On Tuesday we celebrated the birth of this great country, which was kindled in freedom’s fire. The Founding Fathers’ desire for freedom was so great that, after a bloody war that resulted in gaining independence from a tyrannical king, they created the Bill of Rights. Foremost on that list of 10 rights is the First Amendment, which guarantees free exercise of religion, freedom of speech and the right to petition for a governmental redress of grievances, as well as freedom of the press and the right to peaceably assemble.
I mention this because last week I had yet another discussion about why the Catholic Church speaks out in the public square. The person I with whom I was talking seemed to be under the impression that “free exercise of religion” should be limited to the ability to worship inside a church, rather than carry the Good News into the public square, as we are called to do. Jesus told us to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation” (Mk 16:15). We are also meant to imitate our Lord, who went out to serve and comfort those on the peripheries, as Pope Francis likes to describe our mission.
Pope Francis also calls Catholics to speak in the public square. “We need to participate for the common good. Sometimes we hear: A good Catholic is not interested in politics. This is not true: Good Catholics immerse themselves in politics by offering the best of themselves so that the leader can govern,” he said.
Notice that the reason the pope gives for participation in politics is the common good. As Catholics we believe that the common good includes protecting the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. This is a belief that we share regardless of political affiliation.
In the introduction to their document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops notes that there is an “inextricable link between our witness to the truth and our service to those in need …; to our role as missionary disciples, called forth from the sanctuary to bring Christ to the margins with joy …; and to the care for our common home and all who dwell in it, especially the poorest. …”
The bishops single out a number of threats to the sanctity of life, including abortion, physician-assisted suicide, the redefinition of marriage, excessive consumption of material goods and the destruction of natural resources. They also caution against using “only selected parts of the Church’s teaching to advance partisan political interests or validate ideological biases. …”
This came to mind during the conversation I alluded to earlier, in which the person said the Catholic Church has enough on her plate without worrying about politics. I mentioned that the Church speaks out, publicly and forcefully, against abortion. If it is acceptable to petition the government on this issue, why is there such resistance when the Church speaks publicly about the need for that child, once it is born, to have access to sufficient food, a healthy environment in which to grow and, when the child becomes an adult, a job that will allow for a satisfying life and, at life’s end, a natural death?
Immigration, physician-assisted suicide and the death penalty are all sanctity of life issues currently being debated locally and nationally. We have the right as Americans, and the duty as Catholics, to petition in the public square for the government to address these grievances. The need to do so has nothing to do with political party and everything to do with living our faith.
Every Sunday at the end of Mass we are told to go forth and proclaim the Gospel. I can think of no better way to celebrate Independence Day than by exercising our First Amendment rights and speaking in the public square in defense of the sanctity of life. As Catholics our faith demands that we do so, and as Americans we are guaranteed the freedom to act according to our faith.
God bless America.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic, the newspaper for the Diocese of Salt Lake City.