Below is the text of the talk and prayer I gave at a prayer rally today at the State Capital building in Cheyenne in anticpation of a new legislative session. It is very challenging to develop arguments that are faithful to our Church teaching which are “valid” in the public forum. In this forum, any references to God, Scripture, Church teaching of any kind, are readily dismissed. So, what follows is my first attempt to make such an argument.
I welcome this opportunity to be with you today as we come together to pray for our nation, our beloved State of Wyoming and our leaders. I welcome as well the opportunity to address some of the present challenges before us.
Central to many of our challenges is a proper understanding of the dignity of the human person. Key to addressing this challenge is a proper understanding of the legitimate relationship between politics and faith and a proper understanding of the long-standing and legitimate role of the separation of Church and state.
With your permission, I will offer a few thoughts, and close my reflections with a prayer.
I wish to offer some thoughts primarily for the deliberation of our legislators as they begin a new legislative session. I do so in this setting not only as a Bishop of the Catholic Church, but also as an American citizen. I offer these reflections as one who cherishes my freedom to believe and worship as I choose, while at the same time, honoring the religious freedom of others.
SACRED ORIGIN OF INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: “Natural Law”
In the Declaration of Independence, our Founding Fathers held that Truths are “self-evident”. They stated that individual human rights are endowed by our Creator. With such language and wisdom, our Founding Fathers acknowledged a Sacred Origin of human rights. With such language and wisdom, they also seemed to grasp the fact that the Truths endowed by the Creator are “self-evident”, meaning; they are attainable to every man and woman, of any and all times, through the power of human reason. In other words, there is a “natural law” written on the hearts of every human person. This “natural law” is at the heart of sound society; it is at the heart of our human dignity.
It is this universal truth – “self-evident” to any and all people – that is at the heart of legitimate laws that govern nations and people. Any law not subject to and flowing from the “natural law” is in essence not a true law – and when and where such laws exist, by nature, they do harm to the human person, which is to do harm to society at large. A perfect example is our nation’s present law legalizing abortion.
The challenge in a democracy such as our own is when truth is defined by the “majority”. Such truth is not universal, because it is subject to change over time; subject to change with each election season. This is why it is critical for our laws to be rooted in the “natural law” – universal truth – which is discernible by human reason to people of every time and age.
With this language and wisdom outlined by our Founding Fathers, I would pose a question to the American people and public leaders of our own time: If we acknowledge, as did our Founding Fathers, that our individual human rights are endowed by our Creator, and thus have a Sacred Origin, does it not necessarily follow that the individual who bears these rights has his or her foundation in the same Sacred Origin? The obvious answer to this is “Yes”.
With such logic and appeal to the “natural law” written in the hearts of every human person, we come to understand the sacredness of every human life. The same “natural law” leads us to acknowledge not only the Sacred Origins of human life, but also the human origins of each individual, this human origin being the love of a husband and wife, one man, one woman.
Church and Government Working Together:
Church and Government share common interests; the human person and the good of society. A long standing priority of the Church has been to define and defend the dignity of every human person, while at the same time a primary goal of government is the safety and security of its citizenry and the right ordering of society.
As I understand it, the role of separation between Church and state is to provide that no one religion dictates to the Government, and vice-versa, that the Government not impede the legitimate freedom of any individual to worship as he or she chooses. However, such legitimate checks and balances do not mean the Church is not allowed to help guide and shape the moral conscience of our public life.
The Church does not dictate to government, nor does it desire to, but she does have a legitimate voice and role to play in helping those in leadership understand the truest nature of the human person, whose person and relationships are at the heart of properly ordered society.
Part of the work and teaching of the Church is to help expound the Truth and to properly form conscience according to this Truth that is known by human reason and enlightened by faith. This work goes on in the private life of every believer, including those elected to public office. It is in this private sphere of faith that the Church properly teaches and helps every human person develop to their full potential and understand their proper relationship and responsibility to others, to the world, and to God. It is from this private practice and formation in the faith that we all enter into the public realm of politics.
Thus, the electorate has an obligation to vote according to their conscience, and elected officials also carry a heavy responsibility to bring their own personal conscience and convictions, (properly formed through faith) to their public duty which is the promotion and defense of the human person and the good of society.
My dear friends, I wish to assure you of my prayers for all our people, the citizens of this great state, and the people we elect to represent us. I promise to do my best to be a sound moral voice helping to properly form the values and consciences of our people, and to assist our legislators any way I can to properly understand the present day human condition as well as the “natural law” that guides us all.
Please allow me to simply close with a prayer, in the language of my Roman Catholic Tradition:
Good and Gracious God, Creator of all, hear our prayer this day for our nation, state and our duly elected officials. Grant us Your guiding Light to know the laws You have written in our hearts. Grant us the grace and Wisdom to know Your Truth, Jesus Christ, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life of every person. Grant that we may walk always in the paths of His Truth, that the laws of our land may mirror Your Divine Justice. Grant that we may grow in our reverence for the sacredness of the life You create. Help us to live in right relationship with each other, the world You created, and especially with You, our Creator. We ask all this in the name of Jesus your Son, who is Lord forever and ever.