Shakespeare famously wrote that conscience makes cowards of us all; perhaps, but it can also bring out the best in us too.
For example, Sir Thomas More famously said, “NEVERTHELESS, it is not for the supremacy that you have sought my blood, but because I would not bend to the marriage!”
In choosing not to violate his conscience and hold fast to Papal supremacy, Saint Thomas More refused to take the oath to the Crown and, thereby, chose not to uphold King Henry’s annulment from Catherine. It lead to his moving trial and martyrdom seen here in A Man for all Seasons. It makes you proud to have a conscience to stand up and die for.
Then there’s the courageous example of Thomas Becket, who stared death in the eye and declared, “Sheath your sword, Morgan, before you impale your soul upon it!”
King Henry II sought less clerical independence and a weaker connection to Rome. He was successful with all churchmen except Saint Thomas Becket, who would not violate his conscience and formally sign the Constitution of Clarendon. Conscience did not make a coward of him either as seen in the clip from Becket
We also have the bold example of saints of our own time, as when John Paul II dared to take on the Italian Mafia: “Heal this island,” he prayed, “of the scourge of the Mafia.”
While right in the Mafia’s backyard in Sicily, Blessed John Paul II demanded that Sicilians denounce the culture of the Mafia as “organized crime deadens and ruins consciences.” To the surprise of all, he made bold and spontaneous remarks at the end of Mass. A translation follows but the expression on the face of the master of ceremonies says it all. Personally I don’t recall ever seeing the John Paul II more passionate or courageous.
“God once said, “You shall not kill.” No man, no human association, no mafia can change or trample on this most sacred right of God….in the name of the crucified and risen Christ, of Christ who is the Way and the Truth and the Life, I say to those who are responsible for this: “Repent! God’s judgment will come some day!”
Today, we are blessed to have another brave example living among us and leading the charge in the defense of conscience, Cardinal-Designate Timothy Dolan and the USCCB: “We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law.”
Here’s an excerpt from a letter dated February 9th from Archbishop Timothy Dolan, to be read at all the Masses this Sunday:
We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God given rights. In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.
And therefore, I would ask you two things. First, as a community of faith we must commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored. Without God, we can do nothing; with God, nothing is impossible. Second, I would also recommend visiting www.usccb.org/conscience, to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty, and how to contact Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the Administration’s decision.