Joy and Hope
June 7, 2008
Let your faith be a public matter
There is much debate today about religious belief in public life. In the past weeks we have heard about the state Supreme Court overturning California noters’ decision about marriage in Proposition 22. As voters we have once again returned to the polls for the June elections. The presidential campaigns continue at full throttle until this coming November.
As many political dramas unfold in coming months we should keep in mind one of the precious liberties we enjoy in this country: the freedom to worship. This freedom has slowly been eroded in our time.
Freedom of religion has come to mean practicing your religion as long as it is private and personal – as long as it does not bother anyone else. You are free to worship as long as you keep it to yourself. Some will argue that one’s personal beliefs cannot be imposed on other people. When they say that and when we let ourselves believe that we are saying that our beliefs and our values are only private, personal.
That is not the faith we share. That is not the nature of our Catholic faith. We are a church rich and diverse in traditions, cultures and languages precisely because what we believe is not just private and personal. We believe that what we hold is for the good of all. It is for the common good.
The faith we hold has found its way into many nations. It has come to be a part of many cultures. It is sung, recited and pronounced in many languages precisely because the Gospel is about human salvation. Humanity as a whole is saved and restored by the Gospel.
We also believe that the beauty and truth that we know through our Catholic faith is already written in the hearts of all and is already waiting on the lips of all. What we believe is not too mysterious or remote. We believe it is reasonable, desirable and accessible to all.
For this reason, we hold that the Gospel of life is not an imposition. It is not just my personal preferences. We believe what we believe because it is for the good of all. The truth of this is sung and proclaimed whenever we gather as a people diverse in culture, language and custom, yet one in faith and united in the one hope that is ours in Jesus Christ.
We must be careful, though, about letting ourselves be defined and confined by what people say we are against. So often we allow ourselves to define our beliefs and our values by what we are against. When we do this we can forget to affirm what we believe and promote.
Yes, we are against abortion because we believe in the dignity and the sanctity of all human life.
Yes, we are against the death penalty because we believe that we can protect our society and ourselves through other less violent means. We do not have to resort to taking another life.
Yes, we are against sex outside of marriage because we believe in the profound beauty and grace of the sexual union as an expression of love, faithfulness and life.
Yes, we are against drug abuse because we believe that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Yes, we are against same-sex unions because we believe that the marriage of a man and a woman is a unique expression of love intended to create life.
Yes, we are against sexual abuse and all forms of domestic violence because we believe that the use of all power and authority is intended to respect and service the human person, most especially those who are weak and vulnerable.
Yes, we are against war because we believe that little good can come from the violent chaos of war. War is always a last and reluctant resort and is always evil even if at times it may be a necessary evil. The recourse to war must be matched by a commitment to peace and to this commitment we must give our most earnest efforts.
Our faith is a profound “yes” to the goodness, the dignity, the sanctity of all human life. It is a faith that looks for every opportunity to say what is good about humanity and to do what is good for all humanity. It is not a private matter. It is not a personal preference. It is a public matter. It is a matter of the common good because God has already written his wisdom and his ways on every human heart. His voice is waiting to be announced on the lips of every culture, language and way of life.
Do not let our Catholic faith be a just a private matter. As the faith we share has been brought into cultures and languages throughout the world, so must it be announced to this culture in the language of today. It must be part of our common language, our common sense, our common good as an American society.
Let me conclude with the words of a old hymn that also became a popular song some time ago:
“My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul —
How can I keep from singing?”