Bishop Zipfel to Legislators: Lead People to Truth and to the Demands of Truth
This letter from Bishop Paul A. Zipfel, Bishop of Bismarck, appeared in the Dakota Catholic Action, published January 24, 2007.
My dear sisters and brothers in the Lord,
2007 Legislative Assembly
During this month of January our State Legislators returned to their respective positions at the Capitol to begin their important work for 2007. The North Dakota Catholic Conference invited them all to a special Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on January 18, 2007, to pray for guidance upon their efforts to create and sustain a just society that cares for the weak and poor, defending the rights of all, not just the privileged. It is essential that all of us join these elected officials in prayer because, in large measure, our state is founded on their administration of the law.
Although there are only 20.5% of our state legislators who are Catholic, allow me to share the church's teachings and educate Catholics on moral dimensions of public life, so all of us may form our consciences in light of our faith. This, I believe, is my right and my duty.
There are four propositions that can contribute to the loss of our moral moorings and the increase of secularization in our pursuit of justice:
• Moral relativism
• The rejection of the reality of virtue
• The decline of personal responsibility
• Intellectual pride
Moral relativism rejects the reality of justice, because it rejects any moral absolutes. But good and evil are not relative. That which is in accord with God's unchangeable will is good; that which is opposed to it is evil.
The denial of virtue attacks justice at its heart. When Bill Bennett submitted his book to the publishers, they wanted to title it The Book of Values. Mr. Bennett rightly insisted that it be The Book of Virtues. Justice is one of the cardinal virtues upon which all right-living is based.
The decline of personal responsibility attacks justice because it says that we have no free will, but are merely complex animals that are predetermined. The truth is that human beings can and do rise above all external factors to make those free decisions for which they are alone responsible.
Finally, some say that the human person is the measure of all things. Only when we humbly acknowledge that there is much we do not know and turn to God who is truth, that we are able to approach the foundation of justice.
We must look past these propositions of the modern age and root ourselves once again in eternal truths, which alone can restore our faith in justice.
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that justice is that virtue by which we "give to each one what is his due," not only in material matters but in all those things physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual that are the birthright of each human being. This definition presumes three Judeo-Christian truths:
• That there is a personal God who has created and ordered all things to show his glory and love.
• That this God has created us human beings in his image, which includes an ability to know the truth of God's order and purpose in human history.
• That God has endowed us with free will, giving us the real ability to choose good and evil, for which we can rightly be held accountable.
The late Pope John Paul II taught these truths in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth). He reminds us that there is objective truth and unchanging moral values, and that these are essential to society. It is in returning to these truths that we can rescue faith in the reality of justice.
How important, how noble, is the task of our legislators to lead people to truth and to the demands of truth! It is such truth which alone can give real hope and dignity to human life. We ask God to help them pursue it with purity of heart, asking themselves often why they do what they do as a public official. We pray always, asking God to enlighten them in their vocation, which has such a profound effect on the lives of others and our common life as a society. Let us all work together so that real justice will be found in the hearts of each one of us.
Most Reverend Paul A. Zipfel
Bishop of Bismarck