Red Mass held Oct. 24

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | October 30, 2013

At annual event, George Weigel addresses religious freedom, revitalization of civil society

GREEN BAY — George Weigel, Catholic theologian, author and distinguished senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., addressed religious freedom and the revitalization of civil society at the Red Mass dinner, Oct. 24 at the Riverside Ballroom. The evening, sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society of the Diocese of Green Bay, opened with Mass at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral with Bishop David Ricken as the celebrant and homilist. The Red Mass is offered to invoke the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit to judges, attorneys and all those responsible for the administration of justice.

Author and theologian George Weigel talks to Fr. John Girotti, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and St. John the Evangelist Parish in Green Bay, during a book-signing event Oct. 24 at Cathedral Bookstore. The bookstore appearance took place prior to the Red Mass at the cathedral. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)
Author and theologian George Weigel talks to Fr. John Girotti, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and St. John the Evangelist Parish in Green Bay, during a book-signing event Oct. 24 at Cathedral Bookstore. The bookstore appearance took place prior to the Red Mass at the cathedral. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Weigel, a Baltimore native, opened by reviewing the history of moral nobility and Catholic sensibility in contrast to today’s freedoms. He shared excerpts from the writings of Jesuit theorist Fr. John Courtney Murray, Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre and French historian and professor of philosophy Rémi Brague.

Writings from Fr. Murray’s 1960 book “We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition” were used by Weigel to illustrate a time when Catholics were able to join the ethical and political conversations “full and free, unreserved and unembarrassed.”

MacIntyre wrote about the destruction of natural science for an element of choice. Brague, described by Weigel as one of the “25 most intelligent and insightful Catholics in the world,” labeled the 21st Century as “the century of being and nothings.”

“If nothing is given in the human condition, then everything is up for grabs,” said Weigel. “Politics is merely the will of the times.”

Weigel explained that it feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar for many to be serious Catholics today because public culture often denies fundamental truths.

“Americans once understood that God had prescribed moral truths into the world and into us, moral truths written into the scripts of nature,” he said.

“Today, particularly at the national level, we are increasingly governed by unelected judges and other regulators who seem derived from the great philosopher Frank Sinatra, ‘I did it my way,’” said Weigel. “Americans once understood that the state existed to serve society not the other way around. Today we are governed by a federal administration that seems determined to shrink the size of civil society and vastly enlarge the strength of state power as it has with the HHS mandate on contraceptives.”

Weigel praised the U.S. bishops for raising questions about American democracy and the fundamental freedoms, which the government is created to protect. To meet the challenges of today Catholics must “boldly proclaim Jesus Christ as the answer to the questions of human life,” he said.

“The challenge can only be met by demanding communities of passion and nobility that stand in sharp contrast to the radical individualism and loneliness of post-modern society and culture,” said Weigel, “the culture in which far too often men and women, no matter how little, how old or how ill, are measured not by their dignity, but by their utility.”

Weigel, whose books include “Witness to Hope,” a biography of Pope John Paul II, was asked about Pope Francis in relation to religious freedom. Eighteen months ago, Weigel spent time in Argentina with then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aries. Weigel read an epigram from his book, “Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Catholic Church,” in which Cardinal Bergoglio spoke about revitalizing the newness of the Gospel.

Weigel said that he sees him as a “Christ-centered pope who understands, I think in a profound way, that it is very difficult for a deracinated culture morally absent of that biblical view that comes from that encounter (with Christ).”

Weigel added that we are all called through baptism to serve as missionaries.

“The mission territory we enter may be our family and our neighborhood,” he said. “It may be the profession, business, culture. It may be politics, who knows, it may even be the NFL, but every territory is mission territory. And every one of us is a missionary. That’s what the pope is asking us.”

The pope is also asking those in the pro-life movement to offer compassionate care to help women in crisis, which “often does more to move understanding forward than the best argument we can make,” explained Weigel.

He offered an example from a speaking engagement for a crisis pregnancy center in Chicago. While Weigel’s talk was well-received, he couldn’t match the presence of a woman with her four-month-old child. The woman told her story about how she arrived at the center thinking it was an abortion facility. The care she received convinced her to carry the child to birth.

“The place went nuts, people went crazy,” said Weigel. “That is an example that we need to think about. The conversion we offer to others is not through argument or invitation, although that’s important … but (through) the nobility of the lives we live and the compassion we display is often the best argument.”

The evening also featured the first-ever presentation of the Faithful Servant Award by the St. Thomas More Society. Deacon Paul Umentum, treasurer for the organization, presented the honor to Alexia Wood, executive director of St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter in Green Bay.

The liturgy and dinner marked the fourth annual Red Mass in the diocese. Bishop Ricken said that a White Mass for health care professionals is planned and a Blue Mass for public servants, including police officers and firefighters, has also been discussed.

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