Recently I saw a video that really stuck with me. In the video a Harvard professor recounted a conversation he had with a colleague from China who had spent some time in the United States. The professor asked his friend this question: “After living and teaching here in the United States, what have you learned about America that was surprising?” His friend’s immediate response: “I was surprised at how much democracy depends on peoples’ belief in God and the practice of their faith.”
This is really insightful because often we take for granted the foundation and building block that is faith and religious freedom in the USA. Religious freedom enables us to not only worship within the four walls of the church, but also allows us to live out in public our commitment to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, which are central to living the Gospel. It also allows us the freedom of expression that enables us to share insights coming from the Gospels or from the teaching of the church that may help others to lead a good and happy life for themselves and in their own families.
Like any important value, however, if it is not protected and preserved, the chance of it disappearing is very likely. Throughout our history, we have had courageous men and women who have made great sacrifices, even shedding their blood, to uphold the values that have made our country a good and overall peaceful place to live and spend our lives.
In order to protect values like religious freedom, we must do our part as well. If we do nothing, the chances of this freedom disappearing are like the sands that pass through the hour glass and very quickly are lost. Our freedoms can easily slip away and we cannot and should not be lulled into thinking they will always be there, especially if we do nothing about them.
What can you and I do about protecting these values? For one thing, we can thank God for them and do everything we can to educate others about the great value our free expression of religion affords us. The United States has been an example and has helped many other countries to value religious freedoms as well.
Another way we can protect the value of religious freedom is by knowing our history and honoring the sacrifices of those who fought for our freedoms. Today, we can see the growing threat of a “cancel culture” movement that despises history and the foundations of the very society and Constitution that allows them to protest freely. The recent destruction of religious statues attests to their disdain for history and for the very dynamics and pillars of people’s lives that have helped the country to thrive.
Passing on an awareness to the next generation of the tremendous sacrifices their relatives and fellow Americans have made can help them to understand their history. We are truly standing on the shoulders of giants. Ignorance of history usually means that people are destined to repeat the mistakes of history, which is devastating for any society. Educate the youth about the precious gift of religious freedom.
Finally, the most important way we can protect religious freedom is to vote for it. Every Catholic should vote, for it is in exercising our right to vote that we can boldly affirm this value so constitutive of the story of the United States. As Catholics, we have a responsibility to be actively engaged in our world through the political process. In doing so, we must form our consciences in accord with the wisdom of the Gospel and church teaching.
To assist with this task, the bishops of the United States have again issued Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, which helps Catholics understand how our faith should inform our political decisions. You can find the full document at usccb.org. I plan to address some of the principles of this document in upcoming columns, and The Compass will also be publishing helpful resources that unpack the wisdom of this document. I encourage you to spend some time in the coming months, studying this document and prayerfully discerning how God is calling you to bring your Catholic values to the voting booth.
In his visit to the United States in 2015, Pope Francis called religious freedom “one of America’s most precious possessions.” May each of us do all we can to appreciate this freedom and ensure it for future generations. God bless you, our church, our faith, our families and our country!
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken.