Sunday, July 22, 2012

Homily 16th Sun O.T. Year B: Sunday - The Day of Joy, Rest, and Solidarity

family Some of the fondest memories I have of my childhood are of going to Sunday Mass with my family. I grew up going to Blessed Mother Church in Owensboro, KY. My mom’s side of the family had a few Catholics but they lived outside of Kentucky. My dad’s side though was entirely Catholic and many of them went to Blessed Mother. Dad is one of twelve children so we formed a sort of “Hardesty section” at Blessed Mother. Every Sunday we were always surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins. I remember feeling this great sense of comfort and belonging as my whole extended family went to Mass together. I’m one of four boys and when we were small my dad could put his arm around all four of us. I always liked it when I was on the end and dad’s hand rested on my shoulder or if I was next to mom and she put her hand on my knee. This spirit of innocence, consolation, and family characterizes every Sunday Mass.

My family went to Mass every Sunday, we honored the Third Commandment to “keep holy the Sabbath day.” I don’t want to say we did this perfectly, but I think we lived well our Lord’s encouragement to his apostles today: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” We kept Sunday as a day of rest, we rested in the company of the Lord, and we rested in each other. In the Mass and in our family we found refreshment and joy to sustain us throughout the rest of the week.

Our beloved and saintly Pope John Paul II wrote an entire Church document, called an Apostolic Letter, on Sunday, on the Lord’s Day, called Dies Domini. Therein he called Sunday a day of Joy, Rest, and Solidarity. Focusing on the family and looking at Sunday as a day of joy, rest, and solidarity can make the every-Sunday obligation of going to Mass something that we long for and desire rather than something restrictive or burdensome.

Often, throughout the work week, we find it hard to live in Christian joy. Every day we can tend to rush to work, bear down, rush home, eat, “veg out”, rinse, and repeat. You battle traffic, bosses, co-workers, and deadlines and then perhaps battle the kids at home. Or perhaps you battle loneliness and isolation while everyone else is busy and occupied. If we don’t let the Lord shepherd us via Sunday throughout the week, if we don’t let Sunday be a source of true Christian joy, then the Mass can become just another thing we have to stop and do, just another thing to take care of on a long list of chores; or just another thing keeping us from what we’d rather be doing – sleeping, shopping, playing, camping, fishing, traveling, etc.

If this is the type of work week we have, it is because we have allowed ourselves to be shepherded by other people or forces other than our Good Shepherd, the Lord. In our first reading from the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah saw God’s chosen people scattered and misled by sinful shepherds who were not caring for them. Therefore, God promised to shepherd them Himself by raising up a descendant of David, a shepherd-king, the Messiah, to shepherd them rightly. We too can become scattered and misled by our worries and anxieties and we can fail to see that the Sunday Mass is the source of the healing joy that we need.

In Pope John Paul II’s letter on the Lord’s Day he quotes his predecessor Pope Paul VI who encouraged pastors to be shepherds of joy. He urged pastors to insist "upon the need for the baptized to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist in joy. How could they neglect this encounter, this banquet which Christ prepares for us in his love? May our sharing in it be most worthy and joyful! It is Christ, crucified and glorified, who comes among his disciples, to lead them all together into the newness of his Resurrection. This is the climax, here below, of the covenant of love between God and his people: the sign and source of Christian joy, a stage on the way to the eternal feast" (Dies Domini, 58).

Sunday is also a great day of rest. As much as the work week can provide only a few moments of joy it can also provide similarly scarce moments of true rest. We can get into such a grind that every day is marked with getting up early and going to bed late. Then in the morning we’re too tired to do our morning prayers or at night we are too tired to do our examination of conscience. If this defines our work then it also defines our rest to the point where what we call “rest” is actually a mockery of true rest. When our work becomes so tedious then rest degenerates from a time of peace, reflection, meditation, and refreshment to a time of just “not working” – even “not being” or simply turning off. At the end of the day, by all means, turn off being a manager, a student, or a teacher; but never turn off being a father or mother, a daughter or son, a sister or brother. As for me, when I go back to the rectory, I should never turn off being a priest. Vegging out in front of the T.V. or computer at the end of the day is not rest. Vegging out is simply a soda and Sportscenter induced coma where we can for a while cease to be who we really are, we shut everything out, and close in on ourselves. There is nothing energizing or refreshing about vegging out, all it does is make us fall asleep and even then not a very deep one.

The Mass teaches us how to rest. It teaches us that rest is not simply a self-isolating check-out from the world. It teaches us that true rest, the rest that Sunday gives us, is a plugging in to the things that matter most – to peaceful co-existence in prayer and reflection with our closest family and friends, to the quiet leadership of our Good Shepherd. Instead of making Sunday a day of vegging out, or worse yet, running around dizzily to twenty ball games or sales at the Mall, let Sunday be the day described so beautifully in our Responsorial Psalm. Let Sunday be the day when the Lord is your shepherd and you “shall not want.” Let the Mass be the moment when, “in verdant pastures,” he gives you repose. “Beside restful waters” he leads us. He “refreshes” our souls.

Pope John Paul II wrote: Through Sunday rest, daily concerns and tasks can find their proper perspective: the material things about which we worry give way to spiritual values; in a moment of encounter and less pressured exchange, we see the true face of the people with whom we live… And, In order that rest may not degenerate into emptiness or boredom, it must offer spiritual enrichment, greater freedom, opportunities for contemplation and fraternal communion (Dies Domini, 67-68).

Finally, Sunday is a day of solidarity, a day in which the Lord draws us together from all of our different social and economic classes, from all of our different neighborhoods and home towns, from all of our different schools and workplaces, to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. It is here, as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, that the “dividing wall of enmity” is broken down and God “creates in himself, one new person,” establishing peace, reconciling us with God, “in one body, through the cross.” This then becomes the mark of the best of parishes. The mark of a good parish is not simply how many hours it spends in community service; any secular social service agency can do that. The mark of a good parish is how far it is advancing in holiness. It is marked by its commitment to Mass and how many hours in spends in adoration of our Eucharistic Lord. It is this type of parish then that doesn’t leave Mass and go straight to the Mall or to the couch in front of the T.V. It is this type of parish that instead goes out to share the graces it has received with the poor, with its neighbors, with its family and friends.

To this point too, our late Holy Father wrote: The Eucharist is an event and programme of true brotherhood. From the Sunday Mass there flows a tide of charity destined to spread into the whole life of the faithful, beginning by inspiring the very way in which they live the rest of Sunday. If Sunday is a day of joy, Christians should declare by their actual behaviour that we cannot be happy "on our own". They look around to find people who may need their help. It may be that in their neighbourhood or among those they know there are sick people, elderly people, children or immigrants who precisely on Sundays feel more keenly their isolation, needs and suffering. It is true that commitment to these people cannot be restricted to occasional Sunday gestures. But presuming a wider sense of commitment, why not make the Lord's Day a more intense time of sharing, encouraging all the inventiveness of which Christian charity is capable? Inviting to a meal people who are alone, visiting the sick, providing food for needy families, spending a few hours in voluntary work and acts of solidarity: these would certainly be ways of bringing into people's lives the love of Christ received at the Eucharistic table (Dies Domini, 72).

When the Sunday Mass, the every Sunday Holy Day of Obligation, is lived in this way, in joy, rest, and solidarity it becomes the privileged way in which the Good Shepherd shepherds us and in which we become his faithful flock. It is how we become truly who we were created to be, a people marked through and through with the character of Jesus Christ – a people not characterized by the world, but known and characterized by these sacred mysteries.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Homily 15th Sun O.T. Year B – Preaching Repentance

confessional Sometimes before my regular homily, if the readings lead to it, I like to give a brief apologetics note to help you explain your faith.  Today I have a couple.  First is about the new vestment I am wearing today.  It is beautiful and was expensive but the sacrifice was worth it.  We wear beautiful vestments, have beautiful music, and use beautiful vessels and books to emphasize the fact that this is not just any type of gathering.  This is the Mass, which is the intersection of heaven on earth.  Beautiful things in the liturgy help raise our hearts to this reality and besides, God deserves the very best we have to offer in worship.

Second, our Gospel today presents one of the sources for our faith in the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.  The last line read: “The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mk 6:13). This anticipates James 5:14 “Beloved: Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the Church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.”  I hope this helps you to remain confident that your Catholic faith is well-rooted in Sacred Scripture.

Now for my regular homily… Throughout my Diaconate and a few times during my Priesthood, I have had the chance to celebrate many Baptisms. I keep a record of this in my own personal register so that I can look back on it years from now and see all of the people God touched through me. One of my favorite parts of the ritual of Baptism is when the priest says the Ephphetha prayer. Ephphetha is Aramaic for the command “Be opened!” At this prayer, the priest traces a little sign of the cross with his thumb on the child’s ears and mouth saying, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the mute speak. May He soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth, to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.” This prayer is a rich sign of the Holy Spirit animating the hearing and speech of the child so that he may receive and proclaim the Gospel.

Although this prayer is technically optional, I never skip it because it gives powerful testimony to the fact that each one of us, the entire Church, not just her ordained ministers, is called to preach the message of Jesus Christ and prepare for his coming. When Jesus sent out his Twelve Apostles, two-by-two to just the surrounding Galilean towns to preach a message of repentance, he did this as a sort of pastoral assignment to prepare them for his later command after his Resurrection: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). As the first bishops of the Church, the ever-widening scope of their preaching and celebration of the sacraments empowered the early Christian faithful to proclaim the same message of repentance throughout every area of their lives, many even to the point of martyrdom.

What does it mean to “preach repentance”? What did the apostles say during their preaching assignment? If we are all called by that Ephphetha prayer in our Baptism to preach the same message of repentance, what can we learn from how the Apostles did it? Some of the little details in the Gospel give us a clue. When Jesus commands his Twelve Apostles to take only a staff, a pair of sandals, and one tunic, and no food, no sack, and no money he echoes God’s command to the twelve tribes of Israel the night before their exodus from Egypt. The Israelites likewise were sent out with no bread and only one set of clothes, wearing sandals and carrying a staff.[1] Mark wants us to see the Church’s mission as a new exodus. As the Israelites were led from slavery in Egypt to the promised land of Canaan, so the Church leads all mankind from slavery in sin to the promised land of heaven. Therein lies the message of repentance. The message we are called to proclaim by the words and example of our day to day lives is one that helps people learn right from wrong, to know what sin is and the role it plays in our lives, to encourage people to return to God by repentance and confession, and to trust in His continued help toward persevering in holiness.

Although priests are empowered for this preaching in a special way by their Ordination, this is a call to all of us, a call rooted in our Baptism, no matter what our state in life might be. The prophet Amos, in our first reading, insisted that he was no professional. “I was no prophet,” he said, “nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” The apostles weren’t rabbis, they were simple fishermen. But Jesus gave them a share of his own authority to empower their mission, a power they passed on through sacramental grace to the early Christian Churches.

You don’t have to be ordained or have an advanced degree in theology to preach repentance. All you have to do is live out of the gratitude you have for the repentance you have already expressed and the forgiveness you have already received. One way of living out of this gratitude is simply continuing to make regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and encouraging others to share in the Joy you have received by going themselves. This can be a profound witness, especially to your family. I encourage all Catholics to go to Confession once a month – that way you can become better formed in the value of repentance: the more regular examination of conscience before your confession makes you a more astute observer of the role of sin in your life; the more regular reception of the grace of the sacrament allows that grace to flow through your life in a more continual way; and the more regular council from the priest helps you to better avoid the sins you confess.

Low confession lines are not for a lack of sin, but lack of a sense of sin. Many people in our society today do not even know what sin is, they strain to identify one thing they’ve ever done wrong. Paramount in the preaching of repentance is helping each other to grow in our awareness of sin – not so that we can form some scrupulous obsession with it, but precisely so we can avoid it and not let the evil one squirm his way into our lives.

But most importantly, God wants to bring good out of evil; He wants our increased awareness of sin to lead to an increased awareness of His Mercy and Forgiveness! This is a gift that spills over from God’s Divine Life and Love. His Mercy and Forgiveness is an ever-flowing, overflowing cup, running over and into our hearts through the sacraments. It is a shame that this gift is so rarely received, especially by our children who tend to only receive it when their class goes to Confession a couple times a year at school. If not for ourselves, lets at least help our children and grandchildren receive this gift by taking them to a monthly confession.

Fr. Chuck and I hear confessions every Saturday from 3pm to 4pm or until Mass starts at 5pm, if need be. And we have been generous in finding time to hear confessions outside of the official schedule. Never think you are putting either of us out by asking to hear your confession. We want to be instruments of God’s Mercy and Forgiveness for you – it is why we were ordained.

Outside of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, you can also preach repentance by teaching your children or grandchildren right from wrong, even if it means being less popular with them or their friends. You could also challenge a coworker to use ethical business practices or you could offer support to a friend who has turned away from God due to the pain of sins committed in his or her “past life.” Readily accepting apologies, extending forgiveness, and refusing to hold grudges are also powerful ways to preach repentance.

The Good News of Repentance can change the world from one of sin and death to one of Forgiveness and Mercy if you and I rely on God and work together in preaching it. I will sit in that confessional for you, for as long as it takes. I will sit down with you any time I can if you need help understanding this message. I will preach as clearly and as faithfully as I can. But at the end of the day, it is your vocation to convert the world to this message, you have a wider reach than I do, a larger sphere of influence, a more varied presence in the world, and a more diverse voice. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature!” By Repentance, Forgiveness, and Mercy prepare the world for Christ’s Coming!


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Fortnight for Freedom Day 14 Reflection

The fact is that men of the present day want to be able freely to profess their religion in private and in public. Religious freedom has already been declared to be a civil right in most constitutions, and it is solemnly recognized in international documents. The further fact is that forms of government still exist under which, even though freedom of religious worship receives constitutional recognition, the powers of government are engaged in the effort to deter citizens from the profession of religion and to make life difficult and dangerous for religious Communities.

This sacred Synod greets with joy the first of these two facts, as among the signs of the times. With sorrow,
however, it denounces the other fact, as only to be deplored. The Synod exhorts Catholics, and it directs a plea to all men, most carefully to consider how greatly necessary religious freedom is, especially in the present condition of the human family.

All nations are coming into even closer unity. Men of different cultures and religions are being brought together in closer relationships. There is a growing consciousness of the personal responsibility that weighs upon every man. All this is evident.

Consequently, in order that relationships of peace and harmony may be established and maintained within the whole of mankind, it is necessary that religious freedom be everywhere provided with an effective constitutional guarantee, and that respect be shown for the high duty and right of man freely to lead his religious life in society.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 15
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Fourteen
In concluding its Declaration of Religious Freedom, the Council rejoices in the fact that religious freedom has been enshrined in the constitutions of many countries as well as in international statements. However, the Council Fathers are well aware that religious freedom is not guaranteed merely when it is stated on a piece of paper. It must be exercised by a living body of people. Moreover, there are actual governments that act against religious communities, sometime in the name of religion. The Council Fathers find such situations appalling and ask that Catholics and all people of goodwill work to rectify this injustice.

Since the Vatican Council, has religious freedom improved or deteriorated throughout the world? What is the relationship between growing religious diversity, as well as growing interactions among people of different faiths, and religious liberty?

Fortnight for Freedom Day 13 Reflection

In turn, where the principle of religious freedom is not only proclaimed in words or simply incorporated in law but also given sincere and practical application, there the Church succeeds in achieving a stable situation of right as well as of fact and the independence which is necessary for the fulfillment of her divine mission. This independence is precisely what the authorities of the Church claim in society.

At the same time, the Christian faithful, in common with all other men, possess the civil right not to be hindered in leading their lives in accordance with their conscience. Therefore, a harmony exists between the freedom of the Church and the religious freedom which is to be recognized as the right of all men and communities and sanctioned by constitutional law.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 13
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Thirteen
While insisting upon the religious freedom of the Church, the Council Fathers do not wish to give the impression that in some manner the Catholic Church is special when it comes to religious liberty. Thus, the Council first states above that where the principle of religious liberty is present, the Church is able to peaceably fulfill her divine mission. It is this amicable relationship between herself and civil authorities that the Church always wishes to pursue and ensure.

In the light of this, the Church also champions the religious and civil rights of all so that all people can live “their lives in accordance with their conscience.” In this way there is no conflict with what the Church demands for  herself and what she demands for others—the freedom to follow one’s conscience in matters religious. This religious freedom for all is what the Council once more believes should be acknowledged and sanctioned within the constitutional law of countries.

In the United States, religious freedom is protected in the Constitution, as the Council desires. Are those constitutional protections enough? Are they growing stronger or weaker in our society today? What else, apart from the law, can strengthen or weaken religious liberty? What should Catholics do to defend and foster religious liberty in America today? What have Catholics done in the past when religious liberty was threatened?

Fortnight for Freedom Day 12 Reflection

Among the things which concern the good of the Church and indeed the welfare of society here on earth—things therefore which are always and everywhere to be kept secure and defended against all injury—this certainly is preeminent, namely, that the Church should enjoy that full measure of freedom which her care for salvation of men requires. This freedom is sacred, because the only-begotten Son endowed with it the Church which He purchased with His blood. It is so much the property of the Church that to act against it is to act against the will of God. The
freedom of the Church is the fundamental principle in what concerns the relations between the Church and governments and the whole civil order.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 13
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Twelve
In Chapter I, the Council Fathers considered the nature of religious freedom from a rational and philosophical
perspective—the dignity and equality of human beings and the natural right to religious liberty. In Chapter II, they turn to examining religious liberty in the light of Christian Revelation.

In this context, the Council Fathers forthrightly insist that the Church must “enjoy that full measure of freedom which her care for salvation of men requires.” Jesus became man, died, and rose from the dead so that all men and women would come to salvation— to know the fullness of truth and the fullness of the Father’s love. This is why the Church’s religious freedom is “sacred.” Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, founded the Church as the means by which his saving message and presence would go forth to all the world. Only then would Jesus’ Gospel be lived out among all nations and peoples. Only if the Church is free can she rightly fulfill her divine commission. This is why the Church jealously guards her freedom while simultaneously fostering harmonious, appropriate, and
just relations with various governments throughout the world.

What present circumstances threaten the freedom of the Catholic Church particularly? Are threats to the Church’s freedom always from without, or do threats arise from within the Church itself? What threats in the past has the Church in our country had to contend with?

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Fortnight for Freedom Day 11 Reflection

Furthermore, society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order.

These norms arise out of the need for effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for peaceful settlement
of conflicts of rights. They flow from the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice. They come, finally, out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality. These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order.

For the rest, the usages of society are to be the usages of freedom in their full range. These require that the freedom of man be respected as far as possible, and curtailed only when and in so far as necessary.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 7
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Eleven
The Council Fathers are well aware that, while various religious groups are meant to live in harmony, each accepting the equal rights of others, yet, in reality, conflicts frequently arise between various religions. This may be due to what a specific religion holds concerning the nature of its own beliefs in relation to the beliefs of other religions. While each religious group has the right to profess that its religious beliefs are true and that other religious beliefs are either inadequate or contain erroneous tenets, no religious group has the right to persecute or seek to suppress other religious groups. Similar conflict may arise within a religion, in which case, the cause of
the conflict does not reside in the religious belief as such, but in a misinterpretation of those beliefs that prompts misguided attacks on other religious groups.

Given the reality of such religious conflicts, the Council Fathers acknowledge that the government is responsible for keeping public order, not by taking sides, but by enacting just laws and guarding the equal rights of all.

What causes religious conflicts today? Do governments always adequately respond to such conflicts? What distinguishes “public order” (which limits religious freedom) from an ordinary policy preference of government (which does not)?

Fortnight for Freedom Day 10 Reflection

Finally, government is to see to it that the equality of citizens before the law, which is itself an element of the common welfare, is never violated for religious reasons whether openly or covertly. Nor is there to be discrimination among citizens.

It follows that a wrong is done when government imposes upon its people, by force or fear or other means, the profession or repudiation of any religion, or when it hinders men from joining or leaving a religious body. All the more is it a violation of the will of God and of the sacred rights of the person and the
family of nations, when force is brought to bear in any way in order to destroy or repress religion, either in the whole of mankind or in a particular country or in a specific community.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 6
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Ten
Because all human beings possess equal dignity, value, and worth, the government is to ensure that this equality is maintained both for the good of the individual and for the good of society as a whole. This equality specifically should not be violated on religious grounds. Each religious body and the members of that body have equal rights to religious liberty. This equality demands that there be no discrimination based upon one’s religious beliefs.

The Council Fathers now stress that, based upon this equality among its citizens, no government is permitted to impose in any way “the profession or repudiation of any religion.” Such an imposition is a violation of the right to be true to one’s conscience. Because of the freedom of conscience, the government is also not permitted to deny a person the right to join or leave a religious body. The government has no right to stipulate what a person can or cannot believe.

If the above is true, then the Council states that it is all the more wrong when “force is brought to bear in any way in order to destroy or repress religion.” This not only applies to governments but also to religious bodies themselves. No religious body is permitted to harass or seek to eliminate another religious group.

Within our contemporary world, where is religious equality denied or religious discrimination tolerated? Are there instances where one religion violates the rights of other religions?

Fortnight for Freedom Day 9 Reflection

The protection and promotion of the inviolable rights of man ranks among the essential duties of government. Therefore, government is to assume the safeguard of the religious freedom of all its citizens, in an effective manner, by just laws and by other appropriate means. Government is also to help create conditions favorable to the fostering of religious life, in order that the people may be truly enabled to exercise their religious rights and to fulfill their religious duties, and also in order that society itself may profit by the moral qualities of justice and peace which have their origin in men’s faithfulness to God and to His holy will.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 6
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Nine
Once again, the Council Fathers turn to what they consider a very important issue. It is not simply that governments should not deny or impede the religious freedom of their citizens, it is also of the utmost importance that they positively, through just laws, be the guardians of religious freedom, so that no constituency— religious or secular—within society would seek to undermine the religious freedom of all. While few today would consider this, the next point that the Council Fathers make is also very significant. Governments should actually “help create conditions favorable to the fostering of religious life.” While governments do not control religions, they  should recognize their value and so promote their well-being. This allows all religious bodies and their members to exercise their religious rights and “fulfill their religious duties.” The government’s fostering the religious life of its citizens not only benefits those citizens but also, the Council states, contributes to the good of society as a whole. It helps society grow in its understanding and implementation of what contributes to justice and peace. This justice and peace find their origin in God, who desires the good of all.

How do governments protect and promote the religious life of their citizens? Do governments take this into consideration today? In the U.S., how does the government foster religious life while respecting the principle of separation of church and state?

Fortnight for Freedom Day 8 Reflection

Since the family is a society in its own original right, it has the right freely to live its own domestic religious life under the guidance of parents. Parents, moreover, have the right to determine, in accordance with their own religious beliefs, the kind of religious education that their children are to receive.

Government, in consequence, must acknowledge the right of parents to make a genuinely free choice of schools and of other means of education. The use of this freedom of choice is not to be made a reason for imposing unjust burdens on parents, whether directly or indirectly. Besides, the rights of parents are violated if their children are forced to attend lessons or instructions which are not in agreement with their religious beliefs. The same is true if a single system of education, from which all religious formation is excluded, is imposed upon all.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 5
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Eight
The Council Fathers now address the religious freedom that is enjoyed by the family. Families have the right to live out their faith within the family. Moreover, parents have a natural right to religiously guide their families. They are the ones who have primary responsibility for the care and education of their children, and this is especially true of the religious education of their children. Thus, while parents are primarily responsible for the religious education, they are also free to choose the kind of religious education their children receive.

From within the Catholic tradition, Vatican II stated that the family is a “domestic church,” that is, it is within the family that children are first taught the Gospel, are taught to pray and to keep the Commandments. Together the members of a family live out the Gospel life of love. In keeping with this, the Council states that parents must be free to choose their children’s schooling. The exercise of this freedom should not be the cause of undue financial burdens upon the family. Likewise, children should not be forced to attend instruction that is contrary to the religious belief of their families. Lastly, if there is only one form of education within a country, this does not mean that all religious instruction should be forbidden. Accommodation is to be made. What we see here is the Church ardently wanting to assure a broad and extensive scope for families to live out their faith as families, and this extends to the education of children.

Why is the above important for parents and their families? Are the above aspects of domestic religious freedom jeopardized today?

Fortnight for Freedom Day 7 Reflection

Religious bodies also have the right not to be hindered in their public teaching and witness to their faith, whether by the spoken or by the written word. However, in spreading religious faith and in introducing religious practices, everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion or of a kind of persuasion that would be dishonorable or unworthy, especially when dealing with poor or uneducated people. Such a manner of action would have to be considered an abuse of one’s own right and a violation of the
rights of others.

In addition, it comes within the meaning of religious freedom that religious bodies should not be prohibited from freely undertaking to show the special value of their doctrine in what concerns the organization of society and the inspiration of the whole of human activity. Finally, the social nature of man and the very nature of religion afford the foundation of the right of men freely to hold meetings and to establish educational, cultural, charitable, and social organizations, under the impulse of their own religious sense.

Declaration on Religious Liberty
(Dignitatis Humanae), no. 4
December 7, 1965

Reflection for Day Seven
While the Council Fathers insist that religious bodies must be free to teach and bear witness to their faith, they equally stress that this freedom must never be abused. It is not only governments that can deny their freedom; in attempting to spread their own beliefs, religions should not force others, physically or psychologically, to convert. Rather, each person’s dignity and freedom must be maintained. The accepting of religious beliefs must be an act of freedom, otherwise it is done not because it is believed to be true but rather out of fear and force. The right to profess and proclaim one’s own faith cannot violate the same right of another.

That being said, religious bodies should be free to provide reasons as to why their beliefs are true and why it would be of value for others to believe what they believe. They should also be free to address how their beliefs contribute to the good of society.

What contemporary examples are there of religious bodies using coercion in an attempt to spread their faith or hindering others from exercising their faith? What contributions does the Catholic Church make to society and culture?