By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Recently, the United States Catholic of Bishops (USCCB) designated the week of June 22-29 as Religious Freedom Week. This has evolved from a Fortnight for Freedom, begun in 2008, a time frame that leads to the celebration of our nation’s founding on July 4th each year.
The slice of time of one is apropos for the matter, both in our society as we approach the celebration of liberty every year, and in our Church because it begins on the feast day of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, martyrs for religious freedom, and ends with the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, the prototypical martyrs of religious conscience and integrity of faith.
But, “it has been difficult,” says the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville “as we’re swimming upstream in this culture. Some people think religious freedom is the threat” but “Religious Liberty Week is about the Gospel, it is meant to inspire a culture.” Religious freedom is the cornerstone of our nation’s constitution. The first amendment begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..”
Speaking on behalf of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, the archbishop has asked Americans to pray and “act in support of religious liberty at home and abroad.” The archbishop went on to explain, “Religious freedom allows the space for people of faith to serve others in God’s love in ministries like education, adoption and foster care, health care, and migration and refugee services. We encourage people of faith to reflect on the importance of religious freedom so that we might have the space to carry out our mission of service and mercy, and we invite everyone to pray for our brothers and sisters who face intense persecution in other parts of the world.”
The theme for this year’s observance’ “Serving Others in God’s Love” portrays the nature of the church for nearly two millennia. Beginning with the Lord Jesus, who came, not be served but to serve, it is self-evident, in the Bible and in our tradition, that the Church is most faithful to her Lord when she wears the mantle of service on the road to salvation.
Word, Worship, Community and Service are the standards for all Christian communities, and the free exercise thereof is the capacity to run on all cylinders, both within our church structures and as active citizens in society for the common good through our church’s ministries and services. The Lord’s mandate is to go and make disciples of all the nations, teaching them everything I have commanded you, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. (Matthew, Ch 28) Often, it is our ministries and services that attract people to the beauty, truth, and light of the crucified and risen Lord, breathing life into our evangelizing, teaching and preaching.
To serve others is central to our diocesan vision and at times it is a blessing to take a long, loving look at what is real, the panorama of ministries, works and services that thrive around our diocese. The vision is embodied in our parishes and in education, in health care and through Catholic Charities. It is the generosity of the faithful that makes it possible and this bountiful giving occurs on a daily basis, for special fund raising events, and through our annual Catholic Service Appeal.
On this note, I want to thank the thousands of people throughout the Diocese of Jackson who generously support our Catholic Service Appeal. It is a life-line for our mission, vision, and ministries within our diocesan structures on behalf of our Catholic people, as well as in many corners of our state as a visible sign of Christ’s love for all.
You can rest assured that your support is allowing the diocese to inspire the culture with the Gospel, to bring about the Kingdom of God, and to serve others in God’s love. This is the free exercise of our Catholic faith, in season and out or season, in our churches and in society. Let us never tire of being faithful disciples and citizens on behalf of life, justice and peace.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz