On Tuesday, October 16, I celebrated the traditional Red Mass for judges, attorneys, law professors, law enforcement officers, and government officials at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. This annual celebration invokes God’s blessing and the guidance of the Holy Spirit on those responsible for the administration of justice. The homily I gave on that occasion is printed below.
“There is an appointed time for everything, a time for every affair under the heavens.” You may be familiar with this passage from Ecclesiastes. It continues, “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time of war and a time of peace” (Eccl 3:1-8) and so on. I thought of this passage as I began to gather my thoughts for today’s homily. I offer an addition to the passage: There is a time for politics and a time for prayer. Today is a time for prayer.
I am delighted to be with you for the annual Red Mass, celebrating the work of lawyers, judges, politicians, and members of law enforcement agencies. You belong to noble professions that protect and defend human life and the common good of our communities and country. The Church’s tradition of the Red Mass and your presence here today affirm that the work of justice requires divine assistance and guidance. Today is indeed a time for prayer.
We are celebrating the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us, to teach us, to lead us along the path of the Gospel. We rely upon the Holy Spirit to aid us in our actions and decisions so we can effectively proclaim human dignity, human solidarity, and the value of every human life. When we invoke the Holy Spirit, we acknowledge that the wisdom we need has a divine source.
Upon assuming his responsibility as King of Israel, Solomon asked, “O Lord my God, you have made me, your servant king. . . I serve you in the midst of people . . . so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong” (1K: 3:7-9).
Solomon did not ask for success, wealth, long life, or destruction of his enemies. He asked for a listening heart so that he could govern his people justly and discern between good and evil. This passage tells us what should ultimately matter to us: discerning correctly between good and evil. Your profession must be a constant striving for justice, the fundamental precondition for peace.
In the prologue to the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” We are equally children of one God “endowed by our creator” with the “inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It is important to recall that these rights do not come from the consensus of the elite, or a gift from the government, or from heroic human achievement, but from God’s grace. They are divine gifts that need to be upheld and, if need be, defended and protected.
Every life is sacred and every life has a purpose in God’s creation. Every one of us is born for a purpose given to no other person. This is not just a pious idea. This is what Jesus came to teach us. We are still trying to understand the depth, beauty, and dignity of every person — based not on race, creed, economic status, or intelligence — but on the unfathomable truth that every person is made in God’s image and likeness.
We acknowledge today, as America’s founders did — that we are one nation under God, that His laws still govern the world we live in, and that we go forward still “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” (Declaration of Independence).
My brothers and sisters, you all share in the responsibility for our government. Public service is a noble vocation. It takes honesty and courage. It takes prudence and humility. It takes patience and sacrifice. And it takes prayer. How fitting that we gather at the table of the Lord. Here His word nourishes us. Here His sacred Body and Blood feed us. Here we pause, removed from the duties of our professions, and quietly ask God for the wisdom, knowledge, counsel, and fortitude we need to fulfill the responsibilities of our professions and build a more just society based on respect for every human person.
At this Mass, and throughout the year, be assured of my prayers for you. May you be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and use the divine gifts He offers you “to protect the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face” (Pope Francis, Address to Congress, 2015). I ask that you remember me in your prayers.
I conclude with a beautiful passage from the Book of Wisdom which I pray often. “God of my fathers, Lord of mercy, you who have made all things by your word and in your wisdom have established man . . . to govern the world in holiness and justice,. . . give me Wisdom . . . for I am your servant . . . a man weak and short-lived and lacking in comprehension of judgment and laws. Now with you is Wisdom . . . Send her forth that she may be with me and work with me, that I may know what is your pleasure” (Wis 9:1-6, 9-11).
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.