Archbishop Lori’s homily at St. Thomas More Society’s Red Mass

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Following is the homily Archbishop William E. Lori gave at the annual Red Mass, Oct. 6, sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society of the Diocese of Wilmington at St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church in Greenville.

Tonight, I stand before you as the U.S. bishops’ point person on religious liberty. In that capacity, I’m involved in helping U.S. Catholics and many others to understand more deeply what the church teaches about religious freedom together with the committee comprised of bishops and lay experts including, you’ll be happy to know, many lawyers,

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore (center) with Wilmington's Bishop Malooly and Tony Flynn (right) president of the Diocese of Wilmington's St. Thomas More Society, talk in front of St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church Oct. 6, prior to the annual Red Mass. The Dialog/www.DonBlakePhotography.com
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore (center) with Wilmington’s Bishop Malooly and Tony Flynn (right) president of the Diocese of Wilmington’s St. Thomas More Society, talk in front of St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church Oct. 6, prior to the annual Red Mass. The Dialog/www.DonBlakePhotography.com

I am also involved in pointing out and resisting challenges to religious freedom. This is not the time or the place to describe those challenges in detail. Suffice it to say, however, that they include challenges in areas such as employment, licensure, accreditation and, on occasion, even free speech and assembly.

I’m glad to celebrate this Red Mass with you because I need the Holy Spirit’s help as much or more than you do. So please pray for me and please pray for my colleagues.

Isn’t it true, dear friends, that in one way or another, all of us are about defending freedom. You may or may not be directly involved in Constitutional law, but you carry out your daily work in the conviction that we are a nation of laws — a nation of laws that guarantees fundamental freedoms sometimes sadly taken for granted.

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we might ask the question, how should we understand our God-given gift of freedom? What is it for and how shall we use it?

Let’s first turn to Scripture for guidance. In the first reading from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, God promises to give his people a new heart and a new spirit. He promises to remove their heart of stone and, instead, to give them a heart of flesh, a natural heart.

Instead of hearts that are coldly indifferent to what is good and true, God will give them hearts that are worthy of their human dignity. By renewing his Spirit within his people so that they will willingly and freely obey his law, God helps his people recover their humanity and, indeed, their homeland, understood not merely as a geographic place but as a space where the human spirit can soar.

In the reading from the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Usually, we associate obedience to commands with fear. But Jesus equates love with obedience, with obedience to his word of truth. It is as if he had said, “Once you fall in love with me, you will willingly live as my disciples.”

As Pope Benedict XVI taught in his beautiful encyclical titled “God Is Love,” he said those who are in love ultimately come to want the same thing or to reject the same thing. One becomes similar to the other, he says, and this leads to a community of will and of thought.

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can come to see that the best and highest use of our freedom is to fall in love with God and, in so doing, accept as our own, his will.

His will that we should love him above all things and that we should love our neighbors as ourselves.

St. Paul takes this a step further tonight. In our reading from Ephesians you will notice, interestingly enough, that St. Paul refers to himself as a prisoner for the Lord. It is true. St. Paul wound up in jail almost every place he went. But he was always a prisoner who was supremely free because of his love for Christ.

From captivity, he calls the church at Ephesus to unity in freedom. He reminds them that the calling they receive from the Lord is no mere ideology but, instead, a way of life marked by gentleness, patience and peace.

The Ephesians are part of a community whose inner principle of oneness is the Holy Spirit himself. No one was coerced to be a member of that community and no one was coerced once they were within that community.

Rather, it was a community characterized by a symphony of human freedoms, whose composer and conductor was the Holy Spirit.

Our readings, friends, give us a teaching of human freedom that is rather different that the understanding of freedom in our modern culture. Today, many people regard freedom merely as the freedom to choose: I’m free to do whatever I want, so long as I don’t bump up against the law.

Some philosophers would sort of agree. They would say that human freedom is essentially formless. It’s just the human power to choose one thing over another thing and it’s sometimes called the freedom of indifference.

In this view, freedom has no religious content and it is bound by few, if any, fixed moral truths.

In fact, many people believe that human freedom demands such moral relativism and that those who claim otherwise are, in fact, adversaries of freedom.

Not only is this view of human freedom dominant in popular culture, I am told that sometimes it finds its way into the study and the practice of Constitutional law.

Freedom of indifference, coupled with moral relativism is sometimes thought to be the best and only way to guarantee justice to all groups in human society with their competing ideas and rights and claims.

But underneath it all, not even the law in our diverse culture can avoid facing the question of truth, especially the question about the truth about the human person, about the source of human freedom and what brings about authentic human flourishing.

At the very least, the state should not pursue moral relativism to such and extent that it ends up imposing it on churches, on church institutions and even families.

The state should not make it difficult for believers and their institutions of service to embrace fixed truths about human nature. And it should not make it difficult for them to embrace, to proclaim and to live their faith not only in the confines of the church, but also in the workplace and in their service to the common good of the broader society.

The paradox of a monolithic moral relativism confronts us when proposed state religious restoration legislation is dismissed as a license to discriminate.

So in keeping with today’s Scripture readings, another view of human freedom emerges, sometimes termed the freedom for excellence.

Taking our cue from the prophet Ezekiel, we might say that our human hearts are made for love, for friendship with God, a friendship in which we discover a way of life that is truly ennobling.

In other words, our freedom, flawed as it is, is naturally ordered toward God’s love and puts us on the path toward growing in excellence, toward growing in what makes sense, what is true, what is good, beautiful and virtuous.

At their best, church communities and healthy, loving families serve as a leaven, a leaven in society helping to create a culture where human dignity is respected and human flourishing is fostered.

During the Second Vatican Council as bishops from all over the world debated the text of the “Declaration on Religious Liberty,” an archbishop named Karol Wojtyla, the future St. John Paul II, came from behind the Iron Curtain to make this prophetic statement. He said, “Without truth, there is no freedom.”

In the end, he knew, moral relativism and indifference on the part of the state to certain fundamental truths about human nature and human dignity would inexorably lead to the abolition of freedom, not necessarily through force, but by the imposition of the will of the stronger upon the weaker.

Both Karol Wojtyla and Abraham Lincoln would agree freedom is not the right to do what we want, but what we ought. This is the durable freedom capable of building a just and human society. This is the durable freedom that serves as a beacon of hope for nations around the world.

This evening, I proposed a few themes of law and philosophy and theology and you’ve been very kind to give me a hearing.

But what is there to do with all these ideas, if you’re working on wills and titles everyday, if you’re involved in corporate law, or maybe presiding over a courtroom? What can you do about any of this?

It’s not for me to say specifically, except I might propose one concluding thought.

All of you have connections; all of you have networks and influence. I might suggest that in your daily professional responsibilities that you exercise what the Blessed John Henry Newman called the “apostolate of personal influence.”

This includes your personal use of your freedom, using it for excellence in an intentional way. You’re living the link among freedom and truth and moral responsibility.

It includes a willingness to advance the notion of solid moral truth in your daily work on behalf of the law. And, indeed, your wholehearted participation in those intermediate structures of society that are essential for defending human freedom and dignity — families, churches and institutions that serve the common good.

Without fanfare, you can influence those around you to understand more deeply the God-given gift of religious liberty. Our country and our society will be better off for it.

Thanks for listening. God bless you and keep you always in his love.

The Red Mass is named for the red vestments used for the liturgy what invokes the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The St. Thomas More Society includes lawyers, judges and other members of the judiciary who strive to promote St. Thomas More’s principles and ideals in their profession and personal conduct.