Fr. Arul Sermon Sunday, July 1, 2012, on Religious Freedom

Sermon on Religious Freedom – 30th June  &  1st July 2012  – Rev. Arul Carasala


We are celebrating our patron saints Peter and Paul and also Fourth of July. Our bishops have asked to pray, study and thank God for the gift of freedom – particularly religious freedom, which is under attack in our world and even in our own country. On Thursday the past week, we heard the court ruling on health care law. It is conflicting with our faith. It is in these difficult times our faith becomes strong.


In this reflection, I will focus on the relationship between freedom and faith – or, to be more concrete, democracy and religion. As we see, our first president, George Washington, considered religion an “indispensable support” for the democratic experiment. There are three reasons for this:


First, religion (specifically the Christian religion) calls a person to repentance: to turn from self-indulgence and to embrace habits of virtue – honesty, fairness, hard work, generosity, self-control and so on. Our founding fathers envisioned a “Republic of Virtue” because they knew that democracy can only survive if the majority of citizens strive for virtue. The second way religion supports democracy is by calling people to work together. The third indispensable support is the most difficult: Religion, Christian faith, teaches us to push back, to resist when government overreaches. Our bishops have identified seven areas where national and state governments are attacking freedom of religion. They invite us to join with them in pushing back.


So, religion supports democracy by promoting virtue and solidarity – and by resistance to unjust laws. Today’s second reading relates to virtue and resistance, but it does it by focusing on solidarity. “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who belong to his company experience it.” So my point here is why are we in this situation? The government is fully aware of our beliefs and our rich traditions. In spite of knowing that it is against our faith, the government forces us to participate, why?……because this administration is trying to put us to the test. They know that we may be divided and they know that all may not on board with our catholic faith.


I like to remind you of our first reading, “But the envy of the devil, death entered the world”. The author of the first reading is talking about the actual death. It will mean so much personal to us in this context about the death of our belief, the death of our rich practices of the church, the death of our values. So folks, it is time to awake, it is time to act and react, it is time to unite together. So let us all pray for faith and for our nation. 


The most notorious example is the HHS mandate. “The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services”, which requires employers, including Catholic institutions, to violate the moral law by providing contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in their health plans.


“Less noticed, but equally offensive to both Catholic doctrine and the constitution, is the determination by the government of what constitutes a religious institution. The HHS mandate grants an exemption to parishes, but it defines religious institutions in such a narrow way that it excludes, for example, Catholic universities, hospitals, food pantries, publishing houses, and social services.


According to the HHS definition, the Knights of Columbus, St. Francis Hospital in Topeka, Donnelley College in Kansas City etc. wouldn’t qualify as religious institutions! Indeed, according to the federal rule, if we serve people who are not Catholic in our agencies, or educate them in our universities, or employ them in our institutions – we cease to be religious. If we provide for the needs of the sick and the poor, but don’t ask whether they are Catholic or teach them catechism – we are not religious. It is an absurd position and a clear violation of the Bill of Rights. Our first freedom is religious liberty, and the First Amendment explicitly forbids the government from establishing religion, which means that a government department doesn’t get to decide what religion is, and what the proper work of the Church is.


In our second reading, Saint Paul gives us a picture of how the early Christians lived. Those who had abundance shared with those who were in need. The early Church lived this way because Jesus Himself, though He was rich, became poor for our sake. All of our vast charitable works, including health care, social services and education, exist because of our faith in Jesus Christ! They are not optional extras, but essential. “As Catholics we care for the poor, the sick, the immigrant, the unemployed, the orphan, the expectant mother in distress, because of our faith. It is the necessary fruit of faith, and without it faith is dead (cf. James 2:26). The government has instead claimed the right to restrict our religious life to the liturgy and doctrine. That is what is at stake in this great battle for religious liberty.


Pope Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, reminded us that the works of charity are as essential for the Church’s mission as is preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments. The Catholic Church can no more abandon the sick in our hospitals or the immigrant at the border than she can set aside the Word of God, or the Holy Mass. We cannot separate the fruits of faith from the faith itself. The tree that does not bear good fruit is condemned by Jesus (cf. Matthew 7:18-20). To definitively separate the fruit from the roots is to cut the tree down. In the garden of American liberty, the government may not cut down the tree of faith.


We have a beautiful country, but we could lose it. That is why we need to return to religion. It provides an indispensable support because: 1) it calls us to repentance – that difficult word, virtue; 2) it promotes solidarity that unites us together and 3) when government makes unjust laws, to push back or resist. St. Paul illustrates virtue, solidarity and resistance in a surprising way – by taking up a collection. It’s a way of saying that we don’t sit back, but dive in to solve problems. We have a society with much freedom to act on our own. We are grateful to God for the freedoms we enjoy. When government encroaches on those freedoms – particularly freedom of religion – we join our bishops in pushing back. May America continue to be a place where people can, as St. Paul says, excel in every respect. Amen.


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