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Bishop Morlino, Diocese of Madison,WI, Advises Catholics to Embrace the Common Law of Human Reason to Defend the Faith

Published on


By Karl Maurer -CCI

Over 500 Chicagoans gathered at the second annual Illinois Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Chicago on March 27th. They were treated to a program that included introductory comments by Francis Cardinal George and keynote remarks by Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin. Amidst the chaos in the economy, challenges within the American Catholic Church, and the rapid unwinding of Bush's social policies by President Obama, most Catholics would agree there's a lot to pray for.

Opening his remarks, Bishop Morlino cautioned that language is increasingly being politicized and that we need to be attentive to the fact that our opponents will continue to engage in the Orwellian tactics of redefining words to suite their purposes. "We have to be careful when people change the meaning of words from reality to something else," said the Bishop, "for example, pro-abortion vs. "pro-choice", toxic assets have become "legacy assets", and the global war on terror is now the "overseas contingency operation." Catholics should not be afraid to challenge the agenda-driven language of our opponents and expose the reality behind that language.

Responding to a recent cover in TIME magazine trumpeting the "end of excess" in America, Bishop Morlino encouraged Catholics to enter into serious reflection and prayer on how to respond to the current economic crisis, saying "as disciples of Christ, we know something about sacrifice, and we should seize the moment." In the midst of great need, suffering and uncertainty, there are opportunities like never before to demonstrate our faith, hope and charity. The Bishop noted that billionaires can't possibly spend all their money in their lifetime, and asked, "Isn't there a point where a sense of social responsibility causes billionaires to freely help others?"

And what of President Obama and the avalanche of social policies and laws hostile to Christian beliefs? Bishop Morlino suggested that God's providence and will are at work at all times and in all things, recalling that the Persian King Cyrus was instrumental in ending the Babylonian captivity and that former Soviet ruler Gorbachev was instrumental in the transformations that ended the Cold War. "God's providence uses people to bring about His will, even when those people may not be of our ilk." As for Obama, "he claims to be a disciple of Christ, so we should pray that President Obama becomes a primary instrument of God's will - like Cyrus and Gorbachev - to stand up for Life."

Bishop Morlino encouraged Catholics to embrace the natural law of human reason when confronting the many challenges we face today, because that law is true for all humans and the natural law is fully incorporated into core Catholic beliefs.

As for Obama speaking at Notre Dame, Bishop Morlino noted that President Obama is not a Catholic, and as President of Notre Dame, he would NOT have invited Obama to speak. But while Obama is not Catholic, he is still bound by the natural law of human reason, a concept that has not only escaped Obama, but the majority of Catholics in the pews who elected him President. "It's hard to hold President Obama accountable to a standard of understanding of the natural laws that most Catholics can't comprehend. We have to do a better job of teaching the natural law."

As we engage in public debate about social policies that have such a grave moral outcome, it's important for Catholics to recognize that "the natural law of human reason is human, not Catholic. We're not asked anyone to go to Mass or accept the Catholic sacraments," said Bishop Morlino, when we base our moral arguments on human reason and common sense. It is in the best interest of humanity that we insist that the civil laws reflect the common law of human reason, the natural law. The Bishop insisted that Catholics have to make this clear to our opponents as well as to our supporters.

How does one define the common law of human reason? Bishop Morlino noted that there are four components: firstly, the fact that God exists; second, that each individual has sacred dignity; third, the sanctity of marriage; and fourth, that violence is irrational.

The Bishop noted that since the First Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has taught that the existence of God can be known by reason alone. In a society that is ordered by the common law of human reason, where human reason can be used to justify the existence of God, is it unreasonable for citizens to insist on a moment of silence before school starts for silent prayer? Of course not!

Bishop Morlino recommended that Catholics become familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas' writings on being and essence, and that an outstanding book on the topic was "Aquinas on Being and Essence: A Translation and Interpretation" by Joseph Bobik. The justification of the existence of God offered by Aquinas should be understood if one is to defend the common law of human reason along with the natural law.

Since the foundation of the Catholic Church, the sacred dignity of each individual human being has been an essential element of teaching. Even Emmanuel Kant, hardly a "Catholic" thinker, stated that every human being should always be treated as an end, and not as a means. We know this is true because our human reason tells us it must be true.

As for marriage, "Love is the complete knowledge and acceptance of another," noted Bishop Morlino. Unfortunately, even among Catholics, it is not easy to abide in this love at all times with our spouses and families. "Love has to be in the mind, heart and body, and it is plain to see where love can and can't be." For there to be order and harmony in a society, reason tells us that marriage is one man, one woman, and a lifetime commitment with openness to children. We can determine this is true by human reason, and thus this truth is incorporated into the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Just as we can recognize through reason the inherent truth and goodness in the existence of God, the sanctity of life, and the sacredness of marriage, we also recognize the evil and irrationality of violence. Violence isn't limited to war. The violence we are most closely confronted with is in our own communities and neighborhoods. Soaring murder rates, murder/suicides and instances domestic violence are indicators that there is much work to be done in moving society toward an acceptance of the common law of human reason in regulating personal and public behavior.

None of this is easy, but all of it is necessary. "Let's do this with joy and enthusiasm," Bishop Morlino said with encouragement. "God's purposes and providences in history cannot be thwarted. In the end, God wins."

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