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October 7 - 20, 2012

Homily: There are times the law is a cause of scandal

Note: Cardinal George delivered this homily Sept. 30 at the annual Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, commonly called the Red Mass, for the legal profession at Holy Name Cathedral.

It is a great source of satisfaction to be together with you on this Sunday when the archdiocese prays for all those who have dedicated themselves to the promotion of the common good of society and the protection of the human dignity of each person through service to the law. I thank you for coming before the Lord on his day in order to worship him in spirit and truth.

In worship, we get right our relationship to God, and therefore we stand a chance to put right our relationships to one another. Justice, like love, is a matter of right relationships, and the most important relationship in our lives as creatures of God is our relationship to God. If that is in place, everything else has a chance of working itself out in justice and love. When that relationship is ignored or suppressed, inevitably every other relationship goes sour, as history itself bears witness in the examples of officially atheistic states.

Scripture today speaks to us of relationships: that of Moses to the elders of the people and of Jesus to his apostles. In the first case, the Spirit came upon two men who were not present when Moses called upon God to share his spirit of governance with the elders; in the second case, two men who were not apostles were casting out demons in Jesus’ name. In both cases, Moses and Jesus tell their followers that they should welcome the good, no matter the source. God uses means both normal and unusual, and, if we are well related to him, we should be able to discern God’s actions wherever or however they manifest themselves.

Scripture today, especially in the letter of St. James, also speaks strongly of recognizing evil, no matter its source in persons well placed or poor. This recognition of evil also depends upon our being related correctly to the Spirit of God, a spirit of discernment and right judgment.

Finally, Scripture today speaks of avoiding scandal at all costs, for scandal destroys our relationship to those who expect us to judge and act in accord with the Spirit that enables us to tell good from evil. It is scandalous, Jesus teaches, when the most vulnerable in society are not protected.

Since this is the Red Mass, I will not speak to our own actions, our personal account of good deeds and evil actions. These we can leave to be sorted out with our loved ones and our confessors, who help us to form our conscience and recognize sin, yours and mine, which I recognize to be many.

Rather, I would like to speak to the sins of the law itself, to three instances where the law itself is, as positive law, a cause of scandal, instances where the law abuses its own purpose and nature. There is no need to belabor what I will mention, but I believe there may be need to consider how these instances weaken the relationship between the law itself and its servants and subjects. Can the law sin against itself? It has done so: one need only think of the Jim Crow laws that survived into my boyhood; and it does so still. The sins of the law are a moral challenge for all those who swear to serve it.

Examining the law itself in terms of its own nature as law is an approach to these topics that is never considered in the categories of the media, which treat law only as a means to achieve human desires. The media stories are always of persons, never of principles; but that is a limitation that lawyers, men and women of principle, cannot allow to govern their profession.

The first instance of legal scandal is the much-discussed HHS health care mandate. This has little to do directly with the morality or immorality of contraceptive sex or of bodies neutered by sterilization; it has everything to do with law claiming a fictitious authority to determine what is religious and what is not. It is a scandal that the law is being used against the common good of a free society. It is a tragedy that legal authority itself is being abused and turned to an evil end.

The second instance of legal scandal is the much-discussed proposal to use civil law to re-define the nature of marriage. This has little to do directly with the morality or immorality of homosexual genital relationships; it has everything to do with the civil law claiming fictitious authority over a natural institution that it did not create and has no right to change.

Marriage has been what it is long before either the church or the state came into existence; it is based on the natural sexual complementary of two genders. Marriage will remain what it is long after our present legal system and governmental institutions pass into history.

It is a scandal now that the law is being used as a formal or procedural device against the substantive common good of society. Abstract legal equality is being used to subvert relationships given us in nature itself.

The third instance of legal scandal is the too long discussed issue of the legal status of unborn children in our society. The scandal here lies not in the law overreaching, as in the case of religion and marriage, but of the law defaulting on its very reason for being: to protect from physical violence those who have no other protection but the law.

This has little to do directly with the crime of directly killing a human being; it has everything to do with civil law de-legitimating itself by delivering up the most vulnerable among us to the decisions of those upon whom they should be able to depend to protect them. We rightly decry street violence; but the difference between destroying unwanted children on the streets and destroying them in the womb is just a matter of a few years. Children learn their lessons well, and it is a scandal that the law has been turned on its head and betrays its own vocation to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

Scandalously, our legal system no longer protects significant minorities: unborn children, Catholics and their institutions who would like to continue to enjoy the freedom we used to take for granted; those who continue to hold what the common sense of the human race has always held: marriage is based on the sexual union of a man and woman, an opinion we’ve now been told is no longer that of the majority and therefore need not be respected or protected in law.

What is left now to our common life is whatever a legislative majority or the often-manipulated whims of popular majority opinion will tolerate. That is no longer a classical Constitutional legal order. The law has betrayed its own vocation.

The crisis of law today shows the need to go beyond positive law to ask: What does it mean to be a human person? What difference does it make if one believes he has created himself on his own or is, in fact, a creature of God? What does it mean to be a conscientious lawyer, given the state of American civil law today? For the first two questions, the church can be of help. For the last question, I am sure you are of help to one another.

Today, at this Red Mass, let me say only what Scripture brings to us: welcome the good, no matter its source; recognize evil, no matter the actor; and avoid the scandal that comes from betraying relationships that are not only legal but also human and, therefore, sacred. With all my heart, I thank you for your dedicated and conscientious service. May God bless you, your families and friends and co-workers in the service of the law.