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Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008 -- 4:00 AM

Editor's note: This column is based on Bishop Morlino's homily at the Red Mass on October 26.

Dear Friends,

under the gospel book

It is most interesting that, when asked which commandments are the greatest, Jesus doesn’t offer something new. When Our Lord is asked which commandments are the greatest, Jesus doesn’t say we need “change” — which is, of course, the watchword of both our political parties today. Instead, Jesus goes back to the Old Testament, basically to the Book of Exodus, and Jesus offers the summary that was very common in the early Jewish community about what we now call the natural law. Jesus points to those two great commandments: “love God above all things, and love your neighbor as yourself.” And in so doing Jesus is a teacher of the natural law that was written in the hearts of the people of His time, just as it was written in the hearts of the earlier Jewish community, just as it is written in every human heart.

Of the Ten Commandments, the first three are all about loving God first, and the last seven are all about loving one’s neighbor as one’s self, and taken together, they formulate a perfect summary of the natural law — love God first and love your neighbor as yourself. So, when Jesus was asked which commandments are the greatest, which commandments are the most important to observe, He gives us the natural law — and that’s the first point.

The second point is the consideration of what the “natural law” means. It means that what Jesus says, in this offering of the natural law, is true for every human being — just because they’re human. What Jesus says is true for all the Jewish people; it’s true for all the followers of Jesus Christ; and it’s true for every human being, simply because he or she is a human being. Jesus is not teaching distinctively Catholic or Christian belief in this passage from the Gospel. He goes back to what was stated in Old Testament and articulates the way God wrote the Law into the heart of the early Jewish community and into the heart of every human being.

Knowledge that God exists

So, why is this natural law the natural human law? It’s human because, first of all, the existence of God can be known by reason alone. I don’t believe that God exists; I know it — by reason alone! And every human being, following his or her human intelligence, his or her human reason, is called to know it, not believe it. I don’t have space here to go through the arguments themselves, but it is possible by reason alone to know that God exists, and if we know that God exists, and if we understand what the word “God” means, then we cannot ignore God.

If we know that God exists and we understand what the word “God” means, the worst sin ever would be to not pray, because if we know that God exists and we know what that word “God” means, then how we relate to that God has everything to do with eternal life. If we understand what “God” means, then we understand that the whole world as we know it is going to end for each one of us at death, and that some day the whole thing is going to end, and remaining only will be the eternal God and eternal life.

And actually, that’s not an “only,” it is a big deal, for we know that the word “God” means, “the one who is ‘in charge’ for eternity.” And so, our relationship to that God whom we know exists and who is in charge for eternity, must be the most important thing for any one of us.

Our first question in this election season

So, the first conclusion of the natural law addressed to us is that God exists. And that means our freedom to acknowledge Him, both in public and in private, must be upheld.

And in the election season, that is the first question we have to ask ourselves about any candidate. Whether it’s a candidate for the school board (especially if it’s a candidate for the school board), whether it’s a candidate for mayor, or whatever office, the first question needs to be, “who is going to do the most for us to preserve our religious freedom; who is going to do the most to protect our freedom to praise God?” We need to consider which candidate will do better to make it so that no kid in school is forced to pray, but if the kid wants a moment of silence to pray, no one has any right to say that that can’t happen. Each and every human being, by his or her human reason alone, is called to know that God exists. And if God exists and we understand what the word “God” means, then it would be very foolish to prohibit the awareness and acknowledgement, and praise of God in any arena whatsoever.

In prohibiting our young people from praying, we’re prohibiting them from worrying about eternity, and that is the most basic human right there is. We must be allowed to know that God exists, and to know that there is an eternity, and that He’s in charge of it! No government, no state, has the right to mess around with your eternal destiny and mine, to tell us when we can praise God and when we cannot.  As we go to vote, we have to worry about who is going to best uphold our religious liberty, and we have to teach other people to worry about it.

Human life is sacred

The second dictum of the natural law is, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Who is my neighbor? Every human being, from conception until natural death, is my neighbor. Biology — not philosophy and not religion — teaches us that at the moment of conception there exists a unique individual of the human species. Who can prove that a unique individual of the human species is not a human being? No one can prove that! Some group can get together and decide not to treat that unique individual as a person, but that means that this or that group is now in charge of deciding who is treated like a human person, and who isn’t; and that places every human person in danger.

With regard to this, it is quite unbelievable that 90 percent of Downs Syndrome children in the United States are aborted. In the State of Wisconsin, a state in which African Americans make up only about six percent of the total population, 24 percent of the abortions which take place are carried out against African American children. Who’s making the decisions that those Down Syndrome children and those African American children and all the other abortion victims have no human rights? Who is doing that?

In every case, abortion itself is a civil rights violation, but then when it’s turned against Down Syndrome children and African American children, then we can really see what’s going on. These statistics catch our eye, but we should remember that every human life, from conception to natural death is Sacred, and we should worry about it.

So, who is going to best protect human life, from conception to natural death – that is the second question we need to ask ourselves as we get ready for the election. And, again, these are questions that human beings should ask because they are human — not that Catholics should ask because they’re Catholic.

Protect definition of marriage

Lastly, we consider that second dictum again: “love your neighbor as yourself.” The highest human expression of love is marriage — one husband, one wife, one lifetime, with openness to children. And which candidate is best going to protect the definition of marriage?

If we don’t have the protection of our religious freedom, if we don’t have the protection of human life, from conception until natural death, and if we don’t have protection of the definition of marriage, I don’t know what we have that is worth having. Those are three issues — we’re not “one issue voters” — those are three issues, and there are other issues. We certainly need to consider how best to get out of Iraq. How best to deal with the economic crisis — that’s an important issue. But people of good will are free to disagree about those important issues, and they do, and they will. Nobody’s quite sure how best to get out of Iraq. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t want to end the war; but how do we do it? I don’t know anyone who even understands the economic crisis, much less knows the best way to get out of it. So, as human beings, when we decide how to vote, we can’t put the economy and the war on the same footing with religious freedom, the protection of human life, and the protection of the definition of marriage.

And we’ve got tell people about these three priority questions. We don’t want to tell them how to answer the questions; we don’t want to tell them for whom to vote. We just want to say that from a human point of view, these are the most important questions.

And you who work in the legal professions have a real mission, as lay men and women, to build up the world into a kingdom of life, and justice, and love, and peace. So I will close by repeating what I said last year: my dear legal professionals; dear justices, judges, and attorneys, you do what you can do. Because I know that I can’t do it alone, and I know that you can get through to a lot of people who aren’t going to talk to me and not talk to their priests. We will do what we can do, but we priests and bishops need a lot of help. And we all get the courage to do what we can do and what we should do by letting that beautiful Responsorial Psalm verse resonate over and over again, in our minds and in our hearts: “I love you, Oh Lord, my strength, my strength.” That strength overcomes any obstacle whatsoever and that strength triumphs in eternity.

Praised be Jesus Christ!