Friday, August 30, 2013

March for Religious Freedom, Charlotte, NC (August 30, 2013)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, dear fellow citizens of this country, dear people of good will:

I am speaking here today because the government of the United States is trying to take something from us that the government did not give to us.  And not only is it something that the government did not give to us, but it is something that our government, or any other government, could not give to us.  It is not theirs to give.  Because, dear friends, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  I am speaking today about the right to liberty, and in particular religious liberty.  And this right was not given to me, and it wasn’t given to you, by the government.  The right to religious liberty and the freedom of our conscience was given to us by the Creator.  Religious freedom is the gift of the Creator.  It is one of our most fundamental rights.  And now the government is trying to take it from us.

Well, good luck, but we’ve seen this before.

Nearly eight years ago I was in Mexico City visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  In the basilica, there is a cross on display.  It is no longer so much an object of devotion as it is a reminder of a terrorist act.  In 1921, a bomb was placed near the Altar in the Basilica by the anti-clerical and anti-Catholic forces that were gaining power in Mexico.  When the bomb exploded, the crucifix was bent and the windows in nearby homes were destroyed.  The image of the Virgin Mary, however, was not harmed at all.  Her image, the great sign in the heavens of the freedom of the children of God, remained even as the government of Mexico persecuted the Church.  Among the several thousand priests who were executed during that time is a Father, now Saint, Toribio Romo.  I keep a small statue of him in my office.  Father Toribio was executed simply because he was a priest.  He preached the Gospel.  He cared for his people, and they killed him for it.  He wasn’t leading a revolution, at least not a political or military one.  He wasn’t even speaking in the town square.  He was in his rectory at 5am on the 25th of February 1928 when soldiers broke into his home and shot him.  It is said that the last words that he heard were spoken to him by his sister: “Courage, Father Toribio...merciful Christ, receive him! Viva Cristo Rey!”  Father Toribio was killed not only for what he believed, but because he lived what he believed.  His faith formed his conscience and his conscience guided his life.

About eight months ago, President Obama began his second term as president of the United States.  The Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, contains within it a mandate that employers provide insurance coverage for contraceptives.  It removes many of the conscience protections that protected health care workers from being required to participate in procedures that violated their conscience.  This would require Catholic Health Care institutions to participate in actions that we believe to be morally reprehensible.  This is a violation of Religious Freedom.  It is a violation of our conscience.  The government will let us believe what we want, but now they want to forbid us from acting on our beliefs.  They will let us have, for now, our Christianity within our churches, but not outside of them.  Our faith can be private, but not public.  That, it seems, is what they want.  But dear brothers and sisters, that’s just never been our way.  Christianity is a life lived in the midst of the world and not simply a philosophy locked away in a classroom.  In our faith and our worship we personally and sacramentally encounter the love of Christ.  And the love of Christ impels us . . . the love of Christ commands us . . . the love of Christ gives us our only true mandate . . . to walk in love as Christ loved us:  to care for the poor and the sick, to reverence life in all its stages, to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless, and to see the face of Christ in the face of every person. 

About eight weeks ago, I was in Catacombs of St. Callixtus outside the walls of the city of Rome.  Nearly ninety feet underground, I celebrated Mass, which is both the source and summit of the Catholic Faith, in the Orantes Chapel.  Amidst the tombs, long since emptied by the barbarian invasions, the great cloud of witnesses who were killed simply for their faith and for living their faith surrounded me.  Their freedom to believe and their conviction that their faith was a lived reality were more precious than earthly life.  They did not surrender to a government.  They did not flee the persecution.  They have given us an example and they give us encouragement.  They were killed for their faith and our faith.  And we owe a debt to these martyrs, both those of ancient times and recent times, to stand firm against every assault on our religious freedom and any coercion of our conscience.  This is our debt.  This is our mandate.  This is our right given to us by the Creator, and the government cannot take it from us.

About eight minutes ago, I began speaking.  And eight minutes from now we will be marching and praying.  We will be in this place and in this time witnesses for the right of religious liberty and the freedom of conscience.  We will be what the love of Christ impels us to be, signs of His love and His presence.

And eight weeks from now, from you dear brothers and sisters, should flow a flood of communication to the halls of Congress, demanding that our freedoms be recognized and our consciences be protected.  It is your responsibility to sanctify the world.  It is your responsibility to bring the love of Christ to the political sphere.  You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  It is your sacred task to purify the culture, to make it better, and to preserve the best of our nation for the next generation.

And eight months from now you should support candidates for office who support religious freedom.

And eight years from now some of you should be candidates for Congress and the Legislature who support religious freedom and the sanctity of life.  Take courage brothers and sisters.  Take action brothers and sisters.  And take your place in the battle for religious freedom!

God Bless you.  God bless America.  Viva Cristo Rey!

Delivered at the Corner of Trade and Tryon, Charlotte, NC