I understand there’s another major speech tonight by the President of the United States, making the best case he can why he should be reelected. Sisyphean task, that.
It will, however, be followed by what I’m most interested in: Cardinal Dolan’s closing prayer. THAT. could be the highlight of the conventions season if the Dems continue their anti-God, anti-Jerusalem, anti-life, anti-woman, anti-religious liberty ways.
But before you listen to Obama, or even after (if you bother), you owe it to your Catholic martial spirit to check out this homily by the normally reserved Most Reverend Gilbert Sheldon, bishop emeritus of Steubenville, delivered here at Franciscan University at the Mass in Finnegan Field House held at the beginning of this year’s new student orientation—the Mass at which new faculty and administrators took the Oath of Fidelity to the Magisterium.
His Excellency’s delivery was staid and straightforward as ever, but his content was, to put it mildly, stirring. You can watch it here, with the transcript below.
The text, as delivered, with my emphases:
A year ago I had the privilege of addressing this assembly and receiving the Oath of Fidelity on behalf of the Church. I thought it would be the last time that I would have the honor of doing this in this august event. However, due to the inscrutable processes of episcopal appointments, I stand before you again.
Last year I pointed out that we are in a culture war. A war that is reducible to, on the one hand, one between those who believe in a Supreme Being who created us, who has a definite plan for our well-being now and into eternity, and to whom we are responsible; and on the other hand, those who believe in themselves as supreme beings and architects of their own destiny, with responsibility only to themselves. In their view there is no such thing as right and wrong, there is only individual choice. One choice is as good as another, and if there is a conflict between choices the choice of the majority prevails. I call attention this time to the latest battle that has been joined in that culture war: the battle for religious freedom.
A call to arms has been issued on behalf of believers by the Catholic bishops of the United States. Our antagonists are the liberal secularists in government and elsewhere, who would erode away our religious freedom. They’ve just won the first skirmish in that battle—the acceptance by the U.S. Supreme Court as constitutional the comprehensive health plan offered by the present administration in Washington.
Pope Benedict said in his statement recently to American bishops, quote, “once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate, and well-informed laity, endowed with a strong critical sense, and with courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate.” The Pope’s words are reflected in the battle plan that has been outlined by the U.S. bishops committee on religious liberty. It calls for study, catechesis, and prayer.
Prayer is the equipment of all believers. Study and education are further arms that we must furnish them—that is, you as faculty members, I and my colleagues from the pulpit. The high spots of the bishops’ call should be familiar to us all. It points out specific efforts in the federal and state level to curtail our religious freedom. And among them, for example, first of all would be the requirement we’ve already mentioned in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It requires that organizations offering health insurance to their employees must provide for contraception and, by implication, abortion, as so-called “reproductive health services,” or otherwise face substantial fines.
In the state of Alabama, for example, there was an effort to forbid services of any kind including spiritual services to undocumented immigrants. In effect it treats these people as worse than wartime enemies, to whom any aid and comfort is considered treasonous. It would forbid a priest from administering the Last Rights to an undocumented immigrant.
There was an effort in the state of Connecticut to intrude into the internal government of the Church by reintroducing the flawed practice of trusteeism.
And in some state universities there is an attempt to force religious organizations on campus to open their membership to all individuals, including those with contrary religious or moral convictions.
And finally there was a requirement by several states that Catholic social service agencies offer services contrary to their own stated religious and moral principles, for example in adoption and counseling services.
This secular liberal agenda would redefine the First Amendment to the Constitution so as to restrict Freedom of Religion to Freedom of Worship. And that distinction is crucial. The Bill of Rights reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Freedom of worship would restrict religious practice to worship services, presumably done in a house of worship or in private. However, the exercise of religion derives from religion itself and its own definition of its activities.
Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, includes a great many activities which are public. Not the least of which is bringing the Gospel to non-believers.
The secularist opposes any public religious display, whether public prayer or in the display of a religious symbol.
And of course we have a taste of this here in Steubenville as a proposed logo for the city is being attacked, incidentally by a group from another state, because it includes a well-known landmark—the chapel here at Franciscan University. The objection, supposedly, is that it is an involvement by the city government in religion. So how ridiculous can you get?
Our Founding Fathers were very much aware of the public dimension of religion. George Washington, in his famous farewell speech said, quote, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” He well understood that lending support to religious and moral principles must be made part of the public and political discourse. Something to which the liberal secularist is very allergic. Like many of the Founding Fathers, Washington was a deist, who derived his philosophy from John Locke. Locke, himself not a Christian, however, believed in natural law—a concept that’s firmly embedded in Catholic moral theology. The current liberal secularists would have us believe that human rights are conferred on its citizens by the State, much like welfare. But that’s not what the Declaration of Independence says. Quoting again, “we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that all are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The Constitution of the United States guarantees that statement in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights which we heard before.
This call to arms by the Catholic bishops implies, if need be, civil disobedience. However, it is not saying, “if this be treason, let us make the most of it.” Civil disobedience is not disloyalty to one’s country. It is, and especially in this case, a form of patriotism, that calls upon the government to be true to the Constitution and to walk the narrow line that the Constitution lays out for it. Nor should the loyalty of Catholics in the United States ever be called into question. The blood that Catholics have shed through all the wars in past history speaks loud and clear. And admittedly there were only a handful of Catholics that fought in the American Revolution but by World War II fully a third—one out of three—men and women in uniform had “C” for “Catholic” on their identification tags—the so-called “dog tags.”
Civil disobedience is in fact a virtue when it opposes unjust law, as is the case here. Let me quote a well-known proponent of opposition to unjust law. He said, quote, “I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all. Now what is the different between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, ‘an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.’” You might be wondering what pope said that. It was no pope at all: it was Martin Luther King.
Coincidentally, or, perhaps, not so coincidentally, this battle will be contemporaneous with the Year of Faith that Pope Benedict announced; and the year of faith begins, also, marking the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Again: coincidence, or divine providence?
The year of faith and the Catechism give us the logistical support that our battle requires for the faithful and for us to use. The year of faith is a call to prayer; the Catechism is an ideal tool for presenting the Catholic position. All that is needed now is the will to use them to fight. May God bless us in our struggle.”