NEW ORLEANS (CNS) – With growing tensions over the appropriate role of religion in society, the culture at large seems to compartmentalize religious faith and moral thought into something akin to “a hobby” said Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles Robert E. Barron, Oct. 4.
He made the comments in his homily at St. Louis Cathedral during the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Red Mass, which drew judges, lawyers and politicians.
“Today, it seems to me that the much greater threat comes from the side of an ideological secularism which would like to completely remove religion from the playing field or, at the very least, confine it to the realm of private life so that it function as a kind of hobby, âsaid Bishop Barron, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.
The annual Red Mass was attended by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, members of the Louisiana Supreme Court, other members of the judiciary and government officials.
If religious principles were relegated to the background, said Bishop Barron, “then our society loses its soul, our laws lose their roots in moral and spiritual law and our democracy loses its cohesion”.
“I would say that resistance to this type of secularizing attack on religion should be of paramount importance to Catholics within the legal and political establishment,” he added.
Bishop Barron mapped out the relationship between religion and law based on the book of Genesis, which states that God created all finite things, “identifying them as creatures of the one God,” not as gods in themselves, as we see in other ancient religions.
“By identifying them as creatures of the one God, the author of Genesis brings them down from a pedestal,” he said. âBut, at the same time and to the same extent, he establishes that they have their own integrity. The secular space is opened by God in the very act of creation.
Contrary to the idea that Israel was a theocracy, Bishop Barron declared that its leaders were “neither prophets nor priests”.
âThere is a royal palace and a priestly temple – and they are not the same,â he said. âThere are two distinct kingdoms. At the same time, the work (of the king) is always done under God, that is to say in accordance with divine law, which judges him personally and his decisions.
âTherefore, in the biblical interpretation, political leaders, precisely because they are not divine figures and yet under the authority of God, can and should be criticized. “
Even King David, Israel’s greatest ruler, was marked in the Bible “as an adulterer and a murderer,” he said.
“But, notice, even though they scold them harshly, the prophets do not question the rightful authority of kings, nor do they attempt to eliminate the office of king,” Bishop Barron said. “In short, we see that the Bible invites us into this creative tension between nature and grace or between the sacred and the profane or between church and state, to use our terms.”
Bishop Barron said a 2nd century letter to Diognetus attempted to explain the unusual role early Christians played in politics and society in general, saying “they dwell in their own homeland but as if they were staying there “.
“This detachment was born from the deep conviction that they have,” said Bishop Barron. âUltimately, as Paul says, their citizenship is in Heaven. â¦ It is because Christians do not see a set of political arrangements as inevitably resulting from their faith that they can live happily enough in a variety of political and cultural contexts.
Bishop Barron said 19th-century philosopher and historian Alexis de Tocqueville’s fear that American democracy could be hampered by “creeping individualism” has become a matter of grave concern.
“Tocqueville saw in the rhetoric of Jefferson and the other founders a preference for the freedom of the individual to pursue happiness as he saw fit without any particular direction given by civil authorities,” said Bishop Barron. âThe danger, according to Tocqueville, was the opening up of a civic space totally devoid of any moral or spiritual finality, an arena in which individuals simply sought their own fundamentally materialistic ends.
âWhat is needed,â (Tocqueville) concluded, âis a vibrant religious culture that operates outside of direct state control but throughout civil societyâ¦ as the soul of the nation. Chairs, religious organizations, parishes, religious publishing houses, evangelistic companies would all provide moral and spiritual ballast to what would otherwise be a purely secular space. â¦ I wonder if this all sounds familiar to you? “
Bishop Barron was also inspired by the thirteenth century writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who taught that all positive laws are the prerogative of “properly constituted civil authority”, but to be legitimate they must be rooted “in natural law, which is to say that a set of moral prescriptions – for example, fostering life, fostering community, fostering knowledge and art, promoting religion – are convictions which are discernible in as objective values.
He said that Reverend Martin Luther King explicitly took Aquinas’ thought as his stating that “the Jim Crow laws of his day were unjust precisely in that they did not embody the principles of natural law and moral “.
âFinally, argues Thomas Aquinas, the moral law is based on the eternal law, which is identical to God’s rational purpose for the world,â he said. âThus, a supposedly moral law which would be in contradiction with the intentions of God would be revealed, ipso facto, as fraudulent. “
After mass, Governor Edwards greeted Bishop Barron outside the cathedral and thanked him for his message.
Bishop Barron responded by thanking Edwards, a pro-life Democrat, for his official actions: In 2019, Edwards signed state law banning abortion if a fetal heartbeat was detected.
The governor then asked Bishop Barron for a copy of his homily.
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Finney is editor / general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.