October 2, 2013
Two thousand years ago, Saint Paul urged us, as we heard in our second reading, not to be “conformed to this world,” but to live true freedom that is obedience to the will of God. You who are members of the legal profession do the Church and the world a great service as you bear witness to Christ in your profession, living and proclaiming the true freedom Saint Paul is talking about, the freedom that is founded in truth, the freedom that comes from obedience to God’s will. You are called to remind others that the only foundation capable of sustaining our democratic republic, a true culture of freedom, is what the Founders of our nation called “self-evident” truths. In doing so, you are heeding the counsel of Saint Paul not “to be conformed to this world” since a distorted notion of freedom has done much damage to our culture. You do a great service by witnessing to the truth that obedience to God’s commandments, particularly the natural law and objective moral values, is the pathway to genuine freedom and also the source of true happiness.
Saint Paul’s admonition “not to be conformed to this world” has special relevance and urgency in our current cultural context in which skepticism about the very existence of “moral truth” and an “objective moral law” is quite prevalent. This attitude is quite common in many academic and political circles. People can feel pressured by forces which contradict the things they know in their hearts to be true, like the truth about the nature of marriage. We face many cultural pressures in today’s society that promote false notions of freedom and equality while we try to uphold the moral law that is inscribed in our very humanity, the moral law that we can know by rational reflection, obligations that are universally true and binding, like the obligation to respect and protect all human life. Upholding moral truth is seen by many as intolerance or as an abrogation of freedom (think, for example, of the rhetoric of pro-choice advocates). But this mentality distorts freedom, making it merely an assertion of one’s will.
A few days ago, we learned the good news that the great John Paul II will be canonized next spring on April 27th. This great champion of authentic freedom will become Saint John Paul II. I have reflected often on his teachings, especially his insights on freedom and the splendor of truth. I remember especially the papal Mass he celebrated in Baltimore in 1995 which I attended. In his homily, he explained with much passion that true freedom is not the right to do whatever we choose, but the right to do what we ought, to adhere freely to what is good and true. Freedom is not merely personal autonomy which can ultimately do great harm to the personal good of individuals, but also to the common good of society. When freedom is reduced to mere personal autonomy and not rooted in moral truth, we see terrible consequences such as the death of over 50 million unborn children in our nation these past 40 years.
As you know, the Bishops of the United States are vigorously fighting the unjust HHS mandate as a matter of religious liberty and freedom of conscience. We are defending the dignity of conscience. Conscience is that holy place where God reveals to us our true good. It is important that people understand that conscience is not the mere assertion of personal will. Consciences must be formed so as to discern what corresponds to the eternal, objective and universal divine law, something human reason and intelligence is capable of discovering. So the freedom of conscience we seek to defend is never freedom from the truth. It is freedom in the truth. When the Church teaches, for example, that abortion and euthanasia are always morally inadmissible, or that marriage can only be between one man and one woman, we are giving expression to the universal moral law that is inscribed on the human heart. This law is binding on everyone’s conscience. The Church is not seeking to impose some arbitrary rules in violation of human freedom. Rather, as Blessed John Paul II explained so often, the Church’s teaching of moral truth “brings to light the truths which conscience ought already to possess, and it is these truths which make us free in the deepest meaning of human freedom and give our humanity its genuine nobility.”
As lawyers, judges, professors and students of law or political science, the Church needs you to be servants of the truth about the human person and about marriage, defenders of human dignity, and promoters of authentic human freedom, including religious liberty. You can help to rebuild the moral foundations of a genuine culture of freedom. I believe the future of our nation depends on a culture that adheres to the moral truths and values without which our democracy is imperiled. Blessed John Paul said that “the future of democracy is imperiled when politics and law are sundered from any connection to the moral law written on the human heart.” “Moral relativism is incompatible with democracy.” John Paul said something that I believe applies to you involved in the field of law. He said: “Catholics in public life render a particularly important service to society when they defend objective moral norms as the unshakable foundation and solid guarantee of a just and peaceful human coexistence, and hence of genuine democracy, for it is through our common obligation to these moral norms that we come to know, and can defend, the equality of all citizens, who possess common rights and duties.”
Your patron saint, Sir Thomas More, is a great example for you, truly a model of moral integrity. He was absolutely faithful to his civil duties, and through his fidelity to his conscience, brought the values of the Gospel to the civil sphere. Because of his fidelity and his refusal to violate his conscience formed by moral truth, rejecting any compromise, he was beheaded. He was a martyr of freedom, authentic freedom based on truth. He shows us the primacy of truth over power and goodness over utility. He was a martyr for the primacy of conscience, firmly grounded in moral truth. He inspires us by his fidelity to the truth that is more important than success, popularity, or prosperity. It is upon such fidelity to irrevocable principles that the dignity of the human person and the justice of civil society depend. Saint Thomas More was the king’s loyal servant, but God’s servant first. At this Red Mass, we invoke his intercession. And we invoke the Holy Spirit, the principal agent in the Church’s mission. May the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, our Advocate, bless you and guide you. May He bestow upon you His manifold gifts, especially His gifts of counsel and fortitude as you pursue justice, promote authentic freedom, and defend the truth that sets us free!