The Immaculate Conception and politics

Bishop Robert C. Morlino
Bishop of Madison
December 17, 2009

Published on the Diocese of Madison website

Following the feast that we celebrated this past week, I’d like you to consider the question, “What does the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary have to do with politics?” The answer: Quite a lot actually.

In the Gospel reading for our Assumption Mass (Luke 1:26-38), we see Mary towards the end, not understanding the vocation to which she is called. How could she understand it? She was called to be a virgin and she was called to be a mother. She was called to be ever-virgin and mother — who could understand that?

That is why an angel had to explain more about it, because it would take a super-human intelligence to tell out that mystery in human words. Mary said, “How can this be?” that is, basically, I’ve never been married and I’ve been a good girl. And the angel responded, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

The highest form of freedom

Mary doesn’t understand one bit of what that means. But, free from original sin, God has created in her — the only perfect human being — a perfect human freedom. And Mary doesn’t know exactly what God wants for her. She doesn’t know what it might mean, but she says in the end, “Lord, let it be done unto me as you say.”

Mary’s answer is, in fact, the highest form of freedom! That is, freedom reaching for the heroic, stretching toward the things of heaven, rather than stumbling around in the darkness of this shadowy world.

The morning of the Immaculate Conception I had Mass with the students from Our Lady Queen of Peace School in Madison. I asked a first grader the question, “What is freedom?” He said, “Freedom means I can do anything I want.” That was a great first-grade notion of freedom — freedom means being able to do anything we want.

I then asked an eighth-grader the same question. She said, “freedom means I can be my best self. I can do what God really wants me to do.” I have to hand it to Our Lady Queen of Peace School! Their students certainly seem to get where they need to be between first grade and eighth grade! This particular eighth-grader’s answer was wonderful!

To reach up for the heroic, the highest to which God calls me — that is freedom! Freedom means never being satisfied with the minimum, stumbling around, deciding what I like best on earth. Do I like power best today? Do I like pleasure best tomorrow, and money the day after that? This sense that, “I can do anything I want to get power, pleasure and money,” is stumbling around in the shadows with my freedom.

Mary shows us that true freedom reaches for the heights of the heroic. True freedom means that the human body and the human mind, integrated, act together — not in conflict. True freedom means the person pulling self together and reaching for his or her very best self, his or her heavenly self, his or her saintly self. That is freedom! Get the wrong concept of freedom and you are never able to find the happiness you so desperately seek. The only way to joy is through true freedom.

Basic freedoms: right to life, freedom of religion

The most basic freedom is the freedom to be alive humanly. Because if our right to life, our freedom to be alive humanly, is curtailed, then none of the other freedoms matter. If I die, then I’m called to live freedom or the lack of it in another world, not this one. The freedom to be humanly alive is the most basic freedom.

The next most basic freedom is freedom of religion. Because, once I am humanly alive, my next major concern is, “What about eternity?” And if I believe in eternity, I ask, “Am I perfectly free to do everything I need to do in order to get to eternal life and be saved?”

The fact that abortion is wrong is not “Catholic Doctrine” in the first place — it is human common sense, sometimes called the natural moral law. We can’t kill defenseless people because that takes away all of their rights in one fell swoop — in taking away even their right to be humanly alive.

Nor can we ever shrink back from conscience protection, which is another word for religious liberty. There is no freedom, except the freedom to be alive, that is more basic than the freedom of our conscience.

Politics, civil laws must protect freedom

So, what does this have to do with politics? With the voice of each man and woman joined together, it should be made clear that the laws being considered these days have to protect the freedom to be alive humanly and they have to protect the freedom to do what is necessary for one’s salvation. To be humanly alive and to seek eternal life — those are the two most important and basic elements in the lives of any of us.

And so the civil laws that are enacted with regard to healthcare, or anything else, have to protect that sacred right and freedom to be humanly alive as well as our religious liberty. Civil laws must protect the helpless infant from the moment of conception. They must protect the elderly when they become terminally ill and close to death. They must protect immigrants and strangers who have no one else to protect them.

We’re very interested in healthcare legislation and that has everything to do with politics, and politics has everything to do with freedom, and freedom has to do with the perfect, human incarnation of freedom, the perfect example — Mary, our mother, Immaculately Conceived.

You can sit down and consider and then tell out the truth that the Immaculate Conception has everything to do with what is going on in Congress right now. Go and tell out that good news — I bet you’ll turn a few heads!

Thank you all for reading this. God bless you all!

Praised be Jesus Christ!

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