12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C (Lk 9:18-24)

I have written and spoken in the past on the importance of words and language. Words are important for they are the mechanism for expressing and conveying thoughts and ideas. And it is man’s ability to express himself, to give voice to dreams and ideas conceived within one’s own mind, that makes us unique among all of God’s creation.

Fortnight for Freedom

Fortnight for Freedom

Words have meaning and their meaning is of critical importance if there is to be any serious attempt to develop or acquire knowledge. But for there to be understanding, words spoken must be heard and words written must be read. If no one listens, if no one reads, then knowledge can neither exist nor be sustained. And without knowledge or the means to sustain it, humanity would quickly descend to the level of the primitive. The essential element, that fundamental principle that must be grasped, is that words, rationally structured, transform concepts and ideas into knowledge. And knowledge is an essential element of liberty and freedom.

Why is this so important? It is important because today we are faced with an enemy that is Orwellian in nature, an enemy that has taken the art of doublespeak and doublethink to new heights, an enemy that is counting on the fact no one will realize until it is too late, that as George Orwell wrote in his novel 1984 “… the whole aim … is to narrow the language of thought? In the end we shall make thought crime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it.” Orwell further wrote that “The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.”

Today, far too many are choosing happiness at the expense of freedom; far too many are choosing lives of vacuous immorality and hedonistic mores over lives of virtue and substance; far too many have convinced themselves that reality is a myth, that one can think one’s self into existence and that faith or belief in God is nonsense.

Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, wrote in 1835 that “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith. [Furthermore ] Men cannot abandon their religious faith without a kind of aberration of intellect and a sort of violent distortion of their true nature; they are invincibly brought back to more pious sentiments. Unbelief is an accident, and faith is the only permanent state of mind.”

At the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson penned these immortal words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This is the bedrock of our republic, the critical and fundamental recognition of rights that cannot be subordinated by the state or any power outside of our Creator.

But what are these rights upon which we place such great importance and what exactly is a right? It is fascinating and yet singularly frightening how often we demand our rights without having any idea of that for which we are demanding. Fundamentally, a right is a legal, social, or ethical principle of freedom or entitlement. Basically, rights are rules that define what is allowed of people or owed to people.

There are rights that are bestowed by legal authority. These rights, conceived and granted by man, can be changed or abolished at the whim of the granting authority. And then there are inalienable rights, rights which are universal, rights that cannot be transferred or taken away by man or the state.

Please note that these inalienable rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, come from our Creator, from our God. Only God gives us life and only God can take it from us. Rights bestowed by man can never legitimately overrule or negate rights bestowed upon us by God.

For Americans, our most cherished right is properly the first enumerated within our Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” It seems so clear and straightforward. Government is expressly forbidden from exercising any control, whether explicit or implicit, direct or indirect, over our religious organizations, affiliations or beliefs.

A statement by the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty states

That is our American heritage, our most cherished freedom. It is the first freedom because if we are not free in our conscience and our practice of religion, all other freedoms are fragile. If citizens are not free in their own consciences, how can they be free in relation to others, or to the state? If our obligations and duties to God are impeded, or even worse, contradicted by the government, then we can no longer be a land of the free, and a beacon of hope for the world.

[From the earliest days of our nation,] Catholics in America have been advocates for religious liberty, and the landmark teaching of the Second Vatican Council on religious liberty was influenced by the American experience…. We have been staunch defenders of religious liberty in the past. We have a solemn duty to discharge that duty today.

We need, therefore, to speak frankly with each other when our freedoms are threatened. Now is such a time. [It is incumbent on every American] to be on guard, for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad.”

Last year, in his homily at the closing mass for the inaugural Fortnight for Freedom, Archbishop Charles Chaput remarked that

“Real freedom isn’t something Caesar can give or take away. He can interfere with it; but when he does, he steals from his own legitimacy.

The purpose of religious liberty is to create the context for true freedom. Religious liberty is a foundational right. It’s necessary for a good society. But it can never be sufficient for human happiness. It’s not an end in itself. In the end, we defend religious liberty in order to live the deeper freedom that is discipleship in Jesus Christ. What good is religious freedom, consecrated in the law, if we don’t then use that freedom to seek God with our whole mind and soul and strength?

… you and I are responsible for this moment. Today. Now. We need to ‘speak out,’ not only for religious liberty and the ideals of the nation we love, but for the sacredness of life and the dignity of the human person…”

The ramifications for failing to speak out are enormous. Listen to the words of Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor

“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

The time to speak up is now. We are called to lend our voices in the defense of liberty and to let freedom ring.

And as Dr. Martin Luther King so eloquently told us in 1963:

“… when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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