February 22, 2012

The Freedom to Pray and Faith in the Public Square

Contrary to the opinion of those who view prayer as something restricted to individual private life, Christian prayer requires a society in which there is enough freedom to live out the mystery it discloses.  Prayer starts in the depths of the heart but it extends to all parts of life.   It brings the life of Christ to all kinds of difficult and perplexing situations so that in the face of despair men and women might find hope. 

A study of Church History in America shows in fact that Catholic Hospitals, Soup Kitchens, Shelters, Colleges and Universities are the fruit of prayer.  Prayerful people, especially thousands of anonymous religious sisters and hard working priests, felt called to express their faith by establishing these institutions of service and education -- so that all these forms of service and education might also be filled with the hope of the Gospel.  Here, in these fruits, we see concrete practical ways prayer provides an irreplaceably vital cultural influence.   Against the manipulative efforts of political and economic forces and ideologues, not only the marginalized and most vulnerable, but the whole of society needs the warrmth of heart, the tender presence and the moral values these fruits of prayer provide.   This is why everyone who is beginning to pray must be concerned when governments attempt to dictate the practice of faith, to manipulate it as a means to some political end.  It is a grave violence to the human person to be compelled to violate one's conscience.  Any attempt to force disobedience to the divine command to which prayers attends in the depths of the heart is a gross abuse of authority.  Cardinal Dolan is aksing for support for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act to this end:
Catholics and other people of faith and good will are not second class citizens. And it is not for the government to decide which of our ministries is “religious enough” to warrant religious freedom protection.
This is not just about contraception, abortion-causing drugs, and sterilization—although all should recognize the injustices involved in making them part of a universal mandated health care program. It is not about Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals. It is about people of faith. This is first and foremost a matter of religious liberty for all. If the government can, for example, tell Catholics that they cannot be in the insurance business today without violating their religious convictions, where does it end? This violates the constitutional limits on our government, and the basic rights upon which our country was founded. 
Much remains to be done. We cannot rest when faced with so grave a threat to the religious liberty for which our parents and grandparents fought. In this moment in history we must work diligently to preserve religious liberty and to remove all threats to the practice of our faith in the public square. This is our heritage as Americans. President Obama should rescind the mandate, or at the very least, provide full and effective measures to protect religious liberty and conscience.

Above all, dear brothers, we rely on the help of the Lord in this important struggle. We all need to act now by contacting our legislators in support of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which can be done through our action alert on www.usccb.org/conscience.