By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Catholics in the United States of America have the right and obligation to defend religious liberty in the public square, said Father Patrick Dolan at a Mass June 22.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops set aside June 22-29 as Religious Freedom Week. The observance began locally with the June 22 Mass at the Little Sisters of the Poor chapel, 15 Audubon Plaza Drive.
Father Dolan recalled the day’s Gospel reading from the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus told the disciples “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … But store up treasures in heaven.”
“You might think that Scripture is asking us to kind of stand back from things, to withdraw, … that is not the case,” he said.
Father Dolan, who serves as pastor of St. Teresa of Calcutta Church in Fairdale, Ky., noted that Americans live in a nation which is founded on the expectation “that people will take a deep and true, and I dare say, holy interest in what the government is and what it does.”
“It expects people to be good and the government only to make little bits of laws that are necessary for arranging of that good. … and to leave us, as human
beings, with as much
freedom as possible because that freedom is good. And the people exercising that freedom are good people,” he said.
Father Dolan noted that the first settlers in America were keenly aware of the religious persecution they experienced in England and knew of the executions of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, both Englishmen who were martyred for defending religious liberty. (Their feast day is celebrated on June 22.)
From the beginning of the American settlement, he said, there was an element of human dignity “inherent in the very essence of our land.”
“That character is still there. It is a good, a holy character to take responsibility for who we are but to help one another be who they can be as well,” he said.
There is an understanding, he said, in American discourse that people treat each other with “courtesy and kindness even in disagreement.”
“That means being able to listen to the other person and them to listen to you. That means being willing to move out into the public square and express the things we believe and why we believe them without fear — that’s the definition of religious liberty,” he said.
The way to exercise the freedom of religion is not to withdraw, Father Dolan said, but to be continually engaged, “to pray for the people that are in the highest responsibilities of government, to cooperate in the ways we can, to challenge them in ways that need to be challenged but to challenge them with courtesy and dignity because there is a presumption that people are working together for the good of one another.”
Father Dolan challenged those gathered at the Mass to “take the chance. Live out your religious convictions … exercise your freedom” and to not let “anyone take it away from you.”
The Little Sisters of the Poor, who hosted the June 22 Mass, have struggled over the last several years against a mandate that required them to provide medical coverage for services that violate church teaching.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who chairs the USCCB’s committee on religious liberty issued statements and recorded video segments. They can be found at usccb.org/religiousfreedomweek and usccb.org/freedom.