October 12, 2012


Faith, religious liberty and human suffering

“The salvation of the world does not come, in the final analysis, from a transformation of the world or a political system that sets itself up as absolute and divine. We must, indeed, go on working to transform the world, soberly, realistically, patiently, humanely. But mankind has a demand and a question that go beyond anything politics and economics can provide, that can be answered only by the Crucified Christ, the man in whom our suffering touches the heart of God and his everlasting love.”
—Pope Benedict XVI

In an election year, it’s more important than ever to remind ourselves that politics, law, government, economics and social policy can only go so far in the effort to “transform the world.”

It is our duty as faithful citizens to work tirelessly to build a better society, and to elect women and men who will lead us with honor, integrity and vision.

But we dare not delude ourselves. Our salvation will not come from politics or economics. It can only come from “the Crucified Christ, the man in whom our suffering touches the heart of God and his everlasting love.”

During this Year of Faith, we are reminded that disciples of Jesus Christ have a special responsibility to be stewards of religious liberty. The freedom that we enjoy as Americans entitles us to place our faith in God above all else.

We are free to believe, and to practice what we believe, precisely because the founders of our nation knew that placing our trust in people or in political systems is a profound mistake. In God we trust.

Everything—and everyone—else must be subjected to careful scrutiny, to the checks and balances built into our Constitution and the rule of law.

Religious liberty is the guarantor of faith. Without the freedom to worship, to preach and teach, to serve the needs of others and always to live in accordance with the dictates of an informed conscience, we are not free men and women. We are slaves.

Especially during an election year, it is important to call attention to the demands of freedom and human dignity. Human beings are free only when they are permitted—encouraged—to worship their Creator out of gratitude and love. They are free only when they are allowed to live their lives as he has commanded with laws written in the hearts of humankind, in the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments and in the Beatitudes.

These are “laws of love” given to us to ensure our happiness. No human law, political system, charismatic leader or economic theory can effectively replace the fundamental principles that alone can support and sustain our religious liberty.

As Americans, we are called to be stewards of humanity’s God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That means we have to nurture the gift of freedom—and share it generously with others. It also means that we must stand up to injustice and to all forms of tyranny, and we must be willing to suffer—mentally, emotionally or physically—in order to defend what we believe.

The Crucified Christ is our model. As Pope Benedict says, he is “the man in whom our suffering touches the heart of God and his everlasting love.”

By his wounds, we have been healed. By his words, we have been given hope. By his example, we have learned what it means to alleviate the suffering of others and, at the same time, to accept our own sufferings and unite them with his.

He did not condemn the world or scorn its political and economic systems. He told his disciples to give Caesar his due, but to give back to God everything that belongs to him.

As good stewards, we know that “giving back to God” means holding nothing back. It means sharing generously with others what God has so graciously given to us. It means that we are truly called to be our nation’s faithful citizens, but that our first duty is to God.

As Catholics and as Americans, we do not see any contradiction here. If we are, first and foremost, responsible stewards of all God’s gifts, we will also be faithful citizens. That’s what our religious liberty makes possible. That’s why we cherish this freedom so dearly, and why we share it so generously with our sisters and brothers here at home and throughout the world.

During this election year—and always—let’s be good stewards of the gift of religious liberty.

—Daniel Conway

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