It's difficult to walk into a parish, visit a diocesan website or even tune into the secular news media without seeing or hearing something about the Fortnight for Freedom, the bishops' two-week (June 21-July 4) campaign of prayer and education on the value of religious liberty.
Garnering less attention in the media right now is the upcoming opening of the Year of Faith, which the Vatican is kicking off globally on October 11 (the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church). The goal of the Year of Faith is to encourage Catholics, active and inactive, to experience a renewed sense of their faith through a personal encounter with Christ (a phenomenon commonly referred to as the New Evangelization).
On the surface, these two initiatives might not bear much resemblance to one another, but recent talks by leading figures in the U.S. Church at two major Catholic gatherings would suggest otherwise.
Addressing the U.S. bishops at their spring general meeting in Atlanta, June 13, John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, outlined some of the ideas associated with the Fortnight for Freedom and the general erosion of religious liberty experienced in the United States, such as the HHS mandate, Catholic Charities being driven out of adoption services under same-sex marriage laws, and Catholic social services in general being discriminated against for government contracts for their refusal to provide or endorse contraceptives and abortion.
But then Garvey took it a step further and asked why this is happening. As he sought an answer, Garvey briefly departed from his prepared remarks (around 21:40 in the video below), observing, "This is a really depressing message." Basically, he said, "we protect religious freedom because we think that religion is a good thing," and "Perhaps the reason we see a loss of religious freedom today is that we are turning a corner in our collective view of religion." He cited dwindling-to-nonexistent Mass attendance in Europe and the rise in popularity of combative atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins as part of the same trend and concluded, "Our society won't care about religious freedom if it doesn't care about God."
(Here's full video of President Garvey's address.)
A week later, June 20, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., tackled the topic of religious liberty in an address to members of the Catholic Press of the United States and Canada, who were gathered in Indianapolis for their annual convention.
Just as Garvey's address raised themes associated with the Year of Faith and New Evangelization— decreased religious observance, greater secularism, etc.—Archbishop Chaput also zeroed in on Year of Faith themes as underlying causes of the current struggles surrounding religious liberty. He described how the actions (and inaction) of believers themselves create the need for a renewal of faith.
"I think it's fair, in part, to blame Church leaders for a spirit of complacency and inertia, clericalism, even arrogance, and for operating off a model of the Church—often for well-intentioned reasons—rooted in the past and out of touch with reality," he said, adding, "Too many ordinary Catholics have been greedy to lose themselves in America's culture of consumerism and success. Too many have been complicit in the dullness—the acedia—that has seeped into Church life, and the cynicism and resentment that naturally follow it. These problems kill a Christian love of poverty and zeal. They choke off a real life of faith. They create the shadows that hide institutional and personal sins. And they encourage a paralysis that can burrow itself into every heart and every layer of the Church, right down to individual Catholics in the pews. The result is that Philadelphia, like so much of the Church in the rest of our country, is now really mission territory – again; for the second time." Enter the New Evangelization.
This dovetailing of ideas gives the current struggles over religious liberty broader context and deeper meaning. As Catholics speak out in the short term, they can reinforce their message and goals by rekindling their faith for the long term. Catholics who live out their faith with a sense of energy and authenticity provide a more powerful witness to the world, one that makes clear both the loving mercy of God and the saving work of his Church. This will benefit all Catholics, the cause of religious liberty and all of society.