Cardinal Burke: The Gospel of Life in the defence of freedom

Cardinal Burke: The Gospel of Life in the defence of freedom

Cardinal Raymond Burke

Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, Cardinal Raymond Burke, gave an address at the Catholic Media Symposium late in March, titled, The Gospel of Life and the Defence of Freedom. The following are extracts from this address.

The truth, the goodness, and the beauty of human life, of marriage and the family, the cradle of human life, and of religious faith and practice as the font of stability and direction for marriage and the family, have their only source in God who is all true, all good, and all beautiful.

They are called transcendentals because they are a participation in the life itself of God our Creator and Redeemer.

It is precisely these transcendental qualities coming directly from the hand of God, which are called into question and even trampled under foot in a society and culture which pretends to be self-made, without reference to God and to His law written into creation and, most of all, upon the heart of man, the one earthly creature whom God has created in His own image and likeness.


In such a society, conscience, the privileged place of the human heart in which the law of God is known and observed, no longer counts for anything. If it is acknowledged at all, it is restricted to the ambience of worship, within the four walls of churches and chapels.

Outside of those walls, the sacred authority of conscience is made subject to the will of those who have the greatest power without respect for the order of objective reality, the order written upon the human heart.

In such a society and culture, the truth, the goodness, and the beauty of human life, of the family, and of religious conscience are violated by the will of those in power who make every effort, through education and the communications media, to obscure them from the consideration of the individual members of society.

The following remarks take their inspiration from the Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae (On the Inviolable Good of Human Life), published by Blessed Pope John Paul II on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1995.

The opening words of the Encyclical Letter point to the critical importance of the Catholic Media Symposium for the future of our society: "The Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus' message. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as 'good news' to the people of every age and culture."

The first and most fundamental way of radiating the living truth which Our Lord Jesus communicates to us in His Mystical Body, the Church, is a strong witness to the inviolable dignity of all human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death, to the integrity of marriage as the lifelong, faithful and procreative union of one man and one woman, and to sacred authority of the correctly formed conscience as the guide to the right stewardship of all creation, especially human life and marriage.

The personal conversion and the transformation of the world to which Christ calls all men is necessarily directed, first of all, to the safeguarding and fostering of every human life, especially of "the least of these my brethren", in accord with Our Lord's Parable on the Last Judgment, of the fidelity, indissolubility and procreativity of marriage, and of the unconditional respect for the rightly-formed conscience.

The fundamental locus of the proclamation of the truth of Christ is the family, in which the children witness the living of the faith in the relationship of their parents with one another and in the relationship of the parents with them.

Such witness pertains principally to the inviolability of innocent and defenceless human life, to the integrity of marriage and the family, and, therefore, the correct understanding and living of human sexuality, and to the right formation of conscience. Clearly, education is irreplaceably linked to family life.

Of supreme importance in an age which characterises itself by its means of communication is the development and support of truly pro-life and pro-family media, and of organising and sustaining public manifestations in support of the inviolable dignity of innocent human life and the integrity of the family.

Culture of death

The culture of death advances, in large part, because of a lack of attention and information among the general public.

What is more, the thoroughly galvanised anti-life and anti-family agenda of the pervasive secular mass media confuses and corrupts minds and hearts, and dulls consciences to the law written by God upon every human heart.

The Church herself must address the situation of so many of her members who, even though they may be involved in Church activities, "end up by separating their Christian faith from its ethical requirements regarding life, and thus fall into moral subjectivism and certain objectionable ways of acting".

A new evangelisation is the fundamental form of proclaiming the truth of Christ in our time. Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelisation in the Modern World) of 8 December 1975, describes evangelisation as the Church's "deepest inspiration, that which comes to her directly from the Lord: To the whole world! To all creation! Right to the ends of the earth!"

After reflecting on the first proclamation of the Gospel which "... is addressed to those who have never heard the Good News of Jesus, or to children", the Holy Father declared:

"But, as a result of the frequent situations of dechristianisation in our day, it also proves equally necessary for innumerable people who have been baptised but who live quite outside Christian life, for simple people who have a certain faith but an imperfect knowledge of the foundations of that faith, for intellectuals who feel the need to know Jesus Christ in a light different from the instruction they received as children, and for many others."

The degree of secularisation about which Pope Paul VI referred with concern in 1975 has only continued to increase exponentially, also due to a grave impoverishment or even lack of adequate catechesis in the Church during the past four decades.

A new evangelisation consists in teaching the faith through preaching, catechesis, Catholic education and all forms of communication, in celebrating the faith in the Sacraments and in prayer and devotion which are their extension, and in living the faith by the practice of the virtues - all as if for the first time, that is, with the engagement and energy of the first disciples and of the first missionaries to our native place.


In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World, Pope John Paul II described the contemporary situation of the Church in a world which is increasingly secularised, marked by a pervasive and constant spread of relativism, which "inspires and sustains a life lived 'as if God did not exist'."

Fundamental to understanding the radical secularisation of our culture is to understand also how much this secularisation has entered into the life of the Church herself.

Pope John Paul II declared: "But for this [the mending of the Christian fabric of society] to come about what is needed is to first remake the Christian fabric of the ecclesial community itself present in these countries and nations."

Catholic media contribute in a most significant way to the work of a new evangelisation.

At the very beginning of Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II made clear the relationship of the Church's teaching regarding human life to the moral law which can be known by reason.

What then is the relationship between the natural moral law and the Church's moral teaching? While God has first revealed to every human heart the truth about human life by the creation, He has perfectly revealed the truth in all of its splendour by the redemptive Incarnation of His only-begotten Son.

The human conscience, if it has not been corrupted by grave confusion and error, naturally recognises the inviolable dignity of every human life and commands that it be safeguarded and promoted.

Essentially connected with the discussion of the natural moral law is clearly the correct understanding of conscience.

Pope John Paul II, relating the intent of his Encyclical Letter, drew particular attention to the relationship of the Gospel of Life with conscience.

He reflected upon the situation of the conscience which "is today subjected, also as a result of the penetrating influence of the media, to an extremely serious and mortal danger: that of confusion between good and evil, precisely in relation to the fundamental right to life".

It is the conscience, the voice of God speaking to souls, which is, in the words of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, "the aboriginal Vicar of Christ". As such, the conscience is ever attuned to Christ Himself who instructs and informs it through His Vicar, the Roman Pontiff, and the Bishops in communion with the Roman Pontiff.

Blessed Cardinal Newman observed that conscience "is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives".

Today, one must be attentive to a false notion of conscience, which would actually use the conscience to justify sinful acts.

In his 2010 Christmas Address to the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict XVI reflected at some length on the notion of conscience in the writings of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, contrasting it with a false notion of conscience which is pervasive in our time.

He described the Church's understanding of conscience, as faithfully and brilliantly taught by the Blessed Cardinal Newman, with these words:

"In modern thinking, the word 'conscience' signifies that for moral and religious questions, it is the subjective dimension, the individual, that constitutes the final authority for decision.

"The world is divided into the realms of the objective and the subjective. To the objective realm belong things that can be calculated and verified by experiment. Religion and morals fall outside the scope of these methods and are therefore considered to lie within the subjective realm.

"Here, it is said, there are in the final analysis no objective criteria. The ultimate instance that can decide here is therefore the subject alone, and precisely this is what the word 'conscience' expresses: in this realm only the individual, with his intuitions and experiences, can decide."

Pursuit of truth

Newman's understanding of conscience is diametrically opposed to this. For him, "conscience" means man's capacity for truth: the capacity to recognise precisely in the decision-making areas of his life - religion and morals - a truth, the truth.

Conscience, therefore, does not set individuals apart from one another as arbiters of what is right and good, but unites them in the pursuit of the one truth, ultimately Our Lord Jesus Christ who is the only arbiter of the right and good, so that their thoughts, words and actions put that truth into practice.

The proclamation of the truth of Christ should be marked by a profound confidence in the human heart upon which the moral law has been inscribed.

At the same time, it should be ready to refute the false claim that the truth of Christ is merely a confessional matter and to illustrate how it is at the very foundation of the common good.

It is my hope that these thoughts, inspired by the Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, have helped to underscore the fundamental importance of your coming together to reflect upon the place of the Catholic media in the announcement of the truths of the faith in a new evangelisation which will transform the life of the Church and, through the transformation of the life of the Church, the life of society.

Most of all, I hope that they will encourage all who are involved in the work of Catholic media to take new courage and new energy from the heart of Jesus.

May the Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae be an inspiration and guide for all of your labours to communicate the true, the good, and the beautiful.

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