Government cannot give or take away the ultimate freedom found in obedience to God, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said at the closing Mass of the U.S. bishops' “Fortnight for Freedom.”
“True freedom knows no attachments other than Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Chaput said in his July 4 homily at Washington, D.C.'s National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
“True freedom can walk away from anything – wealth, honor, fame, pleasure … It fears neither the state, nor death itself.”
“We’re free only to the extent that we unburden ourselves of our own willfulness and practice the art of living according to God’s plan,” Philadelphia's archbishop said. “When we do this, when we choose to live according to God’s intention for us, we are then – and only then – truly free.”
“This is the kind of freedom that can transform the world. And it should animate all of our talk about liberty – religious or otherwise.”
The Archbishop of Philadelphia preached at the last Mass of the U.S. bishops' two-week religious freedom campaign, which was spurred by the federal mandate requiring religious employers to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs.
The Fortnight for Freedom began June 21 – the vigil of the Feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More – and ended on the U.S. celebration of Independence Day. Its closing Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., with a homily delivered by Archbishop Chaput.
He began his homily by greeting the congregation on behalf of the Church in Philadelphia, “the cradle of our country’s liberty and the city of our nation’s founding.” It was there, he recalled, that “both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were written.”
In his sermon, the Philadelphia archbishop taught that the human right to religious freedom is needed “to create the context” for the “true freedom” offered by Jesus Christ, which involves liberation from sin and the gift of eternal life.
While religious liberty “is a foundational right” and “necessary for a good society,” it is not “an end in itself.” Rather, it must be used to find and live out the truth in order to attain to holiness, the highest form of freedom.
This higher form of freedom, found through God's grace, “isn’t something Caesar can give or take away,” Archbishop Chaput taught.
“In the end, we defend religious liberty in order to live the deeper freedom that is discipleship in Jesus Christ,” he reflected.
The right to religious freedom only finds its fulfillment when believers “use that freedom to seek God with our whole mind and soul and strength.”
Among the Scripture readings for the July 4 Mass, was the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees on the subject of taxation. As Christ observes Caesar's image on the Roman coin, he tells his listeners to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
Archbishop Chaput, whose 2008 book “Render Unto Caesar” took inspiration from the same Bible passage, told the congregation at the national shrine that Jesus was not merely “being clever” or offering “political commentary.”
Christ's reasoning, he said, harkens back to the creation of mankind in the “image of God.” While the coin “bears the image of Caesar” and “belongs to Caesar,” the human person bears the image of the creator rather than the governing authority.
In this way, the archbishop said, Jesus is “making a claim on every human being. He’s saying, 'render unto Caesar those things that bear Caesar’s image, but more importantly, render unto God that which bears God’s image' – in other words, you and me. All of us … We belong to God, and only to God.”
“Caesar is a creature of this world, and Christ’s message is uncompromising: We should give Caesar nothing of ourselves.”
While patriotism has its place, as an expression of justice and charity, believers cannot ultimately identify themselves with an earthly homeland. God, as Archbishop Chaput reminded the congregation, “made us for more than the world. Our real home isn’t here.”
As believers commit themselves to securing the Church's freedom in society, they must also ask themselves “some unsettling questions” about what they “really render to God” in everyday life.
“The political and legal effort to defend religious liberty – as vital as it is – belongs to a much greater struggle to master and convert our own hearts, and to live for God completely, without alibis or self-delusion,” Archbishop Chaput observed.
“The only question that finally matters is this one: Will we live wholeheartedly for Jesus Christ? If so, then we can be a source of freedom for the world. If not, nothing else will do.”
“When we leave this Mass today, we need to render unto Caesar those things that bear his image. But we need to render ourselves unto God – generously, zealously, holding nothing back.”
In this way, he said, Catholics will fulfill their legitimate civic duties – while also, “much more importantly,” offering their lives “as disciples of Jesus Christ.”