Church Favors Freedom

Earlier this week we commemorated the Annunciation to Mary of the Incarnation of Christ. With Blessed John Henry Newman, theologian Father Robert Barron has called the Incarnation — the enfleshment of God — the great principle of Catholicism. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14) is the Catholic thing.
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI invoked repeatedly the doctrine of the Incarnation throughout his pastoral visit to Mexico and Cuba. He also reiterated the essential connection among faith, freedom and human dignity. It is timely that we hear his message of hope when the scope of religion in public life is increasingly vulnerable to ideological ridicule and political repression.
God-become-Man has always been vulnerable! Mary’s fiat to the angel’s invitation was a pure act of freedom. In a Mass with 200,000 people at Plaza Antonio Maceo in Santiago de Cuba, Benedict XVI said, “Our God, coming into the world, wished to depend upon the free consent of one of His creatures. Only from the moment when the Virgin responded to the angel… did the eternal Word of the Father begin His human existence in time. It is touching to see how God not only respects human freedom: He almost seems to require it.”
Never has the doctrine of the Incarnation been more vital a message for a world in turmoil to hear and by which to be healed. Never has freedom — both human and divine — as its indispensable enabling context been more important to reaffirm and stand up for. The promotion and expansion of religious freedom in every nation is a moral imperative and indeed a civic duty for the defense of human dignity.
The Word of God — the mind by which the whole universe comes to be — does not remain sequestered in heaven (or, for that matter, a sacristy or even a church), but rather enters into the grit of everyday life. For this reason there can never be a separation of Church and society, which is often confused with the power of the state, which our own Constitution seeks to enumerate and delimit — narrowly.
Turning to Cuba, the pope said: “It is evident today that Marxist ideology as it had been conceived no longer corresponds to reality.” One may wonder whether it ever did. Cuba is working its way toward democracy, he said. The Pontiff said that his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, helped to inaugurate a process in which Church leaders prevailed upon the government to open more space for freedom and show greater respect for human rights. Church-state relations still follow that model, he said, pursuing “a path of collaboration and constructive dialogue, a road that is long and calls for patience, but moves forward.”
Papal teaching consistently condemns Marxist ideology which, historically, has had many political reincarnations. It is the extent to which ideologies limits the scope of personal freedom — religious and economic — that they are hostile to humanity.
Responding indirectly to criticism that Church leaders have offered too many concessions to a repressive Castro regime, the pope said that the Church “always favors freedom: freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.” He cautioned against thinking of the Church exclusively in political terms. “The Church is not a political power, not a party, but a moral reality, a moral power,” he said.
Benedict’s comments about communism were more pointed and critical than anything John Paul II said on his groundbreaking visit to Cuba 14 years ago. Benedict said the 1998 visit by his predecessor “opened up a path of collaboration and constructive dialogue, a road that is long and calls for patience, but moves forward.” Cuba’s leaders have repeatedly recognized that the country’s economic model needs improvements to meet the needs of its citizens, though they staunchly defend the island’s one-party communist-run political system.
The pope was no less insistent on the role of faith and freedom in public life in his earlier visit to Mexico. Speaking in the city of Leon, he said “when addressing the deeper dimension of personal and community life, human strategies will not suffice to save us. We must have recourse to the One Who alone can give life in its fullness.” He stressed themes of solidarity with the weakest and most defenseless members of society, calling on Catholics and Church leaders to take courageous initiative in promoting justice and peace for everyone.