Catholic Spirit: Speaker: Religious freedom starts from within

(by Susan Klemond)
July 1, 2015

By cultivating freedom in their own hearts first through prayer and the Eucharist, Catholics will be best equipped to live their faith and promote religious freedom in a society that is increasingly hostile to Christianity, said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

In his June 24 talk, “Building Babylon’s Good without Bending to its Gods,” at St. Paul Church in Ham Lake, Adkins compared life today to the Jews’ experience of living in exile under Babylonian rule in the sixth century B.C. as chronicled in the Bible.

Although American culture isn’t as bad as Babylon, Adkins said, people today, like the Jews, bear responsibility for exile in a country whose idols aren’t made of gold, but promise happiness and success. God gives people the grace to be faithful while calling them to prudently engage with culture and renew the political order.

“The key really is repentance, conversion and fidelity to the Lord, cultivated by prayer and a reclaiming of our own interior,” Adkins said, “for there will be no peace in society until there is peace in the hearts of men and women.”

The talk, attended by about 80 Catholics and non-Catholics, coincided with Fortnight for Freedom, a two-week period from June 21 to July 4 when the U.S. bishops ask Catholics to learn about the importance of religious liberty throughout U.S. history and to actively promote free religious practice. The theme of the fourth annual Fortnight is “Freedom to bear witness” to the truth of the Gospel.

The Minnesota event was organized by Light for Freedom, a non-partisan ministry founded by St. Paul parishioners Suzanne and Jeffery Bartels in 2013 to educate, empower and call to action people of faith to defend religious liberty. The ministry sponsors quarterly educational events to enable people to take a stand for their beliefs, follow their conscience and know what to do when religious liberty is threatened, Suzanne said.

“America has not lived up to its mission and ideals as a city upon a hill,” Adkins said, adding that it’s increasingly become a place of Christian persecution and cultural alienation.

Catholics themselves share some of the blame, he said.

“How long have we failed to teach the truth, live our values to preach and read the signs of the times, and provide in our own lives an effective Gospel witness?”

As God guided the Jews during their exile, he is also faithful to modern-day Christians, Adkins said. During their captivity, God instructed Jews to work for the good of Babylon, to avoid its idols and to not compromise their faith.

Today, small compromises erode Christian identity with family, friends and co-workers, he said.

“Where is the line of accommodation in a hostile culture?” Adkins asked. “Where will we in our own personal lives draw the line?”

Through prayer, the Eucharist and by seeking faith, hope, love and God’s mercy, we can find interior freedom, he said.

Scott South, who attends St. Paul parish with his wife, Mary, said he saw the importance of positively engaging society after spending time in prayer.

“[Adkins] really told us that it’s our responsibility to start internally and then go from there, because that will flow if we have the right relationship” with God, he said.

Mary highlighted the need to trust God and have courage to speak out for beliefs.

Rachel Matlon, a parishioner at St. Stephen in Anoka, said it’s appropriate for Christians to consider themselves on a journey to the Promised Land.

“There are definitely worries for the future, but I think we have good people working on it, and it will all turn out well in the end if God has his hand on America,” said Matlon, who will attend Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, this fall.

Good came from the Jews’ Babylonian exile — in their faithfulness and strengthening of their culture, Adkins said. In our time, we also have an opportunity, he said.

“Ultimately, our time in exile can be an opportunity for purification and renewal if the people humble themselves and embrace the will of the father.”