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Church is 'for the world,' not against it

And part of its mission is to make its 'proposals' in the public square, archbishop says

Homily preached by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at a Mass July 31, during a meeting of the state Catholic conference directors from around the U.S. The Mass took place at St. Sebastian Church in Fort Lauderdale.

He who sows good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world. Jesus taught his disciples that, while remaining in the world, they were not to be of the world. However, for Jesus and for the Catholic Church not being of the world never means being against the world. In fact, Jesus who came into the world in order to save it calls us to be always for the world.

This being for the world explains why the Church is concerned with education, with health care; it explains our involvement in civic affairs and why we define politics as something honorable and as a legitimate, and even noble, vocation for the Christian, that is, as a pathway to holiness.

Being for the world and not against the world is why we as a Church advocate for the poor and seek greater economic and social justice for all. As Catholics, we believe that the world in which we live in is our "highway to heaven," the path on which we work out our salvation with the help of God's grace. The Church is committed to the right and dignity of every human life from the moment of conception until natural death, to the family built on marriage understood as a permanent and exclusive union of one man and one woman, to the right ordering of society for the common good and in conformity to the natural law because she feels that such commitments help promote human flourishing. But these commitments do not divert her and her members from the pursuit of heaven. Rather, by addressing the obstacles, the roadblocks, the pot holes that may frustrate peoples pursuit of their transcendent vocation along that highway, the Church wishes to assist all those that travel it to reach heaven. In this way, our engagement in the world and for the world and never against the world does not contradict the Church's spiritual mission but complements it.

After all, we do believe that, as Church which Paul VI called an expert in humanity we do have something to say; we do have a word to share that word of course is Jesus Christ, who as true God and true Man reveals to us both the human face of God and the divine face of Man.

As Pope Benedict XVI said in Cuba last March: The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory (cf. Col 1:27). To carry out this duty, she must count on basic religious freedom, which consists in her being able to proclaim and to celebrate her faith also in public, bringing to others the message of love, reconciliation and peace which Jesus brought to the world. (Homily, La Habana)

'Being for the world and not against the world is why we as a Church advocate for the poor and seek greater economic and social justice for all. As Catholics, we believe that the world in which we live in is our "highway to heaven," the path on which we work out our salvation with the help of God's grace.'
                                  Archbishop Thomas Wenski
And as the Pope told Castro in Cuba, in upholding the basic human right to religious freedom the Church is not seeking any privileges for herself. As Blessed John Paul II said many times, the Church does not seek to impose but to propose. The Church doesn't impose her views but seeks the freedom to propose them in the public square and, in the give and take of the democratic process, to convince others of their reasonableness; and, the Church demands the freedom to witness to them coherently in her parishes, schools and charitable institutions, so as to contribute to human flourishing in society.

For much of our nation's history, Catholics were regarded by many of their neighbors with suspicion if not with hostility because of the prevailing prejudice towards the Catholic faith in a predominantly Protestant America. Yet because of a healthy secularity promoted by our civil order and the Bill of Rights' first freedom, the freedom of religion, Catholics were able to prosper in America: We built parishes, schools, hospitals, orphanages and other charitable institutions; we started businesses; we served honorably in our nations wars and held public office.

Today, that healthy secularity that provided for the separation of Church and State but not of religion from society, that healthy secularity that guaranteed the freedom of people of faith to serve the common good, is increasingly under siege in America. A radical secularism has emerged that seeks to reduce religious belief to just a "subjective opinion" and to privatize faith by denying it any public expression. Such a radical secularism promotes a world view in which God is excluded; it pretends that society can organize itself, that people can live their lives, as if God doesn't matter.

The eminent historian, Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., called anti-Catholicism the deepest-held bias in the history of the American people. In a culture in which tolerance is the supreme virtue and all sorts of prejudice is condemned, prejudice towards Catholics at least towards Catholics who adhere to the tenets of their faith is still acceptable.

These efforts to restrict religious liberty are seemingly founded in a reductive secularism that has more in common with the French Revolution than with America's founding. They seek to delegitimize the Church's participation in public debate about issues that will determine the future of American society.

To acquiesce is not an option. To adapt to the prevailing mentality, out of human respect or convenience, to fail to warn our brothers and sisters against ways of thinking or acting that are contrary to truth and right conduct, is to fail in the charity that we owe them.

Spirituality in our Catholic tradition is more than just narcissistic navel-gazing or an over-simplified sentimentalism that reduces spirituality to a one-time acceptance of Jesus. It is not a self-absorbed seeking after self-fulfillment found through esoteric teachings or practices. Christianitys invitation is to look outwardly and beyond. The heart of Christian life is "charity." As Christians we are to express our concern for each other through the exercise of what the Catechism calls the "corporal" and "spiritual" works of mercy. Opening our hearts to others and their needs is an opportunity for each one of us for salvation and blessedness - it is how we are for the world.

Most of you, I suppose, were involved in one way or another in the various observances of the Fortnight of Freedom called for by the US. bishops. The fortnight of freedom started with the feast of martyrs, Thomas More and John Fisher, and ended with Independence Day. This schedule drew a line from the cross to the flag reminding us that a great glory of our government is its protection religious freedom.

It reminded us, in this election year, that religious freedom is under threat for the first time in American history employers will be forced to provide services they consider morally objectionable. We bishops have not told anyone who to vote for nor should we; nor will we. We are, however, seeking to form consciences, and seeking to protect our right to do so.

America's first freedom, the freedom of religion, has honored America's diversity by permitting the inclusion of all its citizens in contributing to the common good of all. The stakes are high. Separation of Church and State does not require the exclusion of religion from society. To exclude people of faith from making their contributions and their proposals in the public square would impoverish us all.

On this feast day of the great St. Ignatius of Loyola we ask his prayers and make this prayer of his our own:

O my God, teach me to be generous
to serve you as you deserve to be served
to give without counting the cost
to fight without fear of being wounded
to work without seeking rest
and to spend myself without expecting any reward
but the knowledge that I am doing your holy will.

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