Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia delivered an important homily on the meaning and purpose of religious freedom.
One of his central points was that religious freedom is not an end in itself. It exists to allow people the freedom to be disciples of Christ. Religious freedom without us letting Christ reign in our lives is wasted–it is, as I would summarize it, wineskins without wine.
Most people might take this point to suggest that what we really need to do is not protect legal freedoms, but pursue conversion of hearts. But I think the Archbishop’s point leads to a very different conclusion.
There is a trend, especially among Catholic critics of religious freedom, suggesting that at most religious freedom should include church institutions. This makes no sense. Allowing the Church to preach is pointless if the laity have no freedom to listen and follow. Religious freedom must include the right of all believers to live according to Christian truth.
If religious freedom is limited to Sundays and soup kitchens, believers would be prohibited from letting Christ be the Lord of every aspect of their entire lives: in their families, their work, their communities. This would empty the purpose of the church’s activities, which is to cause Christ to dwell in the everyday lives of people.
Archbishop Chaput is absolutely correct that religious freedom means nothing without discipleship. For that reason, religious freedom cannot merely belong to magisterial organizations. Religious freedom must protect believers from government mandates forcing them to violate the commands of Christ in their daily lives.
The need for discipleship means that we must seek conversion and cannot merely lobby for religious freedom. But it also means that we can’t define religious freedom as mere preaching and volunteerism. If people are not free to follow Christ in their lives, even the magisterium’s laudible activities would fall short of the Gospel’s power.
As Pope Benedict told Catholics of the United States from the same dais where Archbishop Chaput spoke yesterday: “Is it consistent to profess our beliefs in church on Sunday, and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs? . . . Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.”