October 19, 2011 | The Long Island Catholic Vol. 50, No. 24 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
In this homily to the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Suffolk County at their Red Mass Oct. 6, at the chapel of St. Anthony’s High School, South Huntington, Bishop Murphy continues the reflections on religious freedom that he began at the Nassau Red Mass two days earlier (see TLIC 10/12).
The Spirit we invoke is a divine one that is described variously as tongues of fire, the advocate, the giver of wisdom and the gift of love. All these are appropriate as we seek divine guidance for the work of the courts and the efforts of one and all. For us Christians, St. Paul tells us that the profession of faith that “Jesus is the Lord” can be made only in and through the Holy Spirit. He goes on to commend all the various individual gifts of service we have as manifestations of God’s spirit. He contends that all of them find their source and their origin in the God “who produces all of them in everyone.” Thus are we constituted as parts of the one Body that God calls into being and makes grow as one to the good of all.
A healthy body is one in which all the parts work together. It is one in which each member knows and fulfills his or her own role while acknowledging and supporting the roles of others. This vision is applied to the Church but it also can be and should be applied to the state and to all those roles and those institutions that contribute to the well being of Church and of state. Though the Church and the state have each its own proper raison d’etre, their existence in both cases is to serve the people with the fruits of their respective functions so that all who belong may share in the goods they provide, be built up by the ideals they espouse, and become in turn contributors to the passing on of the good they preserve for the benefit of all.
While ideally all adhere to the ideals and goals of either society, often there are members who err or groups that misuse their roles. In the Church, Jesus today shows us a way to acknowledge the reality of sin and to correct it for the good of the person and of the whole. This has a lesson for the state which can learn from it but which, in its turn, depends on the rule of law to bring about a society of justice, freedom, security, and peace.
What I would like to place before you today for your reflection is the suggestion that the exercise of our respective roles in Church and state needs always to recognize the legitimacy of respecting and fostering the various mediating institutions that severally build up the life of our world today and serve to advance important goals and values of the society of law. My concern is that, in recent decades government, many of those charged to uphold the laws of nation and state, whether consciously or not, have become agnostic at best and hostile at worst to the role of intermediate institutions in our society.
All three of our readings today recognize that God opens up for us the possibilities of realizing the fullness of human achievement and human flourishing. That perspective in turn allows us to see that the richness of human living can never be exhausted by a single human social body including the state. We need each other and we need the vision of God’s sovereignty to protect us all against any group, including the state, from seeking to make itself an absolute, in a sense, make itself a god. We have seen many examples of that in the last century where a totalitarian state claimed absolute power and sought to make itself the sole arbiter of life and death for its citizens and for others whom they sought to exploit.
The question I place before you today is whether there are not some indications of a similar ambition manifesting itself in the actions of government, legislative, administrative and judicial. When government seeks to become the arbiter for the internal life of a religious body then I suggest we have a serious challenge to respect for the role of mediating institutions. When government regulations make it virtually impossible for a religious or other private society to offer service to the common good without violating their beliefs, then I suggest we have an overstepping of political authority to the detriment of the good of the whole. When a government seeks to define who qualifies to be a minister in a religious group, then the legitimate autonomy of the religious group is compromised and its capacity to be a witness for the good of its members and the common good of all is placed in jeopardy.
The principle of subsidiarity is a long standing principle of Catholic social teaching which found its clearest expression in Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno. This principle insists that the government should not abrogate to itself functions and roles that can be as easily or better performed by institutions of a smaller scale in society. Coupled to that principle is the idea of a society in which mediating institutions are important bodies to bring people of similar interests and goals to advance their own goals so long as those goals are consistent with, and contribute to, the common good of the whole society.
Three institutions, among many, that fulfill proper roles which should be esteemed, respected and promoted by all three branches of the state, are marriage and the family, the Church and other equally legitimate religious traditions, and the world of education, especially the university. All three are intrinsic to the exercise of human rights as proclaimed by our founding documents and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While there are many other mediating groups in our society, all legitimate and all deserving of freedom of action, these three hold a certain pride of place because of the essential nature of their roles and the extraordinary importance they have for the good of the person and the good of society as a whole. All three, I would suggest, have been weakened in recent decades by government actions and judicial decisions that have compromised their freedom to function, limited their ability to fulfill their legitimate goals, and marginalized and at times called into question their right to free and full exercise. Are we moving toward a society in which the only arbiter of what is good or bad, right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable is the state? I hope not. But I have lived long enough and experienced enough situations in which government power and judicial activism have given reasonable cause for people of good will to be concerned.
It need not be so. Participatory democracy and the rule of law offer us every reason to be hopeful for our future. But the success of this noble American experiment depends very much on the shared vision that is ours and the commitment to mutual respect and recognition of the rightful roles and functions not only of the state but also of the mediating institutions whose freedom is essential to help realize and fulfill their own aspirations which in turn will advance the common good.
We are one body with many parts. May the one Spirit of wisdom, which comes from God, guide us in our interdependent roles and lead us to support one another. May it keep us open to resolving differences, including failures and disagreements, in ways that bind us to one another and to the God who calls us to live together in harmony, mutual respect, justice, freedom and peace. The Church stands ready to collaborate in all these efforts but always must do so consistent with her primary goal which is spiritual. She seeks only the legitimate respect and appropriate freedom to pursue her spiritual vocation to heal and transform human hearts and human lives. She embraces Isaiah’s vision and prays it be fulfilled by our prayers and by our efforts. May those prayers and those efforts of us all lead us all to his holy mountain. May we be joyful together in the house of prayer that God has called us to share. In this house of God I happily welcome you and invite you to be at home before the God who calls us to acknowledge Him as the ultimate goal and destiny of all human life. For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Amen.