‘Freedom for mission’: reflecting on religious liberty

By Mark Schmidt
Director of the Office of Respect Life/Social Justice

“We’re on a mission from God.” Those words come from one of my favorite movies, the 1980 film “Blues Brothers.” For those who have not seen it, it is the story of Jake and Elwood Blues, two men who had been raised by a group of nuns at an orphanage, which is now under threat of foreclosure. The brothers travel throughout the country trying to raise money to save the orphanage, and in the process, end up being chased by a cadre of characters including law enforcement, an ex-girlfriend, cowboys and others.

When you hear Elwood Blues say those words, “we’re on a mission from God,” it sounds laughable, because, in a comedy such as this, that’s the point. Unfortunately, too many of us may hear those words from others, or maybe those we know tell us that we, ourselves, are on a mission from God, and we laugh in a similar way. “Really? So God came to you and sent you on a mission? Really?”

But that is exactly what life in the church is, a mission from God. Christ established the church and gave the great commission to the disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20)

When we enter into the life of Christ through the sacrament of baptism, and are fully initiated with the sacraments of confirmation and holy Eucharist, we are sent with the same mission as the disciples. Such a mission is not always easy. Throughout history, there have been many obstacles to bring the good news to all, including repression of religious freedoms.

Pope St. John Paul II spoke of freedom (and hardships) often; having lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland and then the Soviet occupation following World War II he was experienced in what it meant to lack freedom, particularly the freedom of religion. He knew that many people confuse freedom for license, saying: “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

If we are to have religious freedom in the United States then those of us who are people of faith must recognize that freedom is not just a freedom from repression but a freedom for mission. The church reminds us that for every right there is a corresponding responsibility. We have the right to religious liberty but that right comes with the responsibility to live the faith we claim, in prayer and sacrament, and in respecting the dignity of all human persons, without exception, as well as promoting the common good. This is accomplished in direct acts of service but also engagement in political and community action to address the underlying causes of the threats to human dignity and the common good.

This is especially the case when it comes to religious freedom. We are reminded of our responsibility to not only work to ensure religious freedom for ourselves but to work to ensure that all have the freedom of religion and conscience. In one of the bulletin inserts for the occasion of the fortnight, titled “Freedom to promote a culture of freedom for all,” it says:

“Religious freedom is for everyone. The Church teaches that religious freedom is rooted in the nature of the human person, and therefore it is a fundamental human right.

“When we speak up for religious freedom, we do so not only for ourselves, but because we are called to defend the dignity of every individual and community that seeks the truth about God, including Muslims, Jews, and others who do not share our Catholic Christian faith.”

Let us each day live our faith and work to protect that faith and the religious liberty of our fellow citizens and guests to our country by speaking up against violence, bigotry, hatred or repression of religious minorities; ensuring that we and our neighbors have the liberty to establish places of worship, wear preferred religious clothing, engage in dialogue in the public square, serve the poor and vulnerable, practice faith openly without intimidation or recrimination.

Let us promote a “freedom for mission” for all people of good will, especially our own fellow brothers and sisters in the church.

For more information go to: usccb.org/fortnight.

This is the second article in a three-part series.

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