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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Where Religious Civil Liberty Touches Spiritual Freedom

Religious liberty and spiritual freedom embrace in the desert of difficult trials. When the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, the initial elation about being free from slavery faded in the wilderness. As their hardships increased, the people murmured that their new found freedom was more difficult and less comfortable than had been their bondage. They questioned why they had stepped out of subjugation. The political and cultural powers to whom they had been bound provided safety and comfort: their hardships made choosing liberty appear rash. Similarly today as we strive to protect our religious civil liberties, there are many people of faith who are uncomfortable with the Church speaking out against unjust laws supported by the culturally and politically powerful. They would prefer that the Church would just go along with the dominant value system and they do not understand why we simply do not adjust our principles and practices to what those in power deem acceptable. This is like longing for the fleshpots of Egypt. Spiritual freedom is the soul of religious civil liberty. For Israel to come to prefer slavery over freedom gives us insight into how difficult spiritual freedom is to attain—chased by enemies, hungry, thirsty, not confident about what God had promised them, and afraid to listen to his voice, they spent many years learning the spiritual freedom their new religious freedom required. We must learn this spiritual freedom too. The freedom of the people of faith cannot be won by just going along with everyone else. True freedom to love requires suffering all kinds of hardship, opposition, false judgment, slander, and other forms of persecution. This is the desert into which the Lord leads us. God has not offered us freedom to make us comfortable but to provide us the opportunity to do something beautiful for Him. Giving up this freedom for the merely culturally comfortable is hell - and there many who suffer hell in this life. They do not want to be imposed on by God because what God asks is uncomfortable—the wilderness where freedom is forged is always uncomfortable. Spiritual freedom requires constant renunciation of our desires for security, power, and reputation. This renunciation does not mean that these things are bad in themselves. To renounce such things means to put the interests of God first, before these other interests, no matter the cost. To what great purpose does the Risen Lord want us to use our freedom? God is interested in our marriages, our families, and our babies—as Catholics we need the civil liberty to put these divine interests before every other human interest and the freedom from any mandate that would require us to act otherwise. We also need the interior freedom which knows it is not intolerant to say this or to live it. The Lord is concerned with vulnerable, poor, lonely and sick—if they come first for Him, we need the religious liberty to take care of them and not leave them in their hour of need. We also need inner freedom which knows it is not mean-spirited to serve them in accord with the Gospel of Christ. The freedom of the children of God is the freedom to put God first - not just in Church on Sundays or in the privacy of our homes, but also in our work and our public life, and especially in our hearts. This is not an impediment to society, but a nation's greatest blessing. God frees us for a great purpose—to reveal his love to the world. To realize this purpose takes true freedom and the courage that goes with it. This is a purpose worth speaking out for against political and cultural interests who are afraid of the truth and what might happen if the God-given capacity to love were unleashed in society. The desert is where these fears are revealed and where spiritual freedom is born—it is where our civil right to religious freedom becomes animated with the love of God.

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