Warmest thanks to you, Bishop Bransfield, for inviting me to take part in the Red Mass of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. It happens that this also is my first visit as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Baltimore. The Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston are not only neighbors but are also part of an ecclesiastical province which also includes the Dioceses of Arlington, Richmond, and Wilmington. This means we share both a border and a mission as co-workers who support one another in advancing the Gospel that Christ entrusted to His Church.
It is a joy to engage in that mission side-by-side with Bishop Bransfield. I’ve had the privilege of knowing him for many years, especially during his extraordinary service as Rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington and as a fellow member of the Board of Trustees of the Catholic University of America. So it is a special pleasure for me to be here this evening with all of you.
II. The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Me
This Sunday’s readings are tailor made for a Red Mass, so without further ado, let us fix our gaze on Jesus in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth where we find Him reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah – “The spirit of the Lord is upon me!” One might say that this is Jesus’ “inaugural address”. In it, He tells the people who He is and what He will do.
Jesus tells a skeptical hometown audience that He is the fulfillment of all God promised – the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, who will bring that definitive deliverance for which the human spirit longs. To the poor He will bring glad tidings; to captives and victims of oppression, freedom; and to the blind, the recovery of their sight. And for the next few years, Jesus went about the region preaching the Good News of God’s love to a people who were poor, materially and spiritually, because they lacked love. He liberated people from their demons and self-deception so that they might be free enough to God above all things and to give their lives in love to others. He opened the eyes of the blind so as to open their hearts to the wonder of God’s truth and love.
III. The Church Extends the Mission of Christ
Christ has never veered from his “inaugural address” but rather has seen to its fulfillment from age to age. Times and circumstances change but the essential mission remains the same: preaching the good news, liberating from sin, and awakening faith in the heart. The Church of which you and I are members, the Body of Christ—this is how Christ and His message are extended everywhere in the world until the end of time. We have no mission other than the one which Christ entrusted to His Apostles after His death and resurrection, when He was about to ascend into heaven.
This same mission is underway here in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. In landmark pastoral letters, Bishop Bransfield has addressed the consoling, liberating, reconciling words of the Gospel to those in need of mental health services, to victims of mining accidents, and to those who seek to cherish the resources of this wild and wonderful State. Yet, like the Lord’s own preaching, his teaching is never merely a matter of words. Christ’s message of truth, freedom, healing, and love is made real in the celebration of the Mass and the Sacraments wherein we truly encounter the Redeemer of the World, who loves us like no other and who confirms, again and again, our vocation to love. Christ’s message of truth and love is made palpable in the pastoral services offered by the Diocese in its parishes, Catholic schools, healthcare institutions, and social services. His mission lives in you, dear brothers and sisters, who are called to bring the light of the Gospel and liberating power of Christ’s love into arenas where bishops and priests seldom venture – into the rough and tumble world of law and the administration of law, into the rigorous demands of professional life with its attendant opportunities and temptations.
IV. The Freedom of the Church To Fulfill Christ’s Mission
Our crucified Savior never promised that any of this would be easy. A church founded by a King “not of this world” is never fully at home anywhere. She must struggle always against earthly powers for the freedom to fulfill her mission, whether it be the powers of darkness, or totalitarian governments of the right or the left or the forces of an overarching secularism that see any religion that dares to be countercultural as a threat to human freedom and happiness.
Even in our beloved country, we see increasing threats to religious liberty. The most prominent is the Health and Human Services mandate. This would force non-exempt church institutions & conscientious private employers to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization & contraception, a list that could expand in future years. Various states are seeking to eliminate conscience protection for healthcare workers who wish to uphold a consistent pro-life ethic in their daily work. Similarly, the advance of so-called same sex marriage challenges churches with regard to their hiring practices and the use of their public facilities. And all of us are familiar with efforts to remove religious symbolism from public lands and prohibit prayer at events such as school graduations.
These and other threats to religious freedom are symptoms of a deeper malady spreading through our land, namely, a growing perception that religion is not only quaint and irrational but indeed destructive when it stands in the way of the triumph of the dominant secular agenda, a secularism based not on truth and goodness but on influence and power. Pope Benedict XVI has famously described this as “a dictatorship of relativism”, a dictatorship that does not tolerate a faith which calls for wholehearted allegiance to “ … one Lord, one faith, one baptism … ”(Ephesians 4:6). Nor does this dictatorship look kindly on any fixed notion of right and wrong, what St. Paul referred to as a law ‘written on human hearts’ (cf. Romans 2:15), that law which resonates deep within us when God’s law is proclaimed, just as Ezra the priest proclaimed it before the assembly in our first reading. Still less does the dictatorship of relativism tolerate the notion that certain things are always and everywhere wrong, such as the taking of innocent human life through abortion or euthanasia. And let us make no mistake, what the culture no longer tolerates, sooner or later, the law itself will no longer tolerate, because the law is a prime arbiter of culture.
V. Evangelizing the Culture
Not for a moment would I suggest the imposition of Catholic doctrine upon the law nor would I suggest that you utter doctrinal pronouncements from bench or bar. During this Year of Faith, however, I am suggesting that all of us, myself included, do three things:
- to be renewed in our faith;
- to be more confident about our faith; and
- to share our faith by word and example with those around us.
For once we fall deeply in love with Christ and adore him with all that is in us, then the Church’s faith truly makes sense and we feel compelled to share it.
This is what enables you to allow values flowing from faith and reason to shape your personal and professional life; … to practice law with deepest respect for the law of God written on human hearts, that inner sense of right and wrong that gives our culture cohesion based on respect for human life and responsibility for the common good. A renewed and confident faith is what will enable you to defend robustly the religious freedom of church institutions and private individuals and to construct what successive Popes have called “a civilization of truth and love”. Blessed John Henry Newman coined a phrase to describe our calling. He termed it, “the apostolate of personal influence” – using our networks of family, friends, and colleagues not merely for our own purposes but rather for the sake of that truth which alone can set us free and lead us to a happiness and a peace which nothing and no one can take away from us.
Thank you for what you do day in and day out, for your service not only to your clients and our system of justice but indeed for all that you do to make your communities, your state, and indeed our beloved country a land that is true to its founding ideals and true to the God who has blessed it so abundantly.
May God bless us and keep us always in His love.