Red Masses

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October 2 and 3, 2016 in Fort Wayne and South Bend

I decided to celebrate to celebrate the Mass of Saint Thomas More at our Red Masses this year, especially since our nation’s elections are just five weeks away. I thought it would be good to reflect on the life of Thomas More, the patron saint of politicians and statesmen, as well as the patron saint of lawyers.

Though Saint Thomas More lived 500 years ago, his example of Christian discipleship is as relevant today as it was then. He is indeed “a man for all seasons.” You may recall the famous prediction made by G.K. Chesterton in 1929, six years before Thomas More as canonized. He said: “Thomas More is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death, even perhaps the great moment of his dying. But he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years time.” Here we are, 87 years after Chesterton made that prediction. It is true. Saint Thomas More’s life and witness speak to us today. I wish in this homily to present his life of Christian discipleship as a lawyer, a statesman, a spouse and parent, to all of you who strive to live your faith in your noble profession and not apart from it, a life of integrity, pursuing the holiness which is our common vocation.

The first thing I propose from the example of Saint Thomas More is keeping your priorities straight, in proper order. This is the order: God first, family and friendship second, profession third.

Thomas More’s life and his death by martyrdom cannot be understood apart from the priority he gave to God in his life. He put God before Caesar, his conscience before the state, and ethics before politics. Though he loved his family deeply, he couldn’t accept their pleas to save his life by signing the Oath of Supremacy, accepting thereby Henry VIII’s claim to be head of the Church in England. His faith always came first, even to the cost of his life. His great virtues, which we so admire today, derived from his working out in his own life the implications of God’s gift of faith to him. If we wish to be holy, we must do the same. We must think deeply about our faith and how to live it in our life. We can be tempted for various reasons to push our faith to the side, for reasons of comfort, political success, wealth, whatever. But faith without works is dead. To be living, faith must not be limited to one hour of church on Sunday. If it is real, it is lived, put into practice, in our whole life, in relation to our family, our work, our politics, our economics. For a politician to say that he or she is personally opposed to an evil, like abortion or euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, and then cooperate with the evil with the excuse of not imposing one’s morality on others, is not only a weakness in courage, it is a betrayal of conscience, a denial of truth, and an acquiescence to a false notion of freedom. It is the exact opposite of what Thomas More lived and died for. It is living a kind of moral and spiritual schizophrenia, to thus separate one’s faith from one’s actions, from one’s politics. One becomes a counter witness to the Gospel. To be heedless to human dignity is to be heedless of God the Creator, no matter how one seeks to justify it.

Saint Thomas More exemplifies for us what should always be our first priority. The real malaise of contemporary politics, one author wrote, is consigning one’s conscience to the bathroom. Our faith and our conscience, properly formed, must have priority over mere expediency or earthly success. The personal integrity of lawyers, judges, politicians, and statesmen depends on acting in accord with a properly formed conscience, and this requires moral courage, especially when this conflicts with the powers and principalities of this world, including the media and popular opinion.

The Church and our nation need more Thomas Mores. We need lawyers, judges, and public officials who will stand against the tyranny of relativism, stand upon the firm ground of moral truth and not contribute to a culture that is declining, sinking in the quicksand of relativism. Where do we find this moral truth and the values that stem from this truth, the values that maintain social cohesion and preserve our nation in justice and peace, the values that are God-given and basic to our very humanity, the values that transcend all positive law and all political and economic power? The same place Thomas More found it, on the wings of faith and reason. Through faith and reason, we discover in our conscience, the voice of God in our heart, the objective and universally valid moral norms without which society flounders, t