this just the evolution of our society and our culture, or is this a true “crisis” situation?

As with many things, there is not an easy, clear-cut answer.  However, in my opinion, if we continue to allow this trend to continue, we could see our religious freedom not necessarily eliminated, but it could slide down the priority list.  We could find ourselves in a situation where the slow erosion of religious freedom is tolerates by our society.

So this observation brings about another obvious question.  What can we as Catholics do to reverse this trend?  Well there are many things we can do.  We can of course petition our representatives to re-consider their positions that are contrary to our beliefs and to the Gospel message.  We can bring our religion to the public by displaying religious articles and bringing religion into our everyday conversations.

We also need to make the effort to continue to increase the knowledge of our faith by whatever means we can in order to better understand why the church takes the positions that it does.  An excellent opportunity to do this is coming right around the corner.  Next month we along with other parishes in the Diocese will begin the “Fanning the Flame” program.  This is a year-long program developed as part of the observance of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Belleville.  The program is based on the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.  Participants are asked to read a chapter each week and then either do individual reflection or join a group to discuss and reflect on the material.  In this week’s bulletin will be an insert describing the program and also an order form for obtaining the book.  Please consider being a part of this program and join your fellow Catholics in a faith-based “refresher” course.  You can also go to www.ftfdiobelle.org for more information.

Have a great week.  Stay warm this coming week!  Peace.

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