Saturday, July 04, 2015

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Washington D.C., Jul 4, 2015 / 02:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious freedom is absolutely necessary to implement the teachings of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato Si, said the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice spokesman on Independence Day.

The Pope’s recent encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, demands that Catholics “engage the world and witness to our teachings,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami said in a homily for the closing Mass of the Fortnight for Freedom on July 4. However, he added, this public action can only be accomplished with true religious freedom.

“Religious freedom is the human right that guarantees all other rights – peace and creative living together will only be possible if freedom of religion is fully respected,” the archbishop said.

Archbishop Wenski is the chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. He gave the homily at the July 4 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. More than 1,000 people were estimated to be in attendance.

The Fortnight for Freedom is an initiative started by the U.S. bishops in 2012 to educate Catholics about the importance of religious liberty and to bring awareness to current threats to the practice of religion in the U.S.

The first fortnight was held amidst deep concerns about the state of religious freedom relating to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Other concerns since then have included small business owners being forced to serve same-sex weddings against their religious beliefs, adoption agencies having to close rather than place children with same-sex couples, and churches being prevented by states from ministering to undocumented immigrants.

More recently, the  bishops expressed serious concerns about the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

The majority opinion in Obergefell did not guarantee sufficient protections for the religious liberty of persons and organizations who believe marriage to be the union of one man and one woman, said Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore in a June 26 conference call with reporters following the decision. Archbishop Lori chairs the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty.

The theme of the 2015 Fortnight for Freedom was “Freedom to Bear Witness.” Archbishop Lori explained in his homily at the opening Mass for the fortnight, that “we seek the freedom to bear witness to Christ’s love, not just in church but in our service to the wider community through works of justice and charity, education, social services, and health care.”

One of the key threats to religious freedom in Western countries is the privatization of religion, Archbishop Wenski said in his homily for the closing Mass, because religion is inherently public in practice.

In Western countries, “we see the courts chipping away at the original understanding of religious freedom,” he said. “In order to fit new political agendas, religious freedom is being reinterpreted narrowly to mean merely ‘freedom to worship’ but excluding the freedom to serve and the freedom to witness.”

This is already manifested in a “soft despotism,” he explained, where “ridicule, ostracism, and denial of employment opportunities of advancement are being used to marginalize us.”

“We see this when butchers, and bakers and candlestick makers are being put into the legal dock for refusing to renounce their religious beliefs,” he added. For example, Christian owners of an Oregon bakery have been forced by the state to pay a lesbian couple $135,000 in damages for refusing to serve their same-sex wedding.

In addition, the owners were told not to publicly discuss their faith-based refusal to serve the wedding, as reported by the Daily Signal.

The recent encyclical Laudato Si gives Catholics a mandate to practice their faith publicly, Archbishop Wenski said, by promoting an “integral ecology” of both care for the human person and for creation. Yet Catholics can only do this if their freedom to practice their religion publicly is protected, he added.

“An integral ecology demands that rain forests be protected – because of what they do potentially and actually for the flourishing of the human species on this earth,” the archbishop explained of the recent encyclical.

“Likewise, an integral ecology tells us that marriage, understood for millennia as a union of one man and one woman, ought to be respected and protected.”

If Catholic institutions that care for the environment and the human person are shut down because they cannot in good conscience comply with new laws and mandates, then Catholics cannot promote the common good of an “integral ecology.”

The Supreme Court’s recent redefinition of marriage has threatened this human ecology, he said, and the “radical autonomy” promoted by this decision was condemned in Laudato Si.

“Today, some hold for a radical autonomy by which truth is determined not by the nature of things but by one’s own individual will,” he said, stressing that the court’s redefinition of marriage does not change the nature of marriage no matter how much humans may desire to do so.

“As Pope Francis has written so eloquently in Laudato Si, such thinking has also brought about the degradation of both our natural and our human or social ecologies,” he continued.

Like freedom of speech, religion is expressed publicly and not just privately, Archbishop Wenski said.

Freedom of speech is expressed through public institutions like media outlets, political parties, and libraries, he said, and not only through one individual stating his opinion.

Similarly, religion is practiced publicly as well, not just through one’s personal beliefs but “those institutions that nourish the individual’s free exercise of religion,” he said. These institutions include not just churches but Catholic schools, hospitals, adoption agencies, and other charities and ministries.

Religious practice holds a proud tradition in the U.S., Archbishop Wenski added, especially when religious leaders marched at the forefront of the civil rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King as they pushed for equal rights for black people.

“Some today resent the public advocacy of religious people and communities. They accuse us of trying to impose our views on others,” Archbishop Wenski acknowledged.

“Yet, as St. John Paul II explained, the Church does not impose, she proposes. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his movement for racial justice could not impose their views on the American people. They understood this – and, for this reason, they opted for non-violence. But they made a proposition that touched the conscience of a nation.”


Vatican City, Jul 4, 2015 / 11:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After receiving an honorary doctorate from both the Pontifical John Paul II University of Krakow and the Krakow Academy of Music, retired pontiff Benedict XVI credited the saintly example of his predecessor for his spiritual and theological achievements.

Benedict said he received a “special joy” in receiving the doctorates, because “in this way my bond with Poland, with Krakow, with the home of our great St. John Paul II, has become even deeper.”

“Without him my spiritual and theological journey would not be imaginable.”

The retired pontiff – who now goes by “Father Benedict” – made his comments at the July 4 conferral of his two honorary doctorates in Sacred Music, one from the Pontifical John Paul II University of Krakow and one from the Krakow Academy of Music.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow and former secretary of St. John Paul II, conferred the degrees. The ceremony took place in the Italian city of Castel Gandolfo, where Benedict is currently on a two-week stay at the papal summer residence.

The doctorates were conferred due to the great contributions Benedict has made to both knowledge and culture, specifically his attention to truth, beauty, faith and the presence of sacred music in the liturgy.

John Paul II was a “living example” of how “the joy of sacred music and the task of common participation in the sacred liturgy, the solemn joy and the simplicity of the humble celebration of the faith” can go hand in hand, Benedict said.

He noted how even though it might not be felt that strongly, “little by little” a certain tension has developed between active participation in the liturgy and solemn, sacred music.

Benedict pointed to how the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, mentions both.

It says that “the treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care,” while at the same time emphasizing that the active participation of the faithful is “a fundamental liturgical category,” he noted.

“Those two things, which in the text of the Constitution remain together and at peace with each other, were in the implementation of the Council, often in a relationship of dramatic tension,” the former pontiff observed.

Asking how the two can be reconciled and how the council can be implemented in its entirety, Fr. Benedict said that a deeper and more fundamental question is “what is music really? Where does it come from and toward what does it tend?”

Benedict then pointed the origins of music itself, saying that it first of all stems from one’s personal experience of love, sadness and death, and a true encounter with God.

One of music’s first expressions “is the experience of love,” he said. “When men were seized by love, another dimension of being burst within them, another greatness and another breadth of reality. And it also led them to express themselves in new ways.”

Poetry, song and music in general were all born “from this being affected, from this unfolding of a new dimension of life,” he said.

Another origin he pointed to was the experience of sadness, death, pain and “the abyss of existence,” which the former Pope said also opens up, in the opposite way, “new dimensions of reality” which can “no longer find an answer in mere speeches.”

The third origin Benedict indicated was “the encounter with the divine, which from the beginning is part of what defines man.”

A major reason for this, he said, “is that it is here where the totally-other and totally-great arouses in man new ways of expressing himself. Perhaps we can say that actually in the other two areas – love and death – the mystery of the divine touches us and, in this sense, it is being touched by God which together constitutes the origin of music.”

He said that the quality of music depends on “the purity and greatness” of one’s encounter with the divine, with their experience of love and of pain.

“The more pure and true that experience is, the more pure and great will be the music from which it was born and developed.”

Benedict then turned to the types of music found in different cultures, saying that music from the West in particular has the ability to go beyond the religious and ecclesial domain, mentioning Bach as an example of where for him, the glory of God is represented.

Whenever music is developed based on an encounter with God, he said, “you encounter the truth, with the true creator of the world.”

“Because of this the great sacred music is a reality of theological rank and of permanent significance for the faith of all Christianity, even if it is not at all necessary that it be done always and everywhere,” he noted.

On the other hand, Benedict pointed out that it is also clear that such music “cannot disappear from the liturgy and that its presence can be a special way of participation in the sacred celebration.”

At the end of his speech, Benedict said that although we don’t know where the future of our culture and sacred music are going, one thing is clear: “where a true encounter with the living God who is Christ among us is had, there the response is also born and grows, whose beauty comes from truth itself.”



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