In 1965, the Catholic Church promulgated Dignitatis Humanae, its Declaration on Religious Liberty. The declaration teaches about the nature of religious freedom, truth, and the relationship between the Church and government. This teaching does not only affect Church officials, leaders, and administrators. It makes a demand on each and every one of us, for we are a called to a life of holiness, a life of seeking and living the truth about God.
One of the great challenges that many people face in our spiritual lives today is to succumb to a kind of spiritual listlessness, a sense that persevering on the hard road of discipleship day-in and day-out is unnecessary and yields few rewards. The temptation can afflict anyone. We may ask ourselves, do I really need to go to confession? Why should I go to Mass? Can’t I just “worship” by enjoying a nice brunch with friends and loved ones? Sociologists who study the religious attitudes of Americans have long shown that most people, from almost all faith groups, believe that God basically just wants us to be nice and happy.
This spiritual condition helps drive our current struggles over religious freedom. The steadfast commitment to principle and conscience that we see in people like the Little Sisters of the Poor might seem odd in an environment when almost anything is up for compromise. Principled people challenge the idea that God only wants us to be nice and happy. They bear witness to a different way, a way of unyielding devotion to the truth.
When we think of religious freedom, we may tend to think of civil rights and the government, rather than spirituality. Nevertheless, a call to discipleship flows from the Declaration on Religious Liberty. Dignitatis Humanae teaches that human beings have both a right and a duty to pursue the truth, especially the truth about God. Indeed, the right follows from the duty. All of us must seek the truth and comport our lives with the truth when we discover it. This is a major challenge that the Declaration on Religious Liberty asks us to encounter today.
We are all called to holiness, and that means that we are all called be vigilant in our search for truth and to hold fast to our principles, to refuse to compromise on matters of conscience. A culture in which religious freedom thrives is one that is populated by truth-seekers. When the search for truth is compromised across broad swaths of society, religious freedom is diminished. Dignitatis Humanae reminds us that religious freedom is a cultural and spiritual issue, as well a political and social one. We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae in the middle of Advent, a time set aside for Christians to prepare to meet the Divine Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the perfect time to strengthen our resolve to be people of principle, who constantly seek to conform our lives to the truth that has been revealed to us in Christ.
Aaron Matthew Weldon is Program Specialist for the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Learn more about the U.S. bishops' religious liberty efforts at www.usccb.org/freedom.
Follow the USCCB's religious freedom efforts on Twitter: @usccbfreedom