On Sunday, July 1, 2012, the priests of the Diocese of Juneau each gave a homily based on the same three points. The priests of the Diocese and myself, who make up the presbyteral council, agreed on the three points that we were to make in our homilies. All of this was our opportunity to participate in the Fortnight for Freedom. The Fortnight for Freedom, which ran for 14 days from June 21 to July 4, was a national campaign of special prayer, study, catechesis, and public action to emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes throughout the country participated in these special events that consisted of teaching and witnessing for religious liberty.
The points that we wanted to make in our homilies, reflecting the readings of the day, included:
- We are created in God’s image and called to a higher standard – to uphold the sanctity of life and the sacredness of our calling to be holy. However, as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ we see that elements contrary to God’s will have entered the world.
- Our task and sacred vocation as Christians has always been to serve the needs of others. The Catholic Church has done this for centuries through our hospitals, orphanages, schools, social service agencies, etc. But now, with the latest HHS mandate and other government challenges to religious liberties, we are being forced to serve only our own if we wish to fit into the definition of “religious”. As a Church, we cannot cease serving the poor and needy no matter who they are.
- Jesus, moved with pity, raised the young girl to life. In our desire to live in this country exercising our faith, serving the poor, and acquiring “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” it is our task to speak out against the current risks facing the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States that threaten religious liberties in our country.
In addition to the homily stressing the points stated above, the priests of the diocese of Juneau agreed to have discussion sessions within their respective parishes throughout Southeast Alaska during the week of July 1st. In order to assist the conversation and keep the discussion focused, the priests and I agreed to a short list of questions that were made available at Masses on Sunday, July 1, and at the discussion session itself. I was pleased to learn that in most of our parishes these discussions afforded our parishioners an opportunity to ask questions as well as to hear why the Church has taken such a strong stance on the issue of religious liberty.
It is important to note that this national campaign for religious liberty is not an issue of liberals versus conservatives or Democrats versus Republicans, but rather, it is about socialism versus democracy. It is a campaign to uphold our First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, it is not a single issue, but rather this threat to religious liberty consists of a growing list of events that need our attention and response. This list includes state immigration laws, altering church structure and governance, Christian students on college campuses, Catholic foster care and adoption services, acts of discrimination, and, the most notable, the recent Health and Human Services mandate.
The conversations that occurred during the discussion sessions were, amicable, respectful, and Christian. One of our priests even conducted three separate town hall meetings. While there has been overwhelming support for the Church’s stance on this issue, some have raised the question as to why the priest would speak about political issues from the pulpit. In response to those who are concerned in this regard, it should be understood that while there may be a separation of Church and state, it does not mean that the Church does not have a voice in society, especially when the Church possesses a competency in speaking of the dignity of human life, marriage as defined by the Creator, and religious liberties in society.
I recognize that we have members within our Diocese who come from various viewpoints. That is why I am pleased to have had discussion sessions throughout Southeast Alaska. It is my hope that we continue to address these issues, and others, within a Christian setting – without presenting a political slant but only seeking to know the truth.
If you did not have the opportunity to participate in any of these discussion sessions, please know that there will be more coming in the future which will address other issues facing our lives as Catholics.
Thank you for your commitment as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ and for your perseverance in addressing the issues of today. With God’s help we will continue to grow in wisdom and grace.