Joseph A. O’Brien, Esquire
Oliver, Price & Rhodes
1212 South Abington Road
P.O. Box 240
Clarks Summit, PA 18411
Phone: (570) 585-1200
Rev. Shane L. Kirby
ST. THOMAS MORE SOCIETY
OF THE DIOCESE OF SCRANTON
St. Thomas More was an English lawyer, philosopher and statesman. He served as Lord Chancellor of England from October 1529 to May 1532. He opposed the King’s separation from the Roman Catholic Church and resigned from office after refusing to take an Oath of Supremacy declaring the King as the supreme head of the English Church. When he continued to refuse to take the oath and refused to support the annulment of the King’s marriage with Catherine of Aragon, he was charged with high treason, found guilty and executed on July 6, 1535. While on the scaffold, St. Thomas More declared that he died “the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
The St. Thomas More Society of the Diocese of Scranton is an organization of attorneys, judges, law students, paralegals and others associated with the legal profession. Its goal is to follow the example of St. Thomas More in applying and promoting Catholic principles and traditions in the context of a modern, public life. Its members strive to live an exemplary Christian life and apply the principles and ideals exemplified by St. Thomas More in their daily lives. The members of the Society recognize that the goal of the legal profession to seek justice for all can only be achieved if its members promote and foster high ethical principles and remain faithful to Jesus Christ, His church and His teachings in their personal and professional lives.
Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Saint Thomas More Society of the Diocese of Scranton
The Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 6, 2012
Saint Maria Goretti Church, Laflin
One of your colleagues shared this story with me the other day.
A stingy old lawyer who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness was determined to prove wrong the saying, “You can’t take it with you.”
After much thought and consideration, the old ambulance-chaser finally figured out how to take at least some of his money with him when he died. He instructed his wife to go to the bank and withdraw enough money to fill two pillow cases. He then directed her to take the bags of money to the attic and leave them directly above his bed. His plan: When he passed away, he would reach out and grab the bags on his way to heaven.
Several weeks after the funeral, the deceased lawyer’s wife, up in the attic cleaning, came upon the two forgotten pillow cases stuffed with cash. “That darned old fool,” she said. “I knew he should have had me put the money in the basement.”
Frankly, it’s refreshing to hear jokes about some other group than priests or bishops.
For all that is often shared about those in the legal profession, you are here today celebrating the Eucharist in Saint Maria Goretti Church. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May, you are here at a special Mass inaugurating the Saint Thomas More Society in the Diocese of Scranton. And you’re here today not because I have a roster of societies that I need to establish in our Diocese. You are here because so many of you for quite some time have expressed your desire to be a part of such an organization. So many of you have come to realize what every Christian must confront at some point: that authentic faith must be integrated into our lives. So many of you are here because you understand that your faith has a direct impact upon the noble profession that you have embraced. And we are all here today because we are not too proud to affirm that at times we need to reach out to others when faced with moral and ethical questions that seem to challenge our faith and unsettle society.
On October 31, 2000, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter in which he proclaimed Saint Thomas More to be the patron saint of lawyers, statesmen and politicians. Here is what he said:
“The life and martyrdom of Saint Thomas More have been the source of a message which spans the centuries and which speaks to people everywhere of the inalienable dignity of the human conscience, which, as the Second Vatican Council reminds us, is the ‘most intimate centre and sanctuary of a person, in which he or she is alone with God, whose voice echoes within them.’” (Gaudium et Spes, 16)
“Whenever men or women heed the call of truth, their conscience then guides their actions reliably towards good. Precisely because of the witness which he bore, even at the price of his life, to the primacy of truth over power, Saint Thomas More is venerated as an imperishable example of moral integrity.”
Thomas More was executed because he refused to place the demands of the state before the requirements of his conscience and had insisted that there were objective truths that governments could not legitimately seek to override. He stands as a towering example to all of us, and particularly to those of us present today, that we have an obligation to find and serve the truth and to work to protect the lives and fundamental dignity of all human beings.
Every age is faced with the struggle confronted by Thomas More as new social conditions emerge. Ours is no exception. In 1919, G.K. Chesterton wrote: “Sir Thomas More is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death, but he is not quite so important as he will be in a hundred years time.” Rather insightful and prophetic words, aren’t they?
Our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, during a visit to Great Britain, acknowledged the complexity of society in our age and offered insight into the relationship between religion and political debate: “The role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply objective norms governing right action, as if they could not be known to non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside of the competence of religion – but rather the role of religion is to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. … Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor” to the conversations that are faced each day.
Our second scripture reading this afternoon, taken from the first letter of Saint John, underscores the Holy Father’s insights in two very important ways. Listen again to some of its most significant points. “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. … And this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth. … If our hearts (and here heart is understood as our conscience) If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God … because we keep his commandments … and love one another.”
First of all, the scripture passage reminds us that our heart – our conscience – the seat of moral decisions within each of us – is intrinsically bound up with all of our decisions and the work entrusted to you and to all of us. We can’t separate one from the other. … This is so because such a principle reflects reason and the natural law. But it is particularly relevant to us as Christians – those baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We cannot allow our heart, our conscience to be violated if our desire is to live as authentic Christians – people of integrity and virtue. Thomas More is the shining example of what it means to live such a life.
Secondly, the passage from the Acts of the Apostles boldly asserts a challenge that is unique to the follower of Jesus: a call to mission. “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” This, my brothers and sisters, is where the rubber meets the road! It’s not enough for us to merely be sensitive to our conscience and our heart. It’s not enough for us to be schooled in the moral and ethical teachings of our faith. At some point, we have to have the resolve to act. We have to have the courage to love in deed and truth.
The purpose of this gathering and our Saint Thomas More Society is not solely to inform and educate but to provide all of us with an environment in and through which we derive the wisdom and courage – from our relationships with the Church and with one with another – to live out our baptismal calling in the legal vocation to which we have committed our lives.
Time and time again throughout the Church’s history and even today, we hear – particularly from Pope Paul VI, Blessed Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI – an invitation to evangelize – to proclaim Jesus Christ and his Gospel – to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Pope Benedict puts it best as he calls the Church – each of us – to a New Evangelization – to “repropose” the Gospel “to those regions of the world still awaiting a first evangelization … and to those regions where the roots of Christianity are deep but that have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization.”
The Gospel needs to be reproposed – re-presented – to our region of the world which is indeed facing a crisis of faith for many reasons, not the least of which is the secularization of our society. But perhaps the mistake that some in the Church have made for many years is that they viewed the responsibility for evangelization to rest in the hands of a few – the ordained and religious. They failed to appreciate that the most important sacrament that any of us have received is not Holy Orders, but Baptism. The opportunities that you are given and the work that you do in the legal profession are vital arenas in and through which evangelization can take place and the Gospel can be proclaimed. Simply put, a Christian life lived with charity, faith and integrity is the most effective form of evangelization. It is also the way in which we Christians – and particularly those of us who gather today – contribute best to society and the good of all.
Pope Paul VI, many years ago, noted, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
Imagine what the world would be like if Catholics in the legal profession or for that matter, in any other vocation in life, remained silent and chose not to witness to the world their beliefs … in Poland under Communist rule … or in the Philippines under the Marcos regime. … Would our world be better off if those regimes had endured and if Christians believed that they were obliged to keep their beliefs to themselves? Or did voices of faithful people no different than us help to create an environment in which human dignity, justice and the common good could finally grow and eventually flourish? I think we know the answer.
The public profession of your faith through your active participation in prayer, the sacraments and especially the Eucharist as well as your willingness to engage, embrace and live the teachings of the Church lay the groundwork for the promotion of solidarity, justice and peace and help build up the Kingdom of God.
But, my brothers and sisters, none of this can happen simply because we will it to occur. The Kingdom of God is built and lives are changed because other lives – my life and your lives – have encountered the person of Jesus Christ. And we encounter Jesus in gatherings such as this – when we open ourselves to his Word in the Scriptures – when we aren’t too sophisticated to believe that we receive his body and blood in the Eucharist – and when we engage one another in the search for meaning and truth.
So while we gather today to begin in earnest an organization – a society – that will assist us in living Gospel values in the noble work that we do, this gathering in which we celebrate the Eucharist is really all about faith – and particularly our faith and our relationship with Jesus – and how we live that faith and reflect that relationship in the world that God has entrusted to our care.
Saint Thomas More, pray for us!