Evangelium Vitae Mass at Notre Dame

Author Image

April 9, 2016

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard the bold and courageous response of Saint Peter and the Apostles who were ordered by the Sanhedrin to stop teaching in the name of Jesus. They said in reply: We must obey God rather than men. When they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, they rejoiced that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. At this Mass, there is a community of sisters with us who, in the face of a terribly unjust mandate of our federal government, have stood up and by their actions have said what Saint Peter and the apostles said to their government in the earliest years of the Church: We must obey God rather than men. I wish to say to the Little Sisters of the Poor who will receive the Evangelium Vitae medal this evening, thank you for your courageous witness! You have also suffered dishonor from powerful segments of our secularist culture. May you, like the apostles, rejoice that you have been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name of Jesus! Thank you, Sisters, for your witness to the Gospel of life by your loving care for the elderly and the poor. We pray that the Supreme Court of our nation will rule in favor of our religious freedom – that of the Church, the Little Sisters, and the many Catholic institutions, including our diocese, that have lawsuits pending against the HHS mandate. The Little Sisters of the Poor stand at the forefront in this noble cause.

When human laws contradict God’s laws, believers are called to obey God even if disobeying human authority will cost them social advancement, their livelihood, or their lives. Saint Peter’s words in today’s reading are a rallying cry in many situations in which people are pressured to violate their consciences by human laws or commands. We must obey God rather than men are words that echo Jesus’ directive to render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. Both these sentences are foundational for the Christian understanding of conscience and good citizenship. The Catechism teaches that we should be good citizens, but that “the citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel” (2242). In many parts of today’s world, there are civil authorities and laws that violate human dignity or improperly restrict the Church’s freedom to evangelize. The HHS mandate is a violation of our right to live and practice our faith in our apostolic works, our works of charity, to serve the sick and the poor in a way that does not force us to do things that are morally unacceptable. It is important that we resist such abuses of civil authority.

In the liturgies throughout the Easter season, we hear a continuous reading of the Acts of the Apostles. It is good to ask ourselves: where did the first disciples find the strength to bear witness to Christ? What was the source of their joy and courage to preach and live the Gospel in the midst of so many obstacles and even violent persecution? They were simple people. They weren’t scribes or doctors of the law; they weren’t powerful in the eyes of the world. Yet, despite their status and their limitations, with the authorities against them, they still managed to make many converts. The Church grew