Bishop Jugis: Religion not 'a personal hobby'
All people of faith must resist attempts to 'mute the voice of religion in the public sphere'
CHARLOTTE — We are called to demonstrate our faith publicly – in our daily lives and in the public square – and to defy the "prevailing mood" towards organized religion, Bishop Peter J. Jugis preached during his homily for the "Red Mass," an annual gathering of Catholic legal professionals at St. Patrick Cathedral Sept. 27.
Bishop Jugis spoke candidly to members of the local chapter of the St. Thomas More Society and others about threats to religious freedom that Catholics and other Christians face in the current social and political climate. And he emphasized that our focus must remain on the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, if we want to follow Jesus and live the Gospel that He proclaimed.
One of the most tangible attacks on religious freedom has come from the Obama administration's definition of what a religious organization is under the Affordable Care Act's mandate for free contraceptive services. Nearly all employers must provide free contraception and sterilization services in their health insurance plans, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department announced last year, despite any religious objections they may have. The Church teaches that contraception and sterilization are unnatural and immoral impediments to human dignity and sexuality. Religious employers – including Catholic colleges, dioceses, charitable agencies, and Catholic-run businesses – may be exempted from the HHS mandate only if they primarily serve or employ people of their own faith. Faced with the prospect of checking people's religious affiliation before they could receive help at a food pantry, or attend Catholic school, or work for entities like Catholic Charities, Catholic leaders and the U.S. bishops have called for the mandate to be stricken and the health care legislation revised as a whole. Nearly two dozen lawsuits challenging the mandate's constitutionality have been filed in federal courts.
"This very real threat to religious liberty," Bishop Jugis said, "is indicative of a trend which seems to be developing in this country: an attitude – a very disturbing attitude – that religion is becoming more a curious personal hobby to be engaged in by individuals, that a person is free to engage in on their own private time, but they must not try to bring the values of that religion into the public square."
He emphasized, "There seems to be a move gradually, slowly developing, to mute the voice of religion in the public sphere because religion is being seen more and more as a purely private matter just between a person and their God – whoever that God might be."
"We see it in other ways, also reflected in our culture, with a decrease in identification with organized religion," Bishop Jugis added, "where people are leaving organized religion behind because they buy into the idea that it is just a purely personal, private affair that one has with God and there is no community dimension to it at all.
"It's sad, but that seems to be what is developing."
The HHS mandate is indicative of this growing secularism and even hostility to organized religion, he noted. This attitude is, "The Church has to change in order to fit in with the prevailing mood of society. The Church, if it wishes to carry out its role in charity, must compromise its own principles if it wants to be a part of society."
"We know, of course, taking our message from Christ who sent the Apostles into the world to preach Truth – not preach a fad, but preach the Truth – we just can't abide by that prevailing opinion that seems to be developing in the culture," he continued.
"To be specific, we know we cannot offer health insurance policies that cover contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. But what a choice the Church is presented with! Either compromise our moral teaching in order to serve the poor and needy, or remain true to our moral teaching and serve only Catholics.
"Of course, we know neither option is acceptable. Neither really correctly captures who we are as Catholics," he preached.
Bishop Jugis then explained that at the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist held at the Vatican, the bishops discussed the role of the Eucharist in the life and the mission of the Church. Even then the bishops spoke of threats to religious liberty, he said, and they noted the powerful connection that exists between the Eucharist and religious liberty.
"There is a relationship between the Eucharist and religious liberty, which they saw very clearly," he said. "It's a powerful relationship. If we believe and profess that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church's life, then it is also the source and the summit of the Church's mission out in the world."
He described how the celebration of the Eucharist blossoms into works of charity for the poor, works of charity to care for the sick, for immigrants, for the marginalized – all of the Church's work out in the world takes its form, its meaning and its origin from the Eucharist.
"The Eucharist is meant to transform the world," he said. "But for that transformation of the world to take place, we have to be able to practice our religion freely, to serve everyone without compromising our moral teaching."
What happens at the altar in the Sacrifice of the Mass fuels and sustains Catholics' work in the public arena, in their workplaces, and in their homes.
"For the Eucharist to realize its full meaning out there in the world, we have to have religious freedom to freely practice and care for and love and serve – not only Catholics, but all people of any race, of any nation, of any religion," Bishop Jugis said.
He noted that Pope Benedict XVI had written in his exhortation at the conclusion of the 2005 Synod of Bishops: "Wherever religious freedom is lacking, people lack the most meaningful freedom of all, since it is through faith that men and women express their deepest decision about the ultimate meaning of their lives."
Bishop Jugis also emphasized that as Christians we must remember it is Jesus Christ whom we serve. Christ is our hope who opens up new horizons and brings that inspiration into our workplaces.
"Let us ask the Lord to strengthen us to be faithful to Him and strengthen us also to be faithful to our Catholic faith, to our Christianity, and that we bring those values and those convictions to serve justice and to serve the common good," he said, "so that Christianity does not fall victim to the secular attitude that religion is a private affair."
He concluded, "Religion has a most important voice to play in the public sphere": to proclaim " the values of Christ, peace, justice and the common good."
— SueAnn Howell, staff writer
The Red Mass is so named because the clergy wear red vestments, symbolizing the flames of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Since the 13th century the Red Mass has marked the opening of the term of courts in Europe, and in the early 20th century the tradition spread to the U.S. It provides the legal, political and law enforcement communities with an opportunity to reflect on their faith and ask God for wisdom as they administer the law.
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy