The Feast of Corpus Christi is one of the most beautiful solemnities on the Church's calendar, and it is a feast-day to which I am particularly devoted. I truly believe that whenever we honor, praise and glorify the Lord in the most Blessed Sacrament of the altar, He responds with a generous kindness to us. His presence is itself the beginning and end of that kindness.
Every year, since I arrived in the diocese, I have had the grace of celebrating the Corpus Christi Mass at the Cathedral, or in one of its mission chapels, and then leading a Eucharistic Procession through downtown Brownsville, concluding with Benediction. This year we began with Mass at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral Sunday evening, and processed with canopy, incense and the faithful singing and praying the rosary. We went first to the church if Saint Thomas, and then to Sacred Heart Church. I was deeply edified by the faith and devotion of the parishioners, and deeply moved by how young and old, and all ages in between, participated in this expression of the faith of the Church.
I think it is worth noting that we processed through the streets (after securing the proper permits) and not on the sidewalks. The Church is in the city, and in the community, and in the country. She is not a private entity relegated to the sidewalk, and we certainly do not want to be limited to walking around the sacristy. The Church and her Lord have a place in the public realm, as do all non-governmental institutions in our community.
Processing through the streets is a sign of a larger reality, however. It is one of the great blessings in our country that individuals and institutions are free to live and grow according to the best lights of their conscience, so long as this life and growth does not injure the good and peace of others. (That is why permits are often needed to have public processions. Somebody has to re-direct the traffic).
Our society has traditionally recognized that it is good for us all to have healthy and vibrant churches and civic institutions, and associations. All have a place in the fluid societal associations that make up our human relations in this country. Thus the VFW can have parades, the Ancient Order of Hibernians can march on Saint Patrick's Day, and the local football team can be honored with a parade after a championship game. None of these are government institutions. And yet they are institutions of people who freely associate to make their contribution to the greater good of the local and national community.
The government helps our community and national life when it seeks to keep the public sphere a free and unencumbered place. It is an important governmental role to protect the rights of different groups to live and grow in a free society. The government, however, hinders the good of the wider national society when it tries to dictate what an institution must do in order to deserve being a contributor to the overall good. Let not the government tell the VFW what its code of honor should contain in order to qualify to help Veterans. Let not the government tell Hibernians what it takes to belong to the Irish. And, let not the government tell the Church what its moral conscience ought, or ought not allow when administering our schools, universities, hospitals, and charitable organizations.
What is at stake in the Church's current struggle to defend religious freedom against government encroachment? Many things, but one of the most vital is the preservation of that wide space in our society and culture where free peoples and institutions can operate, persuade, cooperate and compete. When the government treads too heavily on the public operation of non-governmental institutions, it stifles and strong-arms the institutions that people freely choose to establish and form. When this happens, we all suffer the loss of that dramatic and creative diversity of national institutional life that has made this a great nation.
We will continue to oppose the HHS rule that would force the Church's institutions to pay for contraceptive and abortifacient drugs. We will oppose efforts to impose a secularist conscience on religious institutions. And we will continue to serve the poor through our charitable institutions without regard to their race, religion, country of origin, or documentary status.
Most Rev. Daniel E. FloresBishop of Brownsville
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