I am writing this column from the other side of the country. I’m in Baltimore, attending the annual meeting of the U.S. Catholic bishops. These gatherings are important for the life of our American Church. For me personally, it is also a good chance to join with our Auxiliary Bishops of Los Angeles and to meet with our friends and brother bishops from around the country.  Every year, the bishops’ meeting has a different “feel,” as different issues rise to the surface for us to address as pastors and shepherds of the Church in this country. 

This year, there has been a lot of discussion — privately among bishops and in the public speeches and reports — about the secularization of our society and religious liberty. I have written about this issue before in my column (see The Tidings, Oct. 21). 

But there is another side of the religious liberty issue. It’s not about the government or the culture. It’s about us. 

Religious liberty always implies a question. Liberty for what? What are we going to use our freedom for? What does our religion mean for us? 

As Catholics, we know that our religious faith is both a beautiful gift and also a vocation — a calling to responsibility for the mission that Jesus Christ gave to his Catholic Church. 

That is what our religious liberty is for.

Freedom of religion guarantees our right to fulfill our religious duties as Catholics. It guarantees that we can proclaim our faith in Jesus Christ; live by his teachings; and seek to shape our society according to the values of his Gospel.

So it is vital that we respond boldly to the new threats we see to our freedoms. It is vital to defend our liberties as faithful citizens. But our response cannot be limited to only the arena of politics and culture. Our response as Catholics also must be personal.

Because the question of where America is heading is about more than politics. It involves questions of our discipleship: How are we living our faith in Jesus Christ and what is our commitment to his Gospel and his Church? 

Our thanksgiving for our faith must take us into action to proclaim Jesus Christ — as a way of healing and knowledge, and as the true path to happiness, joy and peace.

The fact is that more than three-quarters of Americans profess to being Christians; as Catholics, we make up the single largest religious community in our country. 

That suggests that if America is becoming more secularized — more indifferent to God and to religious freedoms and values — in part that must be because Christians have not been living our faith to the fullest. Or, maybe we have been taking our faith for granted. 

The question we need to ask ourselves as believers is: Are are shaping our culture or being shaped by it?

This is a great time of year for us to make an examination of conscience, as children of God and sons and daughters of the Church. Next week we celebrate Thanksgiving Day and we also begin the new Church year with the first Sunday of Advent. 

Let’s use this season of grace as a time for renewal. Let’s try especially this year to grow in our gratitude for the gift of our Catholic faith. 

Sometimes I think it would be a good custom for us on Thanksgiving to make a conscious effort to say “thank you” to those who first gave us this gift of faith. Maybe it is our parents, who brought us to the waters of Baptism when we were little. Or if we came to our faith later in life, maybe we could say thanks to the people who introduced us to Jesus and his Church. Maybe we can make a new commitment to pray for these special people in our lives. 

And as we prepare this Advent for the coming of our Lord, let us try to demonstrate our gratitude for this gift of faith — by dedicating ourselves again to live for Jesus.

We are called to transform our culture. It is up to us! We need to be proud of our Catholic faith and we need rediscover the beauty of our Catholic traditions and values. 

We have a great gift to share with the people of our times — our living Catholic heritage of holiness and service — in our saints, our devotions, our sacraments; and in all our rich traditions of art and architecture, philosophy and literature. 

Our thanksgiving for our faith must take us into action to proclaim Jesus Christ — as a way of healing and knowledge, and as the true path to happiness, joy and peace. 

So as we pray for one another this week, let us pray for our nation, too. I wish your families a most blessed Thanksgiving! 

And let us ask Our Blessed Mother Mary to increase our faith in her Son, and our courage to live by his Gospel.

Follow Archbishop Gomez at: www.facebook.com/ArchbishopGomez.