Not a Freedom to Pray

Not a Freedom to Pray

During this pandemic Churches throughout the land have been forced to close. Our bishops point out this means solely the building. The Church, the Body of Christ, cannot close. While I have been disappointed in missing the sacraments, I have not really paid much attention to the issue. As a deacon, when the bishops decide, I follow.

I woke up from my sociological slumber listening to the afternoon news one day. The Governor of Illinois was being challenged on his policy of keeping churches closed. He replied, “Were not stopping anyone from praying…” It at once occurred to me that one of the foundational challenges we have in religious freedom today is that our elected officials do not understand what the “Freedom of Religion” really means. Yes, I can “pray” anywhere. But, I need to go to Church to receive Jesus Christ – body, blood, soul, and divinity. Our forty-fourth President did not acknowledge the difference and his embraced political agenda led us all down the wrong road.

I have been thinking of this news event that I watched for a while. Today, I smiled at the thought that the Holy Spirit has urged me to get my Catholic Journal submission done. I am not lost on the irony that we will soon be celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi. Also known as the “Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ,” the Feast of Corpus Christi is our liturgical solemnity celebrating the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Not only is each Sunday a re-presentation of the Paschal mystery, it is also my opportunity to place myself before the real presence of Jesus. I am there to offer Him my joys, sorrows, accomplishments, and failures that I had during the week and to pray that His presence will help strengthen and better conform me to His Gospel during the upcoming week.

I do not know the religious affiliation of the Governor of Illinois. I don’t particularly care. What I do know is that day I witnessed on television another missed opportunity in evangelization. Of course, one would think that any member of the infamous “Democratic Machine” of Chicago would know that “going to Church” for Catholics is more than just “going to pray.” He drinks green beer on St. Patrick’s Day at least, except in 2020. The Governor does not have to believe as I do, he has that freedom. What he has to do, per our Constitution, is to not get in the way of how I express my faith, speak my faith, teach my faith and, most importantly, live my faith – even in a time of a pandemic. Whether the “social good” is achieved by closing Churches is debatable. However, if people can effectively “social distance” at Walmart, liquor and marijuana stores, as well as at abortion clinics in Illinois, I imagine it is a pretty safe bet we can do it at Mass as well. Yet, that is a separate issue.

The issue here in need of further discernment is that our politicians believe that “Freedom of Religion” is solely a “Freedom to Pray.” Religion is a fundamental right in the United States. Only in the last decade or so has the concept gone from “Freedom of Religion” to “Freedom from Religion.” Why the change? The Church remains one of the few institutions that stands up for the individual in the secular mindset of big government. We preach subsidiarity. The Church values the person, the Imago Dei from womb to tomb, while secularism does not.

If one dismisses the value that the Feast of Corpus Christi has in our lives, it can easily be seen how one may confuse the difference between a “Freedom of Religion” and a “Freedom to Pray.”  “Freedom to Pray” is a free speech issue. One could argue that even on that front such freedoms are being limited when one told they should not pray in public or with your team at school sporting events. “It is an invasion of other’s freedoms” they would say. Bull. Where have we been in this fight? For the most part with me on my La-Z-Boy chair watching the news. Perhaps thinking it is wrong but, in reality, not caring enough to do anything about it. Failure to disagree and be heard is agreeing with the consensus.

If we have learned anything from this pandemic it should be how precious our freedoms are. Noticing what we missed over the last 8 to 12 weeks should lead us to work to make sure those freedoms remain going forward. If we believe that our Eucharist truly is Jesus Christ – body, blood, soul, and divinity – how can we let our freedom to worship Him be denied while liquor stores stay open? The Governor of Illinois has not stopped our “freedom to pray.” What a guy! For that we sit idly by and allow state after state to ignore opening our churches. We are standing idly by again while Pontius Pilate condemns our Lord to death. Who is to blame? I am. I did nothing to stop it or defend him.

On this Feast of Corpus Christi, if we have the opportunity to be in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist or even if we receive communion spiritually, let us ask God to forgive us for all the times we didn’t see Him “in the breaking of the bread.” Let us ask God to forgive us for not having a faith that witnesses His Gospel to all who meet us. While we are at it, let us also ask forgiveness for all the times we did not see “Christ” in the George Floyd’s we meet. This pandemic has reawakened us to the many important aspects of our lives that we miss. May it reawaken faith in our lives as well.

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster