Normally, our regular communications are suspended in July and August as so many are away and we all enjoy a break from our regular routines. The past weeks, however, have been a time of significance in the life of the Church that I think warrants further reflection.
On July 4, we concluded a national "Fortnight for Freedom", a period of 14 days of prayer, study, catechesis and public action, during which we celebrated and thanked God for our country's heritage of religious freedom, examined current challenges to that freedom, and pledged to stand up for the preservation of our religious liberty in an increasingly secular world. An estimated 4,500-5,000 people attended the concluding Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Earlier in the Archdiocese of Washington, we hosted a "Celebration of Freedom" on June 24, an afternoon of prayer and historical reflection through educational videos accompanied by sacred music, culminating in Eucharistic Benediction. Many of those present commented afterwards that they learned so much about our history as Catholics in America from the videos. It was a joyful day as we celebrated our God-given right to free expression of our religious beliefs.
In the middle of the Fortnight, on June 28, the Supreme Court issued its ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act as a permissible exercise of Congress' taxing power. It is important to note that this decision pertained to the mandate requiring every individual to purchase health insurance (the "individual mandate") and did not directly address the religious freedom concerns raised by the HHS mandate, a separate provision of the health care law. As you may know, on May 21, the Archdiocese of Washington joined with 42 other Catholic dioceses and organizations nationwide to file a lawsuit challenging the narrow religious exemption embodied in the HHS mandate.
So, what does all of this mean for religious freedom in America? Where do we go from here?
With regard to our legal challenge to the HHS mandate, the matter is in the hands of the courts. In the meantime, though, there are some things each of us can do in the interest of protecting religious liberty.
First, we begin where we always must - with prayer. No matter what troubles we face or joys we celebrate, we must always remember to put ourselves in the presence of the Lord and seek His grace in our lives. Saint Louis de Montfort said, "Pray with great confidence, based upon the goodness and infinite generosity of God and upon the promises of Jesus Christ. God is a spring of living water which flows unceasingly into the hearts of those who pray." Pray that the religious freedom we enjoy in America will be preserved.
Next, it is important to continue to make the effort to know and deepen our faith. To this end, Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has called for a Year of Faith "to usher the whole Church into a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith" (Porta Fidei, 4). This Year will begin on October 11, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and end on November 24, 2013, the Solemnity of Christ the King.
Rediscovering, or renewing, our faith invites us to open our hearts more completely to its truth. Given our abundant intellectual heritage - more than 2,000 years of reflection on the human condition in the light of the Holy Spirit - we have a great richness to explore. With this in mind, beginning in the fall, this monthly letter will, from time to time, highlight resources focused on a particular aspect of the faith or on one of its champions. My hope is that this will be helpful as you seek to learn more about the Church and deepen your faith.
Finally, the third step we can take to preserve religious freedom is to share our faith with others and to defend it when challenged. By knowing better what we believe and confidently sharing it with others - explaining it when the opportunity arises - we exercise the freedom that is our birthright as Americans. Religious freedom should mean enough to all of us that we stand up to protect it.
As we reflect more thoroughly on all that we have received from God, let us simply make time to thank God for so many blessings.
With every good wish, I am
Faithfully in Christ,
Donald Cardinal Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington