Continuing our reflection on the Vatican II document Declaration on Religious Freedom, we have the Fathers of the Council in 1965 speaking to the world community regarding religious liberty in the present age as well as into the future, but they preach to themselves, the Church, as they consider the experience of past generations. They say that just as governments and society in general cannot coerce a faith group to not be loyal to their beliefs, so too the Church, any faith, cannot coerce others into becoming members. There needs to be a universal freedom to live your faith, to promote your belief for the good of the whole, but to not force others to embrace that belief. That was not always the case with the Catholic Church, and there are loads of examples of enthusiasm gone wild (the Reformation, the inquisition, colonization of new worlds, persecutions and genocides around the globe). These may have been done with good intent [ if I believe I possess the truth, and the truth will set you free, then I know best for you as I make you one with me ], but they more often than not subjugated peoples in the name of religion. The Council Fathers say that religions, including our own, should not force others, physically or psychologically, to convert. Accepting of religious beliefs must be an act of freedom. The late Blessed Pope John Paul II in the millenium year and throughout his pontificate often expressed the sorrow of and asked forgiveness for our abusiveness as a Church ... and of Christianity itself, over the centuries. The right to proclaim one's own faith cannot violate those same right of another.
The present administration's HHS mandate of January 20th of this year is seen as an attack on the basic right guarenteed to us by law to follow our conscience, regarding health care provisions that we find morally unacceptable. The question is not that we want to force our beliefs upon the rest of society as some claim that we do. The question is our being forced to pay for services which our Church and church related institutions and even individual employers find morally objectionable and that are still available elsewhere. We are not forcing our beliefs upon others, but we embrace the right to follow our conscience.
I had an interesting experience this morning in the area of witnessing to faith. I was at the house, the residence for the priest, which in our parish is not on the church campus but in a residential neighborhood. The doorbell rang (which it rarely does) and there were two ladies who asked if they could speak with me about the role of God in the world in which we live. I sat with them on a lovely day on the front porch and we discussed faith. They were visiting the neighborhood with their church community. We had a great discussion. I give them credit for not panicking when I told them that I was a Catholic priest. After a moments hestitation, she went on with her presentation and witnessed to her faith. I listened and dialogued respectfully. It brought to mind my Mom's experiences when visited by the Mormons or the Jehovah's Witness or some other outreach group. She would quickly tell them not to bother, that she was a Catholic and that her son was a priest ... almost daring them to "try to convert" her. It always brought a smile to my face. While we may not laways agree with each other, there needs to be a mutual respect found in our interaction.