Freedom of Religion – Fr. Tom Tank

Fr. Tom Tank’s Homily June 30, 2019

“Those scripture readings that we have this evening are certainly challenging ones and it’s important to put those within the context.  It’s a question about decisively following the Lord. It says that Jesus was on his way to Jarusalem, but Jarusalem was certainly a physical place, but more importantly it says Jesus was on his way to his Passion, his death, his resurrection and ascension and so it really refers to that final journey of Jesus that Paschal Mystery and so Jesus as he’s on his way there encounters those individuals who say, ‘No I’ll follow you.’  And Jesus said, ‘You gotta know the price of following me and it’s also that you’ve got to be decisive in this.’ And you know it’s almost extreme is what it said there, ‘Let me bury my Father.’ I mean that’s a very human thing. Of course there’s a question of whether the father was even dead yet, but nevertheless it was that decisive following that was so important because Jesus is there on his way to his Passion, death, resurrection and ascension and therefore it is that call for us to realize that there needs to be some decisiveness in our willingness to follow Christ and sometimes that will be at a price that may seem contradictory that may seem extravagant and yet nevertheless may be the price of fidelity and so there is that challenge that is given that we need to be decisive about our faith in living that faith out in fidelity of life.

In the second reading today, St. Paul reminds us about the fact of freedom and he says, ‘make sure you use your freedom well for Christ truly died in order that you may be free.’  And obviously the freedom that was spoken about that was not freedom from the Romans even though that’s the primary freedom that many of the Jews wanted but rather it was a freedom from the oppression of sin and even a freedom from the Mosaic Law and the burden of the Mosaic Law and Paul proclaims that freedom that comes to us in Christ Jesus that we have that freedom of the Spirit by which we truly are delivered from sin and we can live that whole new life of Grace and that calls us to use our freedom well.  St. Paul warns there ‘Yes you’re no longer subject to the Mosaic Law, but don’t misuse your freedom as license.’ And that’s always the problem with regard to freedom. We think freedom means to do whatever I want to do and that’s what freedom is about. Well that really is not freedom and that type of abuse of freedom ultimately leads to another slavery and even to addictions and to so much negativity in life and so we are called to use our freedom well to make good choices to use our freedom to a noble and to enhance to truly fulfill that law of love is what St. Paul is reminding us to do and obviously this week as we reflect upon freedom, it’s important for us as a nation to think about our own freedoms as a country.  This Thursday we celebrate July fourth, Independence Day. We celebrate the freedoms that we have as a nation and how important those freedoms are to us and how those have been acquired for us as a gift from God, but also at the sacrifice of many individuals who have made it possible for us to enjoy the freedoms that we experience today. It’s a reminder first of all to be appreciative of all of the blessings that our nation has, but I would also venture to say that it’s important for us not to take those freedoms for granted, not to think that those things are so secure that we will never have the danger of losing those freedoms and I particularly refer to the freedom of religion which is in the very first part of the Bill of Rights is freedom of religion and how important and fundamental that is that we have no establishment of a religion and we have the freedom to live out our religion without interference unless it is oppressive and unjust towards others and so we are challenged in so many ways today.

You know, when the First Amendment was implemented along with the other 9 amendments in the Bill of Rights it was really to protect the people, to protect the religion from the state because at that time the civil governments were very used to established religions.  They had their established churches and as established churches they had a certain power and influence over the whole of society and that’s what was rejected when it said that there would be no establishment of a church within this nation and how important that is and that has been a benefit for us no question about it and then it goes on and says, ‘Nor should there be any law to hinder the free practice of religion.’  And so, that amendment was really there to protect the church and individuals from the state, but now in the last 75 years, we’ve seen that almost turned upside down where there is a lot of talk out there that that amendment is really about freeing the state from any influence of religion that it is to negate religion in terms of the public sector and that’s not what it was about. There’s no wall of separation between church and state that is referred to in the Bill of Rights.  That was only written in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to a Christian community in Connecticut because they were afraid that they were going to establish the Episcopal Church as the national church for the United States and Thomas Jefferson in that letter wrote back and said no way will that happen because through the Bill of Rights there is that wall of separation between church and state, but that was never part of our constitution or the Amendments and it was only engaged legally in the 1940’s in a Supreme Court decision, but ever since then there’s been that over-emphasis not just on separation of church and state, but separation of religion and state and that’s a whole different thing and we need to be clear about that.  They’ll even refer today about we have freedom of worship. Freedom of worship means that we can come together in this church in order to live our faith and certainly that is a value in itself, but freedom of religion is much broader than freedom of worship. It means that we can live our public life according to our faith. We can live and bring our faith into the daily dealings and into our public life and service. In fact, that was assumed by our founding fathers who said that, ‘Our rights came not from the state or the will of the majority, but rather from the will of God.’ That’s the Declaration of Independence and how important that is because it’s very significant. Where do our rights come from? What are they founded on?  We as a nation were very unique in saying that our rights are not given by the government and our rights are not given by the majority opinion, but rather our rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness come from almighty God and the real danger is the more we remove God from public discourse, the more we remove any recognition of religion as having any influence within our public society, what then becomes the foundation for our rights? They become completely eroded so that there is no foundation other than the will of the government or the will of the majority and that is a tremendous danger for us as we see this erosion of this right of freedom of religion.  I say this not to alarm you, but just to recognize that this is part of the battle that is going on right now.  There’s a real movement towards secularism within our culture, our society and that movement is not just about keeping church in its place which we need to keep church in its place, but rather it’s the move to remove God to remove religious values from our public life and our public discourse and that will really be to our detriment, that may ultimately lead to our downfall because once we no longer have rights given to us from above, then any right can be changed by the will of the powerful.  That’s a challenge and so as we celebrate the 4th of July this week we celebrate the gift of our freedom and how important it is that we appreciate the freedom that we have, but it also is a call for us to defend our rights to defend our freedoms to not allow them to be eroded, but rather that they may be built up to the good of all of us, to the good of our nation for those are the principles upon which we were founded and those are the principles that give us a solid foundation as a nation. We all have the right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness.  We are endowed with those rights by the gift of our creator.