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Posted December 7, 2008

The Epistle of St. Paul to
the Catholic Community serving in the U.S. Congress

Eugene Hemrick

Grace and peace to our Catholic community serving in the U.S. Congress. We thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. As followers of Christ, you have been enriched in every way — in all your speaking and in all your knowledge. We especially thank God for your esteemed position of representing the people of the United States, and especially your Catholic faith in the Congress. May your faith grace America with God’s knowledge, understanding and wisdom.

As legislators you shoulder the awesome responsibility of being the foremost lawmakers of the land. The word legislator means to bind. Hence, your role is to bond Americans together, and thus unite and strengthen them. The ultimate goal of your esteemed service is creating an America in which harmony and peace reign as best as possible. How true is the motto, “In unity there is strength.” May your efforts to bond Americans together through legislation be at the core of its strength.

We applaud John Quincy Adam’s idealism that is found over the doors of the capital: “The hope of America is justice.” In America’s desire to foster equality for all, it not only champions justice, but also the unity that justice spawns. As lawmakers seeking unity and the bonding of Americans, you also represent the pursuit of unity we all earnestly pray for at Mass: “May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought to unity by the Holy Spirit.”

The result of a unified nation is harmony, peace and prosperity. The Apotheosis of Democracy depicted on the House of Representatives is a poignant reminder of this truth. There we see Peace in the middle with Genius at her feet. Peace, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, is a principal quality of love. At the side of Peace are her fruits: maritime trade, agriculture and industry working in unison. All is in order as it should be when people work as one in love. How beautifully does our Old Testament portray the prosperity that results from the love of God. “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I will want.”

Temperance is one of many virtues you receive in the sacraments. Although it is seldom mentioned, it further defines the awesome role you fulfill. Its ultimate goal is order. In scripture we read “Deus temperavit corpus,” God put order in us. Temperance maintains the order, balance, and harmony with which God endowed us. This is why it is called the virtue of excellence. We pray that the order and harmony you pursue through legislation are your marks of excellence and are the true mark of a statesman.

America is to be lauded for the enormous resources it has expended in sustaining life. It truly is a country that stands for the preservation of life, whether it is preserving the lives of its own people, or of those in other nations. May your services coincide with a principle the late Pope John Paul II continuously repeated: the dignity of the person must always be first. It is our prayer that you adhere to this principle in championing the lives of the unborn, the marginalized, the helpless unable to defend their life, and the seemingly hopeless who have lost a desire to live because they lack a quality of life that they once enjoyed. Always remember that God, our creator, is the first law upon which all other just laws depend. May your conscience, upon which that law is inscribed, always be consulted when deciding laws pertaining to sustaining of life.

The theme of mercy is pervasive throughout the Gospel of St. Matthew. The Latin word for mercy is misericordia. Within it is the word cor, meaning heart. In dealing with the public, how easy it is for all of us to be caught up in the rush and to forget to listen to our hearts. May you never harden them out of self preservation. May they never become passive to them due to weariness. Most importantly may they never be unresponsive to Christ because of a weakened Christian faith. We pray that you have the loving, selfless heart of Christ, the Good Shepherd.

America is renowned for its experimentations and the discoveries they have produced. Truly it is blessed by God. As they have moved the Church forward in learning new ways of understanding God, we pray they move America forward in achieving the progress God desires for it. To be truly faithful to their Creator, we pray that they are conducted with God in mind always. It is he who blessed us with the gift of reasoning for this purpose. Scientific exploration and discovery are always to be revered and pursued, but never be allowed to leave God out of their laboratories. Always be true to your faith in insuring that God’s law is applied to the endeavors of experimentation and discovery. This principle of inclusiveness of God’s law must be true for all new ventures, and especially contemporary movements that are in conflict with our faith.

One such movement is the attempt to undercut the natural law and Church law on marriage. In the beginning of Genesis we learn that the joining of man and woman as one is the essence of marriage. To deny this is to deny natural law, and more importantly, God’s law. Godlessness must never be allowed to tarnish the sacredness of marriage. Not only does it desecrate marriage, but also family life: the heart and soul of a nation.

In an era of terrorism that is intent on undermining the freedom of the world, Christ’s law of love would counsel us to never react to barbarism with barbarism. Barbarism only begets barbarism. Living in an era in which the instruments of war are the most terrifying ever known to humankind, an Armageddon is attempting to get a foothold on our civilization. This must never be! Nor will it be if the justice proclaimed throughout your halls is practiced faithfully. When weighing decisions pertaining to war and its fallout, we pray that you consult the Church’s moral teachings, reflect on their reasoning, and pray for the light of truth, remembering, “In war the first casualty is truth.”

Migration has always been part of the history of civilization. Today, terrorism and other related threats have created a new age of insulation, walled borders, and security checks. In the midst of these new circumstances, we implore you to be faithful to the Church’s respect for the right of human beings to seek a more dignified life. As Pope John Paul II emphasized repeatedly, “All of humankind is one family.” Cultures looking to America as the Promised Land must be treated as family members. To do otherwise is to fragment humankind and suffer the consequences of discord. Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognized this in stating, “We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.” These words echo the wisdom of Pope John Paul II who repeatedly urged us to practice solidarity. When we act in solidarity with other cultures, we become one with them in heart and mind. Furthermore, we put our self in their place. We pray that you cultivate a burning desire for guarding the human rights of those from cultures not as blessed as yours, thus imitating the Old Testament prophets who burned with zeal to defend the helpless.

Your American war hero, General Douglas MacArthur, points you to yet another Catholic quality we pray you embrace wholeheartedly. “Last, but by no means least, courage — moral courage, the courage of one’s convictions, the courage to see things through. The world is in a constant conspiracy against the brave. It’s the age-old struggle — the roar of the crowd on one side, and the voice of your conscience on the other side.”

May the virtue of courage you received in the sacraments be your companion when the roar of the crowd threatens your moral fortitude. May Christ’s words, “Fear not!” be your armor against the roar of those who fear truth and following the Truth.

Without a doubt, today’s complexities make your services difficult. Among them are globalization and economic problems heretofore never experienced. Global warming and a new understanding of our limited resources are now a large part of the world’s concern. Starvation, genocide, plagues and the struggles of the Third World fill the news daily. Within America, as in other countries, the poor continue to increase, as does the division between rich and poor people. We live in a time that is calling for an age of heightened solidarity to survive. In trying to achieve this, we pray that God blesses you with Salomon’s wisdom, Job’s patience, and Christ’s love that wins over all.

In one of Christ’s parables, he praises the king for his wisdom to reflect and to think through matters in order to make wise judgements about what action to take with an oncoming army. May prayer and meditation be part of your everyday activities, leading you to make wise decisions. Start and end your day with prayer, and please do not forget to pray for your self.

Finally, I wish to address your Bill of Rights and its guarantee of separation of church and state. In guaranteeing this right, it never intended to separate itself from religion. Rather, it intended to avoid embracing a particular religious denomination. Take careful note of the inspiring religious symbolism on your edifices that testify to America’s vision of being one nation under God. “Fools,” Psalm 14 reminds us, “say to themselves, ‘There is no God.” We pray that just as the United States has been God-centered from its foundation, you will insure that it continues to practice this wisdom.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.