Responsibility and Privileges
Several years ago Prince of Peace Center enjoined into a lawsuit with other entities within the Diocese of Erie challenging an application of the HHS Mandate filed against the Federal Government. Our Center is a Catholic Charities affiliate which receives nearly 19% of annual operating costs directly from the Diocese. The significant majority of those we serve are not participating members of the local Catholic parishes – but rather “folks in need” who reside in the area served by our affiliate.
A Federal Judge in Pittsburgh combined that suit with a similar one filed by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, and in November of 2013 ruled in favor of Prince of Peace Center and those other entities represented within the suit. The story is here.
The reaction to that ruling by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is here. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is quoted to say, “I’m strongly encouraged by the Court’s rejection of the government’s attempt to reduce freedom of religion to freedom of worship, as well as the Court’s recognition that service to those in need is at the heart of our faith.”
At the very core of the discussion, the Church is clearly saying that the definition for “freedom of religion” is to always include the service work done in God’s name and completed outside of the physical church building. One simply cannot historically ignore the involvement of the Catholic Church in the creation of schools and colleges, hospitals and orphanages, Soup Kitchens and social service centers – all created to serve the underserved. Today we too often take their existence for granted because we have always known them to be a part of our nation.
The mandate to seek out the sick, needy or marginalized – and to offer to them advocacy and active and responsive service – remains integral to the Mission of the Catholic Christian faith. Pope Francis reminded the faithful throughout the world about this responsibility just a few weeks ago when he specifically addressed the Beatitudes.
So, as we wait patiently for a appellate ruling regarding the HHS mandate (a decision that may very well end up in our nation’s Supreme Court), we cannot ignore our Catholic Christian mandate to serve our neighbor today and tomorrow.
One of the more popular slogans stickered onto vehicle bumpers that I occasionally observe reads something like “Freedom is not free”. Primarily it implies to me that I need to value the sacrifices made by others so that I am able to enjoy the freedoms I experience today. It also implies a price has been paid for those rights and privileges which we collectively hold so dear.
I envision the whole world is staring at us – waiting for the USA to effectively lead a response to any sort of world crisis. Over time those in other nations have come to expect us to simply rely upon our spirited hope – forged through our democratic process – and fueled by a sense of altruistic conscience. We are aware there are people literally dying to come into our country – fully believing the promises written at the base of our Statue of Liberty – and assuming the torch held high is just burning with opportunities they could never imagine in their countries of origin. They seek that freedom that we too often take for granted; thus the bumper sticker reminders.
As defined within our Constitution, it is truly a privileged opportunity to be an American. Americans by default possess a number of privileges and rights that are envied by so many throughout the world! Yet we must acknowledge that each guaranteed right or privilege has a commensurate responsibility. The defining caveat that determines the efficacy of our democratic system is that, within the process of exercising our own identified rights, we each must act in a manner that respects the rights of others as well.
Those who fail to respect others eventually forfeit their rights. In a simple example, we each have a right to own a car – but will forfeit the opportunity to drive that or any car if we cannot also demonstrate we can follow the rules assuring safe operation of the vehicle. We are free to own a car, but commensurately responsible to maintain and drive it in a manner that insures the safety of others. To insure responsible action, we have created systems to protect those who choose to follow the laws – and to address those who do not.
We cannot simply sit back and bask within the comfort of our freedoms and allow others to suffer. We cannot proclaim freedom unless we also stand up to responsibly protect and maintain our freedoms. We must actively advocate for those who lack an adequate voice – whether they be elderly or handicapped, despaired or hungry, homeless or refugees, the imprisoned or the unborn.
As a Catholic Charities affiliate, Prince of Peace Center exists to aid those falling within these and similar marginalized populations – acknowledged and underserved neighbors who are often overlooked by others. Our opportunity to continue to serve is challenged by the aforementioned applied HHS mandate which dictates we take actions which conflict with core Catholic doctrine. The issued court injunction will be contested in another court – but allows us today to continue to remain compliant within church teaching while doing the work that others do not desire to take on – primarily because it is neither “easy to do” nor is there money to be made in it. It is simply our mission to serve – and I anticipate the church will continue to fight for our religious rights defined within our Constitution, permitting us to responsibly serve as an extension of the pew. With good faith, we cannot turn our privileged backs to those in need.
Freedom is not free.