Bishop Cunningham Shares Homily From Fortnight For Freedom Mass
06/24/2012 - Syracuse
Fortnight for Religious Freedom
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
June 21, 2012
Let me begin by welcoming you to our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. It is fitting that we gather here in this Church named in honor of the patroness of our Country and the symbol of our unity as a Catholic people. I am grateful to the many diverse groups represented here today as we join in prayer for the intention of protecting our first and most cherished freedom. We look back with pride on a Church and a Country that has long advocated not only the freedom to gather for worship, but to practice our religion in the marketplace – in our schools, at the elementary, secondary, college and university levels; in our hospitals, nursing homes and residential facilities; and in the multitude of social service agencies that characterize our mission to all people.
We value the freedom of conscience that permits individual Catholics freedom to put into practice love of God and love of neighbor according to the teachings of our Church. Freedom of religion goes hand-in-hand with freedom of conscience and gives us the ability to contribute freely to the common good of all Americans.
Pope Benedict XVI in a beautiful passage in his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, reminds us there are three constitutive elements to the Church, the proclamation of the Gospel, the celebration of the sacraments, and the exercise of charity -- reaching out in love and service to our brothers and sisters. These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity, which could be equally left to to others, but is part of her very nature, an indispensable expression of her very being. We have always presumed that we would be able to carry on this ministry of service freely. Certainly freedom of religion was a lesson we learned in grammar school when we received our first rudimentary knowledge of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison all spoke of the necessity of religious freedom.
St. Thomas More, whose feast we celebrate tomorrow, and whose story we know so well, is the patron saint of religious freedom. St. John Fisher, the patron saint of our neighboring diocese of Rochester was martyred for upholding the Catholic Church’s doctrine of papal primacy against the King’s wishes. Long before the present day these courageous and faith filled men lived and died for religious freedom.
Father John Courtney Murray, SJ, an American Jesuit priest and theologian, was instrumental at the Second Vatican Council in focusing attention on the relationship between religious freedom and the institutions of a democratically structured modern state. Through his efforts and the efforts of Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York, the Council's Declaration on Religious Liberty was passed and became part of the heritage of our Church.
The declaration on religious liberty of the Second Vatican Council, Dignitatis Humanae, provided that "the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free actions whereby man sets the course of his life directly towards God" (#3). Therefore, individuals are "not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to their conscience" nor "restrained from acting in accordance with their conscience. . .” (Ibid).
Religious liberty is inherent in our very humanity, placed deep within us by our Creator. Religious liberty is also prior to the state itself. It is not a privilege that the government grants us and that can be taken away at will.
Pope Benedict XVI, in an address to the Diplomatic Corps last year (January 10, 2011), reminded the world: “Religious freedom is indeed the first of human rights, not only because it was historically the first to be recognized but also because it touches the constitutive dimension of man, his relationship with his Creator."
The HHS mandate, which covers contraceptives, including abortion causing drugs and sterilization violates religious liberty because there is an element of government coercion against conscience, and government intrusion into the ordering of Church institutions. Religious people and institutions should not be forced to provide this coverage that violates our religious beliefs.
Much has been written and much has been said over the past several months on this mandate. Media reports have positioned this as a Catholic issue about contraception that has been politicized. Religious Freedom is not a political issue nor is it only a concern of Catholics. It is a right of all people … of all faiths. I encourage you to read and learn all that you can about this issue. Understand it clearly and be able to defend religious freedom from both the Church and the civil viewpoints.
During this fortnight our liturgical calendar calls us to remember not only St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, but also Saint John the Baptist, Saints Peter and Paul and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. All were in conflict with their civil government and chose to give their very lives in defense of the faith.
Please join me in prayer during these days that religious freedom will be protected. As John Garvey, the president of the Catholic University of America said recently: "The mechanisms to preserve religious liberty only work when people care about their religion. Saving religious liberty means reminding people that they should love God. Thomas More taught us that we need religious liberty. More importantly, he taught us that loving God is worth dying for. If that is so, then the freedom to love God is worth the fight. That's the message we need to get across." Keeping this cause in our prayers during