Archive for the ‘Catholic Teaching’ Category

The Holy Father Puts First Things First

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

The Holy Father recently gave a lengthy interview to a Jesuit journalist, and it has now been published around the world.  The secular media, once again displaying their strange ideological obsessions (and their habitual failure of reading comprehension), has cherry-picked some quotations on their favorite topics, resulting in some serious misinformation about what the Pope really said.

The interview itself is long, and very rich in content.  I urge everyone to read the original, and not the New York Times version.  I actually think that it will take several readings to get the full impact of our Holy Father’s thoughts.

One thing that’s clear is that the Pope is not changing any Church teaching, nor is he criticizing the way that the Church has taught about the “hot button” issues of abortion, contraception, and homosexuality.

It really is a beautiful and evangelical interview — the Holy Father does a wonderful job of expressing the essence of the New Evangelization.  To read his words, you clearly see his vision of the Church’s mission — to proclaim to the world that the Church is open to everyone who wants to come to God, even with all our imperfections.  So, for example, he says this:

This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. And the church is Mother; the church is fruitful. It must be.

As for his comment about the “hot button” issues, Pope Francis said this:

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing….

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

He’s right, of course.  We can’t reduce Church teaching to just the issues of abortion, contraception and homosexuality.  It’s about so much more than that — the essence of the Christian life is to have life and love in communion with God and each other, not just to follow rules.  The irony is that the world makes just that same error that they accuse us of — they think that we’re all about those issues and nothing else.  But that just means that they’ve missed the point of what the Holy Father was talking about.

The key point is that the Holy Father wants us to put first things first:

We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.  The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.

That means that our focus must always be on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his mission to us sinners and his offer of peace and healing and redemption.

If only the media would focus on this section of the Pope’s interview:

I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.

The message of the Holy Father continues to engage and attract the world.  May his words lead more and more people to the beauties of the Gospel and to the love of God.

The Holy Father Gets to the Heart of the Matter

Friday, January 4th, 2013

In the comments box of one of my recent posts about the redefinition of marriage, I had an interesting discussion with a homosexual gentleman about the nature of sexuality.

In that discussion, our essential disagreement came down to a fundamental point about what it is to be human.  As I framed the question (I’ve cut and pasted from separate comments to boil this down to its clearest expression),

The whole idea of “gender” reflected in your posts is that it’s just a bundle of attributes that are largely socially determined, and that can be revised according to the subjective desires of the individual… Our position rests on the notion that sexual difference can’t be assumed away. The complementary (i.e., different, equal, and necessarily interdependent) nature of male and female sexuality is a constitutive element of what it is to be a human being.

The Holy Father has now addressed this point directly and powerfully, in his annual address to the Curia — what you might call his “State of the Church and the World Address”.  His comments, which come in the context of a discussion of the threats to the family, are worth quoting at length (my emphasis is added in bold):

[T]he question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human

The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society.

The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves.

Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed.

But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.

The Holy Father thus gets to the precise center of the question — the debate about marriage and family is, at its heart, about the nature of the human person.  It is in the end a question about “who created me”.  The modernist approach is to create myself in my own image and likeness, making myself into my own little god, answerable to no objective or higher truth.  We’ve already seen how that false and destructive approach works (see Genesis 3, and the entire history of the Twentieth Century).

The Holy Father has pointed to us the way out of this problem — to embrace the truth of our nature and the truth of our origin, and to defend the social expressions of those truths in marriage and the family.

There Is Another Way

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Over the last week, like many Americans, I have watched the news videos of violence around the world.  I have been shocked and angered by the attacks on American embassies and Western businesses, and the murder of innocent persons.  I have also listened and read the responses of our political leaders and pundits — all of whom, it seems, are advocating for retaliation, the use of force, and more violence.

But there is another way here.  We do not always have to resort to more violence, more killing.  Legitimate self-defense is necessary, but we have to question and challenge every use of force.  Violence is not the only way to deal with problems.  There is also the way of peace.

Pope Benedict is in Lebanon right now, giving a courageous personal witness to that way.  And he is using his position as Vicar of Christ to tell us that we need to seek peace and justice, and not to perpetuate the violence.   His address to the public officials who greeted him in Lebanon is a profound and eloquent call to the way of peace, and should be read, studied, and taken to heart by all our political leaders.

A few highlights are worth sharing here. On the dignity of the human person as the foundation of a peaceful society:

The energy needed to build and consolidate peace also demands that we constantly return to the wellsprings of our humanity. Our human dignity is inseparable from the sacredness of life as the gift of the Creator. In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable. A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life. The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life! This approach leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God… We must combine our efforts, then, to develop a sound vision of man, respectful of the unity and integrity of the human person. Without this, it is impossible to build true peace.

On the need for solidarity among people as the path to peace:

Mankind is one great family for which all of us are responsible. By questioning, directly or indirectly, or even before the law, the inalienable value of each person and the natural foundation of the family, some ideologies undermine the foundations of society. We need to be conscious of these attacks on our efforts to build harmonious coexistence. Only effective solidarity can act as an antidote, solidarity that rejects whatever obstructs respect for each human being, solidarity that supports policies and initiatives aimed at bringing peoples together in an honest and just manner…  Nowadays, our cultural, social and religious differences should lead us to a new kind of fraternity wherein what rightly unites us is a shared sense of the greatness of each person and the gift which others are to themselves, to those around them and to all humanity. This is the path to peace! This is the commitment demanded of us! This is the approach which ought to guide political and economic decisions at every level and on a global scale!

And on conversion of heart that all are called to:

A new and freer way of looking at these realities will enable us to evaluate and challenge those human systems which lead to impasses, and to move forward with due care not to repeat past mistakes with their devastating consequences. The conversion demanded of us can also be exhilarating, since it creates possibilities by appealing to the countless resources present in the hearts of all those men and women who desire to live in peace and are prepared to work for peace. True, it is quite demanding: it involves rejecting revenge, acknowledging one’s faults, accepting apologies without demanding them, and, not least, forgiveness. Only forgiveness, given and received, can lay lasting foundations for reconciliation and universal peace.

The Holy Father is calling upon all of us to look at the deplorable situation in our world in a new light — the light of the Gospel, which is the light of love.  We must demand that our political leaders break free of the false consciousness that impels them to advocate for violence in response to violence, to force in opposition to force, and to power against power.

God demands that we live in peace with our brethren around the world, regardless of our differences.  Our Holy Father is showing us the way.  Let us pray that our political leaders will see that, and choose the way of peace.

Hard Cases, Small Steps

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

The political world has been abuzz lately over comments made by a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri.  When asked about whether pro-lifers would accept a ban on abortion that permitted an exception for rape or incest, the candidate made some ill-conceived remarks that seemed to minimize the horror of rape.  This incident has now been used by the forces of the Culture of Death (including their allies in the media) to flog pro-lifers as being radical or anti-woman.

Some clarification and explanation is in order.

The unquestioned goal of the pro-life movement is a conversion of the hearts of individuals, and thus of our culture, so that every innocent life is protected from conception until natural death.  This protection will involve changes in the law so that the practice — and even the concept — of abortion would be completely eradicated from our land.  Given our presumption that every human life has inestimable value, and that innocent life cannot be taken, we work towards the ultimate goal of enacting laws to prohibit abortion with no exceptions.  One vehicle for this would be a Human Life Amendment.

In short, we aim to build a Culture of Life, in which all lives are valued.  To get a glimpse of this goal, and how we can get there, I suggest that people read the great statement by the United States Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life.

Unfortunately, our culture is not yet ready to accept the changes in attitude and in law that we are seeking.  While there have been shifts in public opinion over the years in favor of the pro-life position, there are still a large number of individuals who either approve of abortion, or who are willing to tolerate it for a perceived “greater good”.  We must redouble our efforts to reach out to our brothers and sisters who believe this, to convert their hearts.

One way that we seek to achieve this conversion of heart is by taking  incremental steps towards our ultimate goal — in short, building a Culture of Life, brick by brick.  This is why we support measures that limit and restrict abortion in various ways, such as parental notification laws, bans on late-term abortions, and such.  By supporting these initiatives, we are not accepting the morality of abortion — we are seeking to mitigate the damage, and to use these bills as a vehicle to educate people about abortion, as a way of calling them to conversion.  This approach to legislation was specifically approved by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical The Gospel of Life (see paragraph 73).

This is where the “rape exception” comes into play.  Pro-lifers hold steadfastly to the fundamental truth that a baby conceived in a rape is an innocent human being whose life may never be directly terminated.  We see rape as a horrific act, an inexcusable violation of the dignity of a woman, a depraved crime that should be severely punished by law.  We believe that a woman victimized by rape must receive our support as she strives for healing.  But we do not accept that the path to healing passes through the abortion clinic.  We firmly believe that one cannot heal a victim of violence, by taking the life of another innocent person.

Unfortunately, many people disagree with us — people who either consider themselves pro-life, or who are willing to support some of our goals.  These people are potential allies as we try to pass common-sense laws to restrict abortion.  We wish to build alliances and coalitions with these potential supporters, not alienate them.  So, many pro-lifers in the political and policy arena are willing to tolerate a “rape exception” to a ban on abortion.   That is not to say that we consider such an exception as a final goal — but we take what we can get, when we can get it, and press on from there, always moving forwards.

There’s an old adage that “hard cases make bad law”.  They also make unsatisfactory compromises, and disappointment.  But they sometimes can produce small steps towards our ultimate goal.

 

“Liberal Christianity” and the Real Church

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

In my last post, I considered a question of Catholic identity, stemming from a story about the Diocese of Arlington, and their request that all catechists make a profession of faith.

A second item in the press has also raised the question of Catholic identity.  In the New York Times, Ross Douthat, one of the most perceptive observers of modern religious trends, wrote on the question “Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?”.   The focus is on the Episcopal Church, but the piece (and his recent book, “Bad Religion”) is also a challenge to us as Catholics to consider the identity of our own Church.

“Liberal Christianity” is a notoriously protean entity, but it can be found in every Christian community, including the Church.  It has variously been known under the term “modernism”, or “revisionism”.  It is often conflated with political liberalism, but the two are not always or necessarily connected or identical.  Theological liberalism’s characteristics include:

  • A rejection of Church teaching authority either in whole or in part;  this is frequently seen  in assertions or implications that there are other sources of authority that are entitled to equal or greater weight than the Magisterium on matters of faith and morals (e.g.,  the writings of academic theologians, the alleged consensus of the people, the beliefs of other religions, etc.);
  • Promoting the idea that Revelation is subject to continual revision based on the purported lessons of modern science or philosophy; we see this most often in calls for the Church to “update outmoded teachings” or to “get with the times”;
  • A dislike or open disregard for certain aspects of Church law, particularly those that require doctrinal fidelity for individuals or institutions (e.g., Pope John Paul’s decree Ex Corde Ecclesiae on the fidelity of theologians and universities) or the liturgical rubrics;
  • Proposing the revision of moral doctrine based on the common behavior of people (i.e., their sins), the results of opinion polls, or developments in contemporary philosophy or psychology;  this is particularly focused on sexual matters (e.g., contraception or homosexual acts), and is very popular in Catholic academia (as was seen in the recent  Notification by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that a book by a prominent theologian was incompatible with the teaching of the Church);
  • Negative attitudes towards traditional devotions and liturgy; this can be seen in some of the opposition to the new translation of the Ordinary Form of the Mass, and in the contempt and hostility of some towards the Extraordinary Form;
  • A distorted notion of the absolute autonomy of individual conscience, without recognizing that conscience must always be formed by the teachings of the Church and subject to the commands of God;
  • A sense of the post-Conciliar Church characterized by what Pope Benedict has called “a hermeneutic of rupture” from tradition; we all know this as the amorphous “Spirit of Vatican II”, which has led to all sorts of innovations and abuses that have no basis in the actual teachings of the Council or the traditional teachings or practices of the Church.
  • Those of us raised in the 1960′s and 1970′s are very familiar with this brand of “liberal Catholicism”.  We have all been immersed in it, and have seen its failure, which led Cardinal George to call it “an exhausted project… [that] no longer gives life”.  There are many, many flaws in liberal Christianity, and Cardinal George does an excellent job of dissecting the corpse.

    Douthat’s piece in the Times focuses our attention particularly on the failure of liberal Christianity — and liberal Catholicism in particular — to properly understand the nature and purpose of the Church.  In that view, the Church is merely another sociological phenomenon, no different from any other worldly entity, the purpose of which is limited to worldly matters — to empower people (women, minorities, etc.), redress historical grievances, effect political change, and so on.

    This fails to understand the nature of the Church.  She is the Body of Christ, His Bride, and is, in a deep existential sense, inseparable from Him.  Although made up of flawed and imperfect humans, we can never speak of the Church without speaking of Christ Himself. She is human, indeed, but She is also divine.  As both a human and divine entity, the Church respects both the human and divine aspects of every person.

    So, the purpose of the Church is also not limited to human affairs.  Her ultimate purpose is to bring people into a loving relationship with Jesus Christ — an encounter with a real person — so that people can come to know the Father through the Spirit, and thus attain eternal life.   While the  earthly activities of the Church are valuable and must be pursued out of obedience to the will of God, they all take a distant second place to that fundamental task of bringing people to God.

    Liberal Christianity doesn’t think of the Church that way, and never speaks of Her that way. That is why, as Cardinal George pointed out, it “no longer gives life”.  Indeed, that is why liberal Christianity is diminishing in numbers and influence, because their interests (politics, sexual innovation, environmentalism, etc.) do not appeal to the basic desire of people to know and love God.  As evidenced by its obsession with separating sexuality from fertility, liberal Christianity is sterile, and we all know where sterility leads.

    The real Church, which passionately loves Her devoted Bridegroom, longs to bring everyone to know Him as well.  She is focused on the final goal — life forever in the eternal exchange of love that is God’s own life.

    Our real Church is rich and fecund, and will always bear fruit.

     

    A Question of Identity

    Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

    A recent news item has led me to reflect on a question that I think is crucial for all Catholics, indeed all Christians, at this time — the question of who we are.

    The “news” story (actually a commentary in the form of a news article) appeared in the Washington Post.  It describes the decision of the Arlington Diocese to require all their catechists to make a profession of faith, and the decision by a handful of catechists to resign rather than comply.

    The Profession of Faith is the same one prescribed by the Holy See for teachers in seminaries, pastors, and the heads of religious institutions, and is quite unremarkable.  It essentially asks if a person accepts the Apostles’ Creed and authoritative Church teaching –in other words, if a  person accepts what the Church has proposed for belief.

    To a person of common sense, the request by the Arlington Diocese is unexceptional:  if you are teaching the Catholic faith to children, we would like to make sure that you actually believe and accept the Catholic faith.  It’s like when a person assumes a public office — they have to swear to uphold the constitution and laws, and faithfully execute their office.  Or, think of it as a consumer protection pledge, like a “God Housekeeping Stamp of Approval”.

    To the author of the WaPo piece, and to the dissenting catechists, it is a shocking thing.  Pretty much anyone who has read religion articles in the press could write the story, since it hits all the media tropes — mean and authoritarian hidebound male bishops, courageous free-thinking women following their conscience, references to partisan politics and the health care law, and the Nazi’s even make a cameo appearance.   Naturally, it’s not as if the former catechists are Monophysites or anything too theological for the ordinary reporter to explain.   Their dissent  stems from all the usual trendy pelvic and gender issues, which the press loves to report about.  It’s pretty shoddy journalism.

    This story is striking to me because it involves deeper questions, which are not just being asked by the Arlington Diocese to their catechists, but which are in fact being asked of all of us:  What do I believe?  What does it mean for me to be a Catholic?

    For many people, both now and throughout history, being a Catholic has little to do with actual beliefs.  It is instead a cultural identity, or an ethnic characteristic, or a social custom.

    But that surely is not enough.  To be a Catholic means to hold certain beliefs in common with our brethren throughout the world, and throughout time.  It means to affirm the same faith that was preserved for us by the great saints, many of whom sacrificed their lives so that I might know that faith. It means to hand on to others, what was handed on to us.

    But on an even deeper level, it means to come to know the truth about somebody, about a person who loves me more than life itself, and who has given all of himself so that I may know and love him.  You can’t really love someone unless you know them, deeply and intimately.

    I know nothing of God — Father, Son, or Spirit — except what has been taught to me by the Church, and given to me by Her by Word, Sacrament, and Work.  I could never love God — the real God, not the flawed one I would rather create in my own image — if I had not received the truth about Him from the Church.

    That is why professions of faith are so significant to us as Catholics, and why we should be proud to affirm the truths of our faith, as taught to us by our Church, and to proclaim those truths to our world.

    A Timely Reminder About Christians in the World

    Friday, May 11th, 2012

    One of the wonderful ways in which Providence acts is through the liturgy.  So often, the readings offered to us by the Church for public worship are exactly what we need to hear at a particular moment in our lives.  These are not coincidences — they are a way in which God reveals His truth and his will to us.

    And just so, on Wednesday.  That was the day that the President announced his “evolution” on the redefinition of marriage, a development that bodes ill for the religious liberty of Christians in this nation.  On that day, the Divine Office presented this excerpt from the Letter to Diognetus (a work of Christian apologetics that dates from the second century) as part of the Office of Readings:

    Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

    And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

    Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

    To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

    Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.

    Thank you, Lord, for your timely reminder that we are citizens of Your heavenly kingdom, passing through this valley of tears, and that we should comport ourselves accordingly.

    The Message Could Not Be Clearer

    Friday, January 20th, 2012

    The juxtaposition of events couldn’t have been more stark.  Nor could the message be any clearer — the current Administration has a deep-seated, inveterate hostility to religious freedom.

    The first event happened just last week, in its most important religious liberty decision in decades, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the autonomy of churches to act according to their beliefs, without government intrusion.   The case was Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and I’ve written about it before.  Essentially, the case involved the ability of churches and other religious organizations to choose their own leaders, according to their religious beliefs.

    It’s important to note that, in deciding the case, the Supreme Court specifically rejected the Administration’s argument that churches have no special protection in the choice of their leaders, and should be given no more deference in such decisions than any other association — like a bowling league.  This, despite the fact that the First Amendment grants clear, specific protection to the freedom of religion.

    That was a bold example of the radicalism of this Administration, and their disdain for religious freedom.  Fortunately, the Supreme Court can actually read the Constitution, and understands what it means — and handed down the clearly correct ruling.

    The second event happened today.  The Administration announced that it was going to issue final regulations that would require religious organizations to provide full health insurance coverage for sterilization, abortifacient drugs, and contraceptives.  A very narrow exemption was granted, but it is so tiny in its coverage that few, if any, organizations will qualify.  I’ve written about this regulation before as well.

    Religious organizations of all denominations had denounced this plan, and had called for a broader exemption, in order to respect the conscience rights of those who object to being forced to pay for morally offensive drugs and procedures.  Yet the Administration disdained their request, and made no changes in the proposal.

    Again, you could not ask for a clearer example of the hostility of this Administration towards religious freedom.  The secularist, anti-life ideology of our rulers will not compromise, and will force all others to conform.

    Sometimes, things are seen most clearly from a distance.  Yesterday, Pope Benedict received some of the bishops of the United States at one of their periodic “ad limina” meetings.  In his remarks to the bishops, the Holy Father made some pointed observations about the threats to religious liberty:

    it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.

    Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.

    The Holy Father is right.  We as lay Catholics need to take action to defend our freedom, and the freedom of our Church.

    Remember, elections matter.