Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Religious Freedom, an on-going concern

Prior to entering the New Year, like many people, I reflected back on the past year. I don't mind writing that I am still recovering from the shock of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. In addition to the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God and the last day of the Octave of Christmas, as I mentioned in my previous post, today the Church also observes the World Day of Peace. It is customary for the Pope to issue a message for this observance. The message is usually released in advance of the day, as was Pope Francis' first Message for the World Day of Peace, entitled Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace.

Since Pope Francis has captured the world's attention in a singular way this year, when the message was publicly released, it garnered more buzz than these papal messages have for quite sometime. It is my personal hope that as people read, think about, discuss, and generally let themselves be provoked by what the current Pontiff writes and promulgates, that it will cause at least some people to go back and ponder papal messages of previous popes, especially those of Pope Benedict XVI, many of which are simply magnificent.

One such magnificent message, issued on 1 January 2011, after the conclusion of the Synod of Bishops, convened by the then-Holy Father, to consider the plight of the Church in throughout the Middle East, was Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace. This particular message stands as an insightful elaboration as well as a vindication of sorts of the one of the most controverted documents promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, of which Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II, was a major contributor, especially in the document's later phases, giving it more of a philosophical and theological gravitas, the Declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae.

In his remarkable piece, which has as much bearing on the whole uproar concerning marriage as it does on the subject that prompted it, namely the HHS mandate, "The Repressive Logic of Liberal Rights: Religious Freedom, Contraceptives, and the 'Phony' Argument of the New York Times", David L. Schindler draws on Pope Benedict's 2011 message:
[Human] nature appears as openness to the Mystery, a capacity to ask deep questions about ourselves and the origin of the universe, and a profound echo of the supreme Love of God, the beginning and end of all things, of every person and people. The transcendent dignity of the person is an essential value of Judeo-Christian wisdom, yet thanks to the use of reason, it can be recognized by all. This dignity, understood as a capacity to transcend one’s own materiality and to seek truth, must be acknowledged as a universal good, indispensable for the building of a society directed to human fulfillment. Respect for essential elements of human dignity, such as the right to life and the right to religious freedom, is a condition for the moral legitimacy of every social and legal norm (par. 2)
Most importantly, going directly to the roots of the empty and indifferent liberal conception of rights, Benedict XVI noted "Openness to truth and perfect goodness, openness to God, is rooted in human nature; it confers full dignity on each individual and is the guarantee of full mutual respect between persons. Religious freedom should be understood, then, not merely as immunity from coercion, but even more fundamentally as an ability to order one’s own choices in accordance with truth" (par. 3).

While perfectly consistent with and even explicitly set forth in Schindler's piece, this passage from Pope Benedict's 2011 Message for the World Day of Peace does not appear, but summarizes it all quite well, in a masterfully succinct manner: "A freedom which is hostile or indifferent to God becomes self-negating and does not guarantee full respect for others" (par. 3).

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