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Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Advancing the Culture of Life in Hope and With Obedience

by Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, D.D., J.C.D.


Cardinal Raymond Burke gave this keynote address at the first-ever McHenry County Prayer Breakfast, in Crystal Lake, Illinois on Oct 26, 2011.

Publisher & Date

Diocese of Rockford, October 29, 2011


It brings me great joy to speak at your prayer breakfast. It is my hope to foster the most worthy mission of the McHenry County Catholic Prayer Breakfast, namely, "to strengthen the Catholic faith of its members."1

It pleases me, in particular, to support a work which has the blessing of the Most Reverend Thomas G. Doran, Bishop of Rockford, who will complete fifty years of priestly life and ministry, on this coming December 20'h. As a true shepherd of souls in your midst, His Excellency has been an indefatigable teacher of Catholic faith and discipline. He has not hesitated to state clearly the great challenge of living in Christ in our time, what Blessed Pope John Paul II called meeting "the high standard of ordinary Christian living."2 In Bishop Doran's book, At the Crossroads: A Vision of Hope, published during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, he wrote:

We accept things in contemporary society that we know in the depths of our being are terribly, terribly wrong, and we do not want to talk about them. If a child is inconvenient before it is born, kill him, kill her, but do not call it killing, call it abortion. If a person lives beyond the years when the doctor and society consider that person to be useful, kill him, kill her, but do not call it killing, call it euthanasia.3

Before the grave evils which beset our time, above all the attacks on the inviolable dignity of innocent human life and the integrity of marriage and the family, Bishop Doran has consistently offered solid hope, the hope which has its foundation in Christ alive for us in the Church. He has helped us to see the way to true freedom and happiness, which is taught to us by Christ through our conscience, and has shown how Christ, in His Church, has provided for us, in a wonderful way, every help to live a good and upright life, to find joy and peace in this life, and to attain the fullness of joy and peace in the life which is to come.

In his just-mentioned book, he carefully set forth the riches of Catholic faith and practice: the Ten Commandments, the Nicene Creed, and the Sacraments. He provided the context for his presentation with these words:

God knows our flawed nature, knows us better than we know ourselves, loves us in spite of our flaws, and has given us in the Church every help, every aid, every assistance, every advantage to help us respond to his love. Those helps all fit together in the Church like the beautiful mosaic mentioned earlier, locking together like the pieces of a puzzle which satisfies our search, our quest.4

Bishop Thomas Doran has truly exemplified in his ministry as priest and bishop, the motto which he chose for his coat of arms: Spes Anchora Vitae, Hope Anchor of Life.

When I received the invitation from Fred Wickham to speak to you and learned that the Prayer Breakfast would honor, in a special way, Bishop Doran, on the occasion of his fiftieth anniversary of priesthood ordination, I wanted to do everything within my power to be with you for the celebration. I thank God that He has made it possible for me to be with you as you honor Bishop Doran and to express personally to him my sentiments of deepest fraternal esteem and my prayerful best wishes on the occasion of his golden priestly jubilee.

In the meantime, there is another cause of great joy for me in coming to the Diocese of Rockford, at this time, namely, our Holy Father's recent naming of Bishop-Elect David D. Kagan, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia of the Diocese, to the See of Bismarck. Bishop Kagan and I were classmates during the last four years of preparation for priesthood ordination. As you know better than I, he has, for many years, in a most competent and discreet manner, assisted Bishop Doran in carrying out his many and often difficult responsibilities as Diocesan Bishop. Bishop-Elect Kagan is well prepared, both by his studies and by his most rich priestly experience, to take up his new pastoral responsibilities. I personally hold him in the highest esteem, and I am pleased to be able to congratulate him publicly in his home diocese which he loves very much and has served so well.

Finally, I commend Fred Wickham. your chairman; Monsignor Daniel Hermes, your chaplain; and the entire Board of Directors for the outstanding work which you are doing. There can be no more effective way to address the challenges in our personal lives and in our society than to deepen and fortify our understanding and practice of the Catholic faith, the great work to which the McHenry County Catholic Prayer Breakfast directs all its efforts. That truth, after all, was the inspiration of Bishop Doran's writing of At the Crossroads: A Vision of Hope.

Struggle in the Advancement of the Culture of Life

We are presently experiencing in our nation a period of intense struggle in the advancement of the culture of life. Our government follows openly and aggressively a totally secularist philosophy with its inherent anti-life and anti-family agenda. On this past October 6th, for example, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, spoke at the "Power of Choice" Luncheon of the National Abortion Rights Action League, at The Standard Club in Chicago, to advance our government's promotion of procured abortion. Referring to those who are working to have our government cease the funding of procured abortions and of organizations like Planned Parenthood which promote and provide procured abortions, she declared: "We've come a long way in women's health over the last few decades, but we are in a war."5 Recalling Bishop Doran's words about the language used to describe gravely evil acts, we see that the Secretary of Health and Human Services refuses to talk about the destruction of an innocent and defenseless human life in the mother's womb, describing it as promoting woman's health.

Even though the language of Christian faith may be used in public discourse and the name of God may be invoked, programs and policies are proposed and legislated for us, which totally fail to respect God and His Law written upon the human heart.6 Regarding the speech of Kathleen Sebelius, it is profoundly saddening to note that she presents herself as a practicing Catholic, while engaging in public speech which is gravely injurious to good morals.7 Catholics in public office, who obstinately persist in advocating and providing for the most egregious violations of the natural moral law, are the cause of the gravest scandal; they confuse and lead into error their fellow Catholics and non-Catholics alike regarding the most fundamental truths of the moral law.

Other Cultures and American Culture

The struggle which we are experiencing has been suffered in other cultures. Western Europe, for example, has become pervasively secularized. A culture which is totally Christian in its roots and owes its entire development to the Christian faith now does not want in any way to be associated with the name of Christ, It is a culture which is dying, but there arc many faithful Christians who live in Western Europe, who have not given up hope and who work to transform the society. Often, before Western Europe, America has a sense of inferiority, at least, from the cultural point of view. The truth is that Western Europe now looks to America for a sign that the battle against secularization, against practical atheism, can be won for the sake of life and the spread of the Christian faith.

With all of the difficulties which we face in America, America, thanks be to God, has still not renounced the Christian roots of our culture. Many of our citizens are not ashamed to invoke the name of God and of His only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Many of our citizens defend the right to observe the dictates of a rightly-formed Christian conscience, against those, even in government, who want to force Christians to violate the dictates of conscience regarding the most fundamental moral truths, that is, the inviolable dignity of innocent and defenseless human life, and the integrity of marriage as the faithful, enduring and life-giving union of one man and one woman. But the forces which would lead us down the path of cultural death through the denial of the Christian roots of our culture are strong, and we must be steadfast in encouraging all who are engaged in the battle for life and for a culture of life.

In advancing the respect for human life in our culture, we should acknowledge publicly the truth that our service of human life is Christian, that is, it is a service carried out in the name of Christ and with the love of Christ. For example, our service offered to mothers and the infants in their wombs is inspired by Christ who loves all men, without boundary, and seeks to save all. We carry out our mission in Christ through the support of others inspired by the love of Christ, and not the support of tax dollars. Our apostolate of life must clearly reflect the truth that the victory of life will be won by Christ alone and, first, through the family.

Today, sadly, through a failure of education, first, in the family and then in our schools, many do not understand the nature of human life itself, created in the image and likeness of God, and redeemed by the suffering and death of God the Son Incarnate. They have lost the sense of their own inherent dignity as true sons and daughters of God and, therefore, have lost respect for their neighbors as brothers and sisters in the one family whose Father is in Heaven and loves His children with all His heart. Our mission of promoting respect for all human life must, in a particular way, devote itself to promoting purity of heart, sexual purity. The virtue of purity is fundamentally the disciplined expression of respect for life as God created us, male and female.8 In this regard, I note the confusion and error diffused through the language of gender, which fundamentally denies manhood and womanhood, and manipulates human sexuality to include a host of immoral activities which are a violation of the relationship of male and female, as God ordained it from the beginning.

Consistent Witness to the Truth

What our society needs so desperately is the consistent witness to the truth, expressed in the Sacred Scriptures and in Tradition, which, demands, first and foremost, that we safeguard and foster all human life from its inception to natural death, and that we honor and promote the integrity of the conjugal union of man and woman, who, cooperating with God, generate and bring into the world new human life. The safeguarding of human life and the respect for the marital union are the fundamental and essential foundation stones for the building of a culture of life in our nation.

With regard to procured abortion, witness to the truth not only demands that we assist troubled mothers directly but also that we engage in the work of educating our children and young people to know the truth that "the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown."9 It, therefore, also demands that we teach our children and young people the virtue of purity, which prepares a man and a woman to give themselves totally to each other and to their offspring in marriage. Sadly, our culture has robbed from the work of education the teaching of the very first lessons of life, the lessons without which nothing else which the culture teaches us makes any sense.

The tireless promotion of the culture of life, in accord with the truth inscribed upon the heart of every man and announced in the Gospel, in fact, responds to the deepest longing of every man, and of society itself. Right reason itself teaches us the Golden Rule, which our Lord Jesus Christ enunciated in the Sermon on the Mount. God the Father inscribes upon every human heart the truth declared by our Lord: "So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets."10

For my part. I refuse to believe that most of our fellow countrymen are in favor of destroying babies in the womb in order to honor the so-called right of a woman to make a choice about pregnancy, as if we are ever free to choose with regard to what nature itself has ordained, in accord with God's plan for man and woman.) refuse to believe that most of our countrymen are in favor of generating human life artificially and then destroying it at the embryonic stage of development for the sake of experiments, no matter how noble may be the supposed goals of the experimentation. I refuse to believe that most of our countrymen are in favor of the redefinition of what nature has ordained regarding the union of man and woman in marriage for the sake of their salvation and the procreation and education of offspring to include relationships which are contrary to nature and a betrayal of true friendship between persons of the same sex.

Sadly, American culture is becoming more and more a culture of death, but we. as Christians, as sons and daughters of God brought to life and made heirs of eternal life, know that the culture can be transformed by our cooperation with God's grace. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself began the description of His vocation and mission as the Good Shepherd with the words: "1 came that they may have life and have it abundantly."11 Our Lord, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, continues the mission through His Church, through us who are the living members of His Mystical Body.

The First Presupposition of the Advancement of the Culture of Life

The first presupposition of our tireless struggle to advance the respect for the inviolable dignity of innocent human life and for the integrity of marriage and the family is the truth that the struggle against total secularization, which is, by definition, opposed to human life and to the family, is full of hope. It is, by no means, futile, that is, it is not ultimately destined to failure. The fundamental presupposition is the victory of life, which Our Lord Jesus Christ, has already won.

Christ animates the Church in time with the grace of His victory over sin and death, accomplished on Calvary, until the victory reaches its consummation, at His Final Coming, in the Heavenly Jerusalem. Notwithstanding the grave situation of the attack on innocent and defenseless human life and on the integrity of marriage as the union of man and woman in a bond of lifelong, faithful and procreative love, there remains a strong voice in defense of our littlest and most vulnerable brothers and sisters, without boundary or exception, and of the truth about the marital union as it was constituted by God at the Creation. The Christian voice, the voice of Christ, which reaches us through the apostolic ministry, remains always strong in the world. The voice of men and women of good will, who recognize. and obey the law of God written upon their hearts, remains strong.

Living in a totally secularized culture, we must open our eyes to sec that many recognize the human bankruptcy of our culture and are looking with hope to the Church for the inspiration and strength to claim anew the God-fearing and Christian foundations of every truly human society. God has created us to choose life; God the Son Incarnate has won the victory of life for us, the victory over sin and everlasting death.12We, therefore, must never give up in the struggle to advance a culture founded on the choice of life, which God has written upon our hearts, and the victory of life, which Christ has won in our human nature. In fact, we witness every day the commitment of God-fearing brothers and sisters who advance the cause of life and the family in their homes, in their local communities, in their homelands, and in the world.

The Second Presupposition: The Essential Relationship of Human Life and the Family

The second fundamental presupposition of our struggle to advance the culture of life is the essential relationship of the respect for human life and the respect for the integrity of marriage and the family. The attack on the innocent and defenseless life of the unborn has its origin in an erroneous view of human sexuality, which attempts to eliminate, by mechanical or chemical means, the essentially procreative nature of the conjugal act. The error maintains that the artificially altered conjugal act retains its integrity. The claim is that the act remains unitive or loving, even though the procreative nature of the act has been radically violated. In fact, it is not unitive, for one or both of the partners withholds an essential part of the gift of self, which is the essence of the conjugal union. The so-called "contraceptive mentality" is essentially anti-life. Many forms of so-called contraception are, in fact, abortifacient, that is, they destroy, at its beginning, a life which has already been conceived.

The manipulation of the conjugal act, as the Servant of God Pope Paul VI prophetically observed, has led to many forms of violence to marriage and family life.13 Through the spread of the contraceptive mentality, especially among the young, human sexuality is no longer seen as the gift of God, which draws a man and a woman together in a bond of lifelong and faithful love, crowned by the gift of new human life, but, rather, as a tool for personal gratification. Once sexual union is no longer seen to be, by its very nature, procreative, human sexuality is abused in ways that are profoundly harmful and indeed destructive of individuals and of society itself. One has only to think of the devastation which is daily wrought in our world by the multi-million dollar industry of pornography. Essential to the advancement of the culture of life is the proclamation of the truth about the conjugal union, in its fullness, and the correction of the contraceptive thinking which fears life, which fears procreation.

It is instructive to note that Pope Benedict XVI, in his Encyclical Letter on the Church's social doctrine, makes special reference to Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae, underscoring its importance "for delineating the fully human meaning of the development that the Church proposes."14 Pope Benedict XVI makes clear that the teaching in Humanae Vitae was not a matter of "purely individual morality," declaring:

Humane vitae indicates the strong links between life ethics and social ethics, ushering in a new area of magisterial teaching that has gradually been articulated in a series of documents, most recently John Paul II's Encyclical Evangelium vitae.15

His Holiness reminds us of the essential part which a right understanding of our sexuality has in true human development.

In treating the whole question of procreation, he underscores the critical nature of the right understanding of human sexuality, marriage and the family. He declares:

The Church, in her concern for man's authentic development, urges him to have full respect for human values in the exercise of his sexuality. It cannot be reduced merely to pleasure or entertainment, nor can sex education be reduced to technical instruction aimed solely at protecting the interested parties from possible disease or the "risk" of procreation. This would be to impoverish and disregard the deeper meaning of sexuality, a meaning which needs to be acknowledged and responsibly appropriated not only by individuals but also by the community.16

The respect for the integrity of the conjugal act is essential to the advancement of the culture of life. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, it is necessary "once more to hold up to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family, and the fact that these institutions correspond to the deepest needs and dignity of the person."17 Accordingly, he notes that "States are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character."18

The Magisterium and the Advancement of the Culture of Life

The relationship of the Magisterium to our eternal salvation lies at the very foundation of our life in Christ. In a world which prizes, above all else, individualism and self-determination, the Christian is easily tempted to view the Magisterium in relationship to his individualism and self-pursuit. In other words, he is tempted to relativize the authority of the Magisterium. The phenomenon today is popularly known as "cafeteria Catholicism."

The service of the Bishop, as true shepherd of the flock, is essential, indeed irreplaceable. The Venerable Pope John Paul II, in his Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis, "On the Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World," promulgated on October 16, 2003, the twenty-fifth anniversary of his election to the See of Saint Peter, recalled the Rite of Ordination of a Bishop and, specifically, the imposition of the Book of the Gospels on the head of the Bishop-elect," during the Prayer of Consecration, which contains the form of the Sacrament, observing:

This gesture indicates, On the one hand, that the Word embraces and watches over the Bishop's ministry and, on the other, that the Bishop's life is to be completely submitted to the Word of God in his daily commitment of preaching the Gospel in all patience and sound doctrine (cf. 2 Tim, 4).19

A bit earlier in the same Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, he stressed that the proclamation of Christ always takes first place and that the Bishop is the first preacher of the Gospel by his words and by the witness of his life."20 He then reminded Bishops to "be aware of the challenges of the present hour and have the courage to face them."21

The entire content of our faith, what Saint Paul in his First and Second Letters to Timothy calls the deposit of faith, is found in Sacred Scripture and Tradition.22 The faith, in its integrity, has been entrusted to the Church by Christ through the ministry of the Apostles. The deposit of faith is the teaching of the Apostles and the living of that teaching in the life of prayer and the sacramental life, and the witness of the teaching in the moral life. The foundation is the sound doctrine which finds its highest expression in the Sacraments, above all the Holy Eucharist, and which is witnessed in the holiness of life of the believer.23

The responsibility for the deposit of the faith and its transmission in every age belongs "exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church."24 The "living teaching office" or Magisterium of the Church, exercised by the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops in communion with him, has its authority from our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ has conferred upon the Apostles, with Peter as their Head, and their successors, the Bishops, with the Successor of Peter, as their head, the authority to teach authentically.25

The Roman Pontiff and the Bishops are servants of Christ and of His holy Word. The Magisterium "is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed."26 The Roman Pontiff and the Bishops in communion with him teach only what is contained in the deposit of faith as divinely revealed truth.27

The Magisterium, in obedience to Christ and by the power of the particular grace of the Holy Spirit, interprets the Word of God, contained in the Sacred Scriptures and Tradition, in matters of both faith and morals. The Roman Pontiff and the Bishops in communion with him define the dogmas of the faith, that is, the truths contained in the deposit of faith and "truths having a necessary connection with these."28

With regard to morals, the Magisterium presents faithfully the Decalogue and the requirements of the life of the virtues. The teaching office would fail in its God-given mission, if it did not apply the living Tradition to the circumstances of daily life in Christ. Blessed Pope John Paul exhorted Bishops to exercise the Magisterium regarding the moral life with these words:

The rules that the Church sets forth reflect the divine Commandments, which find their crown and synthesis in the Gospel command of love. The end to which every divine rule tends is the greater good of human beings.... Nor must we forget that the Ten Commandments have a firm foundation in human nature itself, and thus the goods which they defend have universal validity. This is particularly true of goods such as human life, which must be defended from conception until its end in natural death; the freedom of individuals and of nations, social justice and the structures needed to achieve it.29

In a culture beset by what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in his homily on the morning of the beginning of the conclave in which he was elected Successor of Saint Peter, called the "dictatorship of relativism," the Bishop, as Chief Teacher of the faith and morals in the Diocese, carries an especially heavy and constant burden in providing the sound teaching which safeguards and promotes the good of all the faithful, especially of those who cannot take care of or defend themselves.30

Catechesis is a most fundamental responsibility which the Bishop exercises on behalf of the good of the faithful entrusted to his care, ultimately, of the supreme good of their eternal salvation. Pope John Paul II reminded Bishops that they fulfill their responsibility by the first proclamation of the faith, or kerygma, "which is always needed for bringing about the obedience of faith, but is all the more urgent today, in times marked by indifference and by religious ignorance on the part of many Christians."31 United to the kerygma is the catechesis of those who have embraced the faith and strive to be obedient to the faith. Pope John Paul II declared: "It is therefore the duty of every Bishop to give real priority in his particular Church to active and effective catechesis. He must demonstrate his personal concern through direct interventions aimed at promoting and preserving an authentic passion for catechesis."32

As Pope John Paul II reminded the Bishops, in the just-quoted exhortation, the Magisterium includes also the precepts of the natural law written by God upon the human heart, the requirements of conduct inherent in man's very nature and in the order of the world, God's creation. Obedience to the demands of the natural law is necessary for salvation, and, therefore, the teaching of the natural law is within the authority of the Magisterium and part of its solemn responsibility. "In recalling the prescriptions of the natural law, the Magisterium of the Church exercises an essential part of its prophetic office of proclaiming to men who they truly are and reminding them of what they should be before God."33 When Bishops and faithful obediently submit themselves in mind and heart to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the perennial truth of the faith shines forth in the whole Church for the building up of the Body of Christ and the transformation of the world.

The Response of Obedience of Faith

The response of both Bishop and the faithful to the exercise of the teaching authority of Christ is obedience, for they recognize in the truths proclaimed, regarding faith and morals, the infallible guide to their salvation in Christ Who said to His Apostles: "He who hears you, hears me."34 The words of our Lord are unmistakable in their meaning for us.

Obedience to the Magisterium is a virtue and is attained, with the help of God's grace, through the practice of such obedience. When the shepherds of the flock are obedient to the Magisterium, entrusted to their exercise, then the members of the flock grow in obedience and proceed, with Christ, along the way of salvation. If the shepherd is not obedient, the flock easily gives way to confusion and error. The shepherd must be especially attentive to the assaults of Satan who knows that, if he can strike the shepherd, the work of scattering the flock will be made easy.35

In his Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, "On the Relationship between Faith and Reason," Pope John Paul II reminded us that the Magisterium is bound strictly to Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, while, at the same time, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are handed on from one generation to the next through the obedience to the Magisterium. He declared:

The "supreme rule of her faith" derives from the unity which the Spirit has created between Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church in a reciprocity which means that none of the three can survive without the others.36

The faith is living. The faith is received through the action of the Holy Spirit dwelling within the soul, and it is expressed by the purifying and strengthening action of the Holy Spirit Who inspires man to put the faith into practice.

The disposition of mind and heart to believe all that God has revealed to us and to do all that He asks of us is the obedience of faith. The obedience of faith is the fitting response to the revelation of God, which has its fullness in Our Lord Jesus Christ.37 Obedience to the Magisterium, the guardian and teacher of the faith, is the Fundamental disposition of the baptized and confirmed Catholic.38

The Blessed Virgin Mary lived perfectly the obedience of faith. At the Visitation. Elizabeth, her cousin, described Mary's identity as Mother of the Redeemer with the words: "Blessed is she who believed that the Lord's words to her would be fulfilled." 39 Mary's response to the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel expressed perfectly the disposition of total obedience, which marked her soul: "I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word."40 Mary's response is the model of our daily response to God's will in our lives, which the Church's Magisterium teaches to us. The last words of our Blessed Mother, recorded in the Gospel, are the summary of her maternal instruction to us. When the wine stewards at the Wedding Feast of Cana approached her, seeking her help, she directed them to the Son of God, her Son, with the counsel: "Do whatever He tells you."41 Obeying her maternal counsel, the wine stewards witnessed the first miracle during the public ministry of Jesus.

Faith is, first of all, "personal adherence of man to God."42 When we believe all that God has revealed to us, we place all our trust in Him, in His Providence. Such trust can be placed in God alone. Faith in God the Father and total trust in His promises is clearly faith in Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, and in the Holy Spirit Who dwells with us always in the Church.43 Our Lord Jesus Christ makes us one with Him in doing all that the Father asks of us by pouring forth into our souls the sevenfold gift of the Holy Spirit: the grace of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to know God's will and to do it with courage. The sevenfold gift of the Holy Spirit produces in our souls a sevenfold disposition which may be described as the obedience of faith.

The moral life flows from our faith in God. It is the "obedience of faith" in action. The first tablet of the Ten Commandments governs our right relationship with God, which makes possible our right relationship with others and the world, governed by the second tablet. When we fail morally, we also fail in faith.44 I often recall the words of a sage professor of Canon Law, who taught me the Church's discipline regarding clerics. More than once, he told the class: "Where there are problems of chastity, there are problems of obedience." Our rebellion against the moral truth is a rebellion against God and all that He teaches us.

Challenges to the Obedience to the Magisterium

Obedience to the Magisterium is difficult for man in every age. The practice of the "obedience of faith" is difficult to master. The difficulty comes both from within us and from outside of us. We suffer the effects of the sin of our First Parents, which fundamentally was a sin of prideful disobedience, of rebellion against God's will. The grace of the Holy Spirit, poured forth into our soul through Baptism, strengthened and increased in our soul through Confirmation, and nourished within our soul through the Holy Eucharist. alone helps us to overcome our inherited tendency to rebellion and disobedience.

From outside of us, Satan never rests in proposing to us the same temptation which he proposed to our First Parents, the temptation to act as if God did not exist, to act as if we are gods. The world around us, the culture in which we live, to the degree that it is has succumbed to Satan's deceptions, is a source of strong temptation for us. Our culture, in fact, has been described as "godless" both by Pope John Paul II and by Pope Benedict XVI. Our culture teaches us to act as if God did not exist. At the same time, it teaches a radical individualism and self-interest which lead us away from the love of God and from the love of one another.

Often the lack of obedience to the Magisterium is not total but selective. Our culture teaches us to believe what is convenient and to reject what is difficult for us or challenges us. Thus, we can easily fall into "cafeteria Catholicism," a practice of the faith, which picks and chooses what part of the deposit of faith to believe and practice. A most tragic example of the lack of obedience of faith, also on the part of certain Bishops, was the response of many to the Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae of Pope Paul VI, published on July 25, 1968. The confusion which resulted has led many Cath9olics into habits of sin in what pertains to the procreation and education of human life.

The lack of integrity in obeying the Magisterium is also seen in the hypocrisy of Catholics who claim to be practicing their faith but who refuse to apply the truth of the faith in their exercise of politics, medicine, business and the other human endeavors. These Catholics claim to hold "personally" to the truth of the faith, for example, regarding the inviolability of innocent and defenseless human life, while, in the political arena or in the practice of medicine, they cooperate in the attack on our unborn brothers and sisters, or on our brothers and sisters who have grown weak under the burden of years, of illness, or of special needs. Their disobedience pertains not to some truth particular to the life of the Church, that is, not to some confessional matter, but to the truth of the divine natural law written on every human heart and, therefore, to be obeyed by all men.

The obedience of faith obliges us in all situations of life, also in situations in which it is most difficult to do what God asks of us. Ultimately, the obedience of faith could require martyrdom. In his Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, "Regarding Certain Fundamental Questions of the Church's Moral Teaching" of August 6, 1993, Pope John Paul II taught us that there can be no compromise in the obedience to the moral teaching of the Magisterium:

Even in the most difficult situations man must respect the norm of morality so that he can be obedient to God's holy commandments and consistent with his own dignity as a person. Certainly, maintaining a harmony between freedom and truth occasionally demands uncommon sacrifices, and must be won at a high price: it can even involve martyrdom.45

The Common Good and the Promotion of the Culture of Life

Finally, in advancing the culture of life, we must be clear about the objective meaning of the common good. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council described the common good as --the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily."46 The fulfillment of individuals and societies is not some subjective determination by those, for example, who are in power. It is the fulfillment which is written in the very nature of man, in nature itself. It is the fulfillment for which God has created us and our world, not the fulfillment which, at any given time, we may find attractive or useful. It is interesting to note that the English word, fulfillment, translates the Latin word, perfectio, that is, the perfection of the individual or group, according to man's proper nature and end.

In advancing the culture of life, we must be clear about the objective nature of the common good and of the perfection which it makes possible. Not everyone who uses the term, common good, understands its true meaning. A well-known European Catholic theologian, commenting on the Commencement Address of United States President Barack Obama at Notre Dame University on May 1 of 2009, declared:

In fact, the speech to the University of Notre Dame seems strewn with references taken from the Christian tradition. There is, for example an expression which frequently returns, "common ground," which corresponds to a fundamental concept of the social teaching of the Church, that of the common good .47

The common good refers to an objective perfection which is not defined by common agreement among some or even a majority of us. The common good is defined by creation itself as it has come from the hand of the Creator. Not only does the notion of common ground not correspond to the reality of the common good, it can well be antithetical to it, for instance, should there be common agreement in society to accept as good for society what is, in reality, always and everywhere evil.

In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, the common good "is the good of 'all of use, made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society."'48 The common good corresponds "to the real needs of our neighbors"; it is an act of charity which each Christian is to exercise In a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the polls."49 Pope Benedict XVI consoles and urges us onward in seeking the common good:

God's love calls us to move beyond the limited and the ephemeral, it gives us the courage to continue seeking and working for the benefit of all, even if this cannot be achieved immediately and if what we are able to achieve, alongside political authorities and those working in the field of economics, is always less than we might wish. God gives us the strength to fight and to suffer for love of the common good, because he is our All, our greatest hope.50


Let us, obedient to the Magisterium, engage with new enthusiasm and new energy in the struggle to advance the culture of life in our nation. The struggle is fierce, and the contrary forces are many and clever. But the victory has already been won, and the Victor never fails to accompany us in the struggle, for he is faithful to His promise to us: "[A]nd lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."51

The obedience to the Magisterium is alone the way to participate in the victory of eternal life, and the service of the Bishops is irreplaceable in leading us all to an ever purer and stronger obedience. There is no other way to salvation than hearing God's Word and putting it into practice with all our being. We know that, if we speak the truth and live the truth, Who is Christ the Lord of heaven and earth, we will foster a culture of life in our world, a culture in which the common good is safeguarded and fostered for all, without boundary or exception.

The Letter to the Hebrews which teaches us, in a particular way, the "obedience of faith" reminds us that our Lord Himself "learned obedience through what he suffered" and thus became the source of eternal life, of eternal salvation, for us al1.52 We ask for the obedience of Christ each time we pray to God the Father in the words which our Savior Himself taught to us: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." The Catechism of the Catholic Church, commenting on these words of the Lord's Prayer, assures us that we, inspired by prayer, Christ's prayer in us, can do what is impossible for us, on our own, but becomes possible for us in Christ, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from His glorious pierced Heart:

How much more reason have we sinful creatures to learn obedience – we who in Him have become children of adoption, We ask our Father to unite our will to His Son's, in order to fulfill His will, His plan of salvation for the life of the world. We are radically incapable of this, but united with Jesus and with the power of His Holy Spirit, we can surrender our will to Him and decide to choose what His Son has always chosen: to do what is pleasing to the Father.53

Let us confide ourselves and our world to the prayers of the Mother of God. Through her ceaseless maternal care, she will not fail to bring us and our world to the truth, to her Divine Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. I conclude by making my own the prayer with which Pope Benedict XVI concluded his Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate:

May the Virgin Mary – proclaimed Mater Ecclesiae by Paul VI and honored by Christians as Speculum Iustitiae and Regina Pacis – protect us and obtain for us, through her heavenly intercession, the strength, hope and joy necessary to continue to dedicate ourselves with generosity to the task of bringing about "the development of the whole man and of all men."54

Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke
Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura


1 McHenry County Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Mission Statement

2 "superiorern modum m ordinariae vitae christianae." Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Epistula Apostolica Novo Millennio Ineunte,"Magni Iubilaei anni MM sub exitum." 6 Ianuarii 2001, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 93 (2001), p. 288, n. 31. English translation: Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte,"At the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000," 6 January 2001, Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2001, p. 43, no. 31.

3 Thomas G. Doran, At the Crossroads: A Vision of Hope, Rockford, Illinois: JGC/United Publishing Corps, 2000, pp. 26-27.

4 Ibid., p. 44. Cf. Ibid., pp. 171-172.


6 Cf. Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Adhortatio Apostolica Post-Synodalis Christifideles Laici, "De Vocatione et missione Laicorum in Ecclesia et in mundo,.." 30 Decembris 1988, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 81 (1989), pp. 454-457. n. 34. English translation: Pope John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, "On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World," 30 December 1988, Vatican City State: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 95-99, no. 34.

7 Cf. can. 1369.

8 Cf. Gn 1:27.

9 "Indole autem sua naturali, ipsum institutum matrimonii amorque coniugalis ad procreationem et educationem prolis ordinantur iisque veluti suo fastigio coronantur." Sacrosanctum Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum II Constitutio Pastoralis Gaudium et Spes, "De Ecclesia in Mundo Huius Temporis," 7 Decembris 1965, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 58 (1966), p. 1068, n. 48. [Hereafter, GS), English translation: Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes. "On the Church in the Modern World," 7 December 1965, in The Documents of Vatican II. Vatican Translation, Strathfield, NSW (Australia): St Pauls Publications, 2009, p. 160, no, 48. [Hereafter, GSE].

10 Mt 7:12.

11 Jn 10:10.

12 Cf. Dt 30:19: Jn 10:10.

13 Cf. Paulus PP. VI, Litterae Encyclicae Humanae Vitae, "De propagations humanae prolis recta ordinanda," 25 Iulii 1968, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 60 (1968), pp. 492-494, n. 17. English translation: Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae, "On the Proper Regulation of the Propagation of Offspring," 25 July 1968. Boston: Pauline Books & Media, nd,. pp. 8-9, no. 17.

14 "ut progressionis prorsus huntana significatio describatur, quam Ecclesia proponit." Benedictus PP. XVI, Litterae Encyclicae Caritas in Veritate, "De humana integra progression in caritate veritateque," 29 June 2009, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 101 (2009), p. 631, n. 15. [Hereafter, CV]. English translation: Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, "On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth," 29 June 2009, Vatican City State: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2009, p. 20, no. 15. [Hereafter, CVE].

15 "de re morali solummodo singuloram.... Litterae encyclicae «Humanae vitae» solida vincula designant, quae inter vitae ethicam et ethicam socialem intercedunt, magistrale quoddam insinuantes argumentum, quod gadatim variis in documentis auctum est, novissime in Ioannis Paul II Lieteris encyclicis Evangelium vitae." CV, p. 651, n. 15, English translation: CVE, p. 21, no. 15.

16 "Exclesia, cui corgi cst verus hominis progressus, monet eum ad plenam valorum observantiam, in sexualitate quoque exercenda: quae ad meram rem hedonisticam ludicramque redigi non potest, sicut educatio sexualis in technicam institutionem coartari non potest, si tantum cura habeatur eos quorum interest arcendi a quodam contagio vel a generandi "periculo". Hoc modo pauperior fieret et altus sexualitatis sensus extenuaretur, qui econtra agnosci et accipi debet cum responsalitate tam singularum personarum quam communitatis," CV, p. 680, n. 44. English translation; CVE, pp. 73-74. no. 44.

17 "novis generationibus adhuc proponendi pulchritudinem familiae et matrimonii, congruentiam huiusmodi institutionum cum altioribus postulatis cordis dignitatisque personae." CV, p. 681, n. 44. English translation: CVE, p. 75, no. 44.

18 "Hoc in prospectu Status vocantur ad normas politicas edendas, praeeminentiam integritatemque familiae promoventes, quae matrimonio nititur unius viri uniusque mulieris, quaeque exstat prima vitaliszue cellula atque in se recipit etiam quaestiones oeconomicas et nummarias, quoad ad ipsius necessitudinis indolem attinet." CV, p. 681, n. 44. English translation: CVE, p. 75, no. 44.

19 "quod significant, una ex parte, Verbum Episcopi ministerium involvere et custodire, et altera ex parte, vitam illius omnino subici debere Verbo Dei dum cotidie in praedicationem Evengelii incumbit omni longanimitate et doctrina (cfr 2 Tim 4)." Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Adhortatio Apostolica Post-Synodalis Pastures Gregis, "De Episcopo Ministro Evangelii Iesu Christi pro Mundi Spe," 16 Octobris 2003, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 96 (2004), p. 861, n. 28. [Hereafter, PG). English translation: Pope John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Gregis, "On the Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World," 16 October 2003. Vatican City State: Libreria Ediirice Vaticana, nd. 73-74, no. 28.[Hereafter. PGE].

20 "nuntium Christi primum locum obtinere et Episcopum tam verbis quam vitae testimonio primum esse Evangelii praeconem." PG, p. 860, n. 26. English translation: PGE, p. 71, no. 26.

21 "De provocationibus quae aetas nostra secumfert Episcopus conscius esse debet easque audacter oppetere." PG, p. 860, n. 26, English translation: PGE, p. 71. no. 26.

22 Cf. 1 Tm 6:20; and 2 Tm 1:12-14.

23 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 84.

24 "soli vivo Ecclesiae Magisterio." Sacrosanctum Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum II, Constitutio Dogmatica Del Verbum, "De Divina Revelatione," 18 Novembris 1965, Acta Apostalicae Sedis 58 (1966), p. 822, n. 10. [Hereafter, DV] English translation: Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Del Verbum, "On Divine Revelation, "18 November 1965, in The Documents of Vatican II, Vatican Translation. Strathfield, NSW (Australia): St Pauls Publications, 2009, p. 81, no. 10, [Hereafter, DVE].

25 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 85.

26 "non supra verbum Dei est, sed eidem rninistrat, docens nonnisi quad traditum est, quatenus illud, ex divine mandato et Spiritu Sancto assistente, pie audit, sancte custodit at fideliter exponit, ac ea omnia ex hoc uno fidei deposito haurit quae tamquam divinitus revelata credenda proponit." DV, p. 822, n. 10. English translation: DVE, p. 81, no. 10.

27 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 86.

28 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 88.

29 "Normae ab Ecclesia propositate referunt mandata divina, quae compendium constituunet et consummalionem in evangelico caritatis mandato. Finis ad quem tendunt singulae normae divinae optimum est hominis donum. . .Minime insuper obliviscendum est mandata Decalogi radices penitus immittere in ipsam naturam humanam et ideo animi bona, quae ipsi tuentur, universali pollere pondere. Hoc quidem praesertim respicit humanam vitam inde ab exordiis tuendam useque ad expletum cursum suum per mortem communem, libertatem personarum et nationum, iustitiam socialem necnon structuras ad eam exsequendam." PG. p. 865, n. 29. English translation: PGE, pp. 80-81, no. 29.

30 "dittatura del relativismo." "Initium Conclavis,"Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 97 [2005], p. 687. English translation by author.

31 "quod semper requiritur ad oboeditionem fidei sucitandam, sed adhuc urgentius fit hodierna in rerum condicione, in qua inter innumeros christifideles incuria saevit et ignorantia religiosa." PG, p. 864, n. 29. English translation: PGE, p. 78, no. 29.

32 "Qua de re cuiuslibet cpiscopi est in propria Ecclesia particulari primas partes actuosae et efitcaci catechesi tribuere. Immo ipsemet exsequi debet suam huiusmodi sollicitudinem per immediatos actus, quibus ipse directe quoque intersit ad authenticum flagransque catechesis studium excitandum et servandum." PG, p. 864. n. 29. English translation: POE, p. 79, no. 29. 33 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2036.

34 Lk 10:16.

35 Cf Zec 13:7.

36 "Etenim "suprema fidei eius regula" ex unitate oritur quam inter Sacram Traditionem, Sacram Scripturam et Ecclesiae Magisterium posuit Spiritus, quae si mutuo implicantur, ut haec tria seiunctim nullo modo esse possint." Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Litterae Encyclicae Fides et Ratio, "De necessitudinis natura inter fidem et rationem," 14 Septembris 1998, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 91 (1999), p. 49, n. 55. English translation: Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides at Ratio, "On the Relationship between Faith and Reason," 14 September 1998, Vatican City State: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, nd, p. 85, no. 55.

37 Cf. Heb 11:8.

38 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 142-141

39 Lk 1:45.

40 Lk 1:37-38.

41 Jn 2:5.

42 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 150.

43 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 151-152.

44 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2087-2088.

45 "Etiam in difficillimis condicionibus homo debet normam moralem servare, ut sancto Dei oboediat Mandato et sua congruens sit personali dignitati. Libertatis profecto veritatisque concordia postulat, interdum, impendia haud mediocria, atque magno comparatur: requirere potest etiam martyrium." Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Litterae Encyclicae Veritaiis Splendor, "De quibusdam quaestionibus fundamentalibus doctrinae moralis Ecclesiae," 7 Augusti 1993, Acta Aposiolicae Sedis p. 1213, n. 102. English translation: London: Catholic Truth Society, 1993, p. 105. no. 102.

46 "sumrnam eorum vitae socialis condicionum quae tum coetibus tum sigulis membris permittunt ut propriam perfectionem plenius atque expeditius consequantur," GS, p. 1056, n. 26. English translation: GSE, p. 142, no. 26.

47 Georges Cottier. O.P., "La politica, la morale e il peccato originale," 30Giorni. 2009, no. 5, p. 33.

48 "[b]onum est "omnium nostrorum" quod singuli, familiae atque coetus medii constituunt, qui in communitatem socialem confluunt " CV, p. 645, n. 7. English translation: CVE, p. 9, no. 7.

49 "quod veris necessitatibus occurrat.,.. pro sua vocatione ac pro suis facultatibus polin attigentibus." CV, p. 645, n. 7. English translation: CVE, p. 10, no. 7.

50 "Dei amor nos ad deserendun quod terminatum est et non definitum vocat; nobis addit animum operandi ac boni omnium inquisitionem producendi, etsi extemplo non efficitur, tametsi ea quae facimus nos et politicae potestates et oeconomici operatores minora sunt quam ea quae optamus. Nobis pugnandi ac patiendi propter boni communis amorem suppeditat vires Deus, quandoquidem est nobis Totum, summa nostra spes." CV. p. 708, n. 78. English translation: CVE, p. 125, no. 78.

51 Mt 28:20.

52 ffeb 5:8.

53 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2825.

54 "Virgo Maria, quae a Paulo VI Mater Ecclesiae est renuntiata quaeque a populo christiano Speculum iustitiae et Regina pacis honoratur, nos tueatur ipsaque sua caelesti intercessione vim, spem laetitiamque necessariam nobis obtineat ut alacriter studioseque "profectui totius hominis et cunctorum hominum consulere» pergamus." CV, p. 709, n. 79. English translation: CVE, p. 127, no. 79.

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