Mass for the Opening of the Legislative Year 2021
In the name of Bishop Folda and my own name, and that of the North Dakota Catholic Conference and all of the Catholic faithful of North Dakota, I welcome each and every one of you to the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, to the biennial celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for legislators. We gather here as some of the citizens of North Dakota who have elected you to represent us and to act on our behalf to advance the common good of all and, for your service, we are grateful.
We have just listened to the inspired Word of God as proclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah, the Psalmist David, the Apostle Saint James, and Saint Matthew the Evangelist. There is a common thread running through each of these passages from Sacred Scripture as there is throughout all of Sacred Scripture from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation. The common thread is this: it is God Who is the source of every good and it is God Who freely endows us with all that is good including justice, righteousness, peace, wisdom, humility and true freedom.
The Prophet Isaiah speaking for Almighty God says it: “Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness will be quietness and trust forever.” (Is 32: 16-17) All of this is achieved as he says only when “the Spirit is poured upon us from on high”. (Is 32:15)
What is this justice with which God endows us? The Catholic Church teaches that “Justice consists in the firm and constant will to give to God and to others their due” (CCC, 1807). Some may try to argue that justice need not originate with God. History continues to teach us that this is “an eye for an eye” (Mt 5: 38) masquerading as justice and the end result is not peace but strife. The justice which is a gift from God to man considers the other not as an enemy to be punished but as an equal to be served and healed. The former destroys the common good while the latter strengthens and advances the common good.
Clearly, one who uses God’s gift of justice in this way is filled with true righteousness which is living what we prayed in the Psalm Response. Righteousness as justice lived fosters care for the poor and the needy, it fosters a prosperity for all without distinction and it engenders true peace. Martin Luther King correctly characterized this when he stated that “peace is not the absence of tension but the fruit of justice.” As the Prophet Isaiah says it is “quietness and trust”. This righteousness as the fruit of true justice serves our common good because it is based on what is true and good, it is that gift from God.
Today’s Gospel is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. It follows upon the Lord’s giving us the Beatitudes, the keys to a life of holy virtue. What this Gospel passage reveals to us is that the life of holy virtue, that is, the life of justice, righteousness and peace is directly opposed to the world’s idea of justice and peace. This life of holy virtue is a contradiction which is only understood and lived by those who strive to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5: 48)
The Apostle James helps us to understand the demands of true justice and righteousness when he teaches that it is the meekness of wisdom, manifested in one’s good works that fulfills the Lord’s command to be perfect in the way our heavenly Father is perfect. He enumerates the qualities of this meek and humble wisdom and then he assures us that this is “the harvest of righteousness that is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (Jas 3: 17-18) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied . . . Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” (Mt 5: 6, 9)
As the elected representatives of the people of North Dakota you have a great and weighty responsibility to fulfill. You are to govern us with justice which must be readily apparent to us in the types of laws enacted, that is, laws which are at the service of the common good of all and do not discriminate among us citizens. You are to govern us with that meek and humble wisdom which understands laws not to be ends in themselves but the reasonable means to peace among us which always generates “quietness and trust” fostering the common good of all. You are to govern us as true peacemakers, being perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, by enacting laws which do not divide us but create greater unity among all of our citizens.
In these days your responsibility to govern can seem to be an almost impossible task, but I can assure you it is not. The Lord God has entrusted to you this responsibility and with it comes His grace to fulfill your responsibility and, if you so choose, “to be perfect just as He is perfect.” (cf. Mt 5: 48)
May God bless all of you and know of our prayers for you and our gratitude for the good you may accomplish.
What We Do
The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.