Our Duty Toward God and Country
By Fr. Bill Hayward, MIC
On Nov. 6 in the United States, those of us who are registered voters can cast our ballots for a president. Many also can vote for a governor, national and state legislators, judges, local office-holders, and ballot referenda. We cherish this right to vote and use this opportunity as responsible citizens to participate in the life of our country. On the minds of most of us will be the economy. We hope our elected officials will collaborate with each other on all levels to put our country back to work.
As Catholics, we make these choices in a moral climate different than in recent elections. On April 12, 2012, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement with these explicit words: "As Catholic bishops and American citizens, we address an urgent summons to our fellow Catholics and fellow Americans to be on guard, for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad." The statement identifies the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate of the current administration that directs Catholic institutions serving the general public to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs in health care coverage.
Also of concern for the U.S. Bishops are state immigration laws that forbid ministry to illegal immigrants, legislative attempts to alter Church structure and governance, and the revoking of the licenses of Catholic foster care and adoptive services. All these are only some of the intrusions by government on the Catholic Church.
For most of you as Marian Helpers, religious liberty means going to church on Sunday, bringing your children to a Catholic school or religious education classes in your parish, studying our Catholic faith, and praying — either privately or publicly. Thank God we can exercise our religious liberty in these ways.
So how do these situations that our Bishops highlight threaten our religious liberty?
To answer this question, it is helpful to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When we use the word "right," most of us in the Western world see our rights as standing alone. The Catechism looks at rights differently. Opening its discussion on religious freedom, it states, "All men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace it and hold on to it as they come to know it" (CCC, 2104). Before there is a right, there is always a duty — we are obliged to search for the truth, especially in matters of religion.
Why is this right now threatened, and what about our corresponding duty to God? Our Catholic Bishops rightly recognize the threat, and they see specific instances in which it is taking place. Yet is there a deeper dynamic to note that shows we have lost our sense of duty toward God? Approximately 35 percent of baptized Catholics in our country attend Mass on Sunday. Most Protestant Churches report less attendance, while Evangelical Churches do slightly better. A major duty of religion is to worship God, and, frankly, most people think little of it.
We have either denied there is a duty, or we have made it optional. The prevailing view of religion sees it as good but not essential, consoling but not demanding, practical but not dogmatic, and certainly not duty-bound. Therefore, is it important enough to change healthcare laws, to stand up for immigrants, and to save family outreach and adoption services? Many in our country today think it is not.
Even many Catholics have come to dread the word "obligation." Sunday Mass has to be meaningful, or it is not doing its job. So I encourage you, as Marian Helpers, to share with our poorly believing world that we do our religion out of commitment and duty. We should love worshipping God, but we do it because we have to.
Duty — like going to work, going to school, or serving on a jury — shows we are serious and expect to be taken seriously. Then, we can hope our religious liberty will also be taken seriously.
But let's face it — a country that sees little importance in religion will see little need for the right to religious liberty. Here's what we need to pray for — a country with a high respect for a religion that forms conscience and engages its members in building a better world through a sense of duty, works of mercy, and the practice of justice. The citizens of such a country will recognize that religious liberty is foundational for the life of the nation. May this be our prayer for the United States — especially as Election Day draws near. May we see both religious duty and religious liberty flourish in our land.
Fr. William Hayward, MIC, is pastor at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Kenosha, Wis.
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Resources for further study
A wealth of resources are available to help us better understand religious liberty as Catholics. Father Bill recommends these:
1. The Vatican II Document on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humanae, is available on the Vatican website: vatican.va. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651207_dignitatis-humanae_en.html
2. See sections in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, numbers 2104–2109.
3. Visit the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, nccbuscc.org, to see the April 12, 2012, statement "Our First, Most Cherished Liberty." Also, search for related articles, inserts, and posters.
4. The Knights of Columbus has an informative website that stays up-to-date with religious liberty issues: kofc.org.