Today the Church celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist. We read in Sacred Scripture that this birth was announced to Zechariah by an angel of the Lord. The angel even goes so far as to describe the life mission of John. (Luke 1: 525)
The Sacred Scriptures give plenty of other evidence that we are all created by God, from the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4) Most memorable is the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Mary (Luke 1: 26-38) as well as Samson (Judges 13,) and Isaac (Genesis 15:2-6; 18:9-15; 21: 1-8.)
Other passages speak of the work of God forming each of us in the womb. “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works!” (Psalm 139: 13-14) Also, the Prophet Isaiah: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” (Is 49:1)
These Scripture passages teach us that each human person is intimately known by God, who calls us into being. This fundamental understanding of the origins of every human person speaks to the importance of religious freedom. This is not just a freedom bestowed upon us by others.
Religious freedom is a part of our DNA. We are created by God, for relationship with God and the entire human journey is destined to return to God. The dignity of every human person is rooted in this Divine Origin of all human life.
This relationship with God is carried on in the intimate realm of human conscience, and is given visible expression in many ways, not the least of which is worship. But worship is not the limitation of religious freedom. One’s relationship with God gives expression to love and service of others. It is guided by moral light that dictates “Do this. Do not do that.”
The Second Vatican Council in its document on Religious Liberty states:
“…the right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom must be given such recognition in the constitutional order of society as will make it a civil right.” (Declaration of Religious Liberty, #2)
St. John the Baptist was a voice preparing the people of Israel for its Savior. Jesus Christ is the Word spoken by God for all eternity. Still today, freedom is fundamental to exercise our voice in favor of the instructive Word.
St. John the Baptist did not limit his voice to a temple. Rather, he spoke wherever and whenever and whatever the Spirit prompted. This is true religious freedom, in search of and at the service of Truth. The Truth of our faith, Jesus Christ, desires only the good for all people. His desire is the desire of the Father, that all come to sanctification. (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
Let us continue our prayer for a proper respect for religious liberty, and its due protection from unwarranted intrusion by any individual or institution. Let us pray that each person will have a well formed conscience and the freedom to live freely according to its guidance toward the Truth and the common good.