The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on October 7 during the Annual Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich, Connecticut.
Advice from a veteran bishop in today's second reading, instructions on faith, its meaning, its increase and its implications in both today's first reading and Gospel account: how does all this apply to us who have gathered in this Cathedral of St. Patrick for this 17th annual Red Mass?
In today's second reading from St. Paul's Second Letter to Timothy, we indeed hear the veteran bishop, Paul, giving advice to his close co-worker and friend, the young bishop Timothy. Obviously, in the strict sense, this advice is directed originally to Timothy and now to other bishops and their principal co-workers, the priests. Yet, in a broader sense, this advice can also be directed to all who follow the Lord Jesus Christ in virtue of their baptismal consecration.
Among the counsels which St. Paul is giving us, we hear: "Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us." Commentators tell us that the word "trust" (in Greek: paratheke), which St. Paul uses, means "a deposit committed to someone's trust." And, this "trust" can be understood in two ways: Our trust in God and God's trust in us. Our trust in God is another way of expressing that we put our trust in God, that we surrender ourselves to His Word and will, which lies at the core of faith. God's trust in us means that He puts His trust in us by giving us a mission, a responsibility, a duty to fulfill. For Timothy, the trust which God had specifically given to him was the oversight and building up of His Church as a bishop. For us as disciples, the trust God puts in us is to bring the life-giving truth of the Gospel into our society, to build up God's Kingdom on earth.
We are gathered here to celebrate the Red Mass, to honor and to pray for you who are involved in the administration of justice, including judges, lawyers, paralegal personnel, legislators, public officials, civic leaders and law students. What is the trust which God puts in you? In proposing an answer, I turn to the words of one of your colleagues. "Those who enter law with the intent to bring justice to a broken world, to vindicate the rights of the weak and vulnerable, to heal broken relationships, to ensure equality to all persons … these persons have responded to a true calling. Law for them is a vehicle of service to God and to neighbor, not simply a gateway to financial and social success" (Joseph Allegretti, The Lawyer's Calling: Christian Faith and Legal Practice, p.31).
Therefore, the trust which God puts in you is to frame laws and to interpret them in such a way that the fundamental and inestimable dignity and worth of the human person is protected, defended and upheld. In doing this, are you not bringing justice to a broken world, vindicating the rights of the weak and vulnerable, healing broken relationships and ensuring equality for all persons?
This said, is not God putting this trust in you in order to be rooted in and guided by the natural moral law? Pope Benedict XVI states: "This law has its first and general principle, ‘to do good and to avoid evil.' This is a truth which by its very evidence immediately imposes itself on everyone. From it flows the other more particular principles that regulate ethical justice on the rights and duties of everyone" (Address to the Participants in the International Congress on Natural Moral Law, Feb. 10, 2007). These other more particular principles include respect for human life from its conception to natural death, seeking the truth, freedom, justice and solidarity. The pope observes further: "In these values are expressed unbreakable and contingent norms that do not depend on the will of the legislator and not even on the consensus that the State can and must give. They are, in fact, norms that precede any human law: as such, they are not subject to modification by anyone. The natural law, together with fundamental rights, is the source from which ethical imperatives also flow, which it is only right to honor. In this situation it is opportune to recall that every juridical methodology, be it on the local or international level, ultimately draws the legitimacy from its rooting in the natural law, in the ethical message inscribed in the actual human being" (Ibid).
Yes, the trust which God puts in you and, in fact, in all of us is, in the words of Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, "to take with the utmost seriousness the biblical teaching that every human being is possessed of a dignity that uniquely comes from being made in the image of God, and to turn that conviction into action on behalf of those whose human dignity is threatened, or diminished, or altogether denied" (Installation Homily, October 1, 2007).
How do we fulfill this trust which God puts in us: you in the particular responsibility of framing and interpreting the law and all of us in fulfilling the duties of our individual and specific vocation? More advice comes to us in today's Scripture readings.
"The help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us" is surely an unfailing source of inspiration and guidance in carrying out the weighty trust given to us all. It is truly so opportune for us to focus on God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Blessed Trinity, at this Red Mass. As you know, the Red Mass has a long and rich tradition. Originating centuries ago in Rome, Paris and London, this Mass is celebrated in honor of God the Holy Spirit. Its name derives from the traditional red color of the vestments worn by the celebrants of the Mass, representing the tongues of fire which symbolized the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the special role of the Holy Spirit to form Jesus within us and to guide and direct us towards the fulfillment of our mission and the attainment of our goal: eternal life with God. Each one of us daily must make time to be in contact with the Holy Spirit, so that He can illumine our minds, focus our conversations, strengthen our wills and enable us to do what is truly right and good in God's eyes and in keeping with the natural moral law. Before we analyze a text, write a decision, interview a client, collaborate with colleagues, should we not pause a moment to seek the guidance of God the Holy Spirit, sent to us by the Father and His Son Jesus to be our Advocate and our friend?
In addition to the help of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, God's word today points to faith and to love as additional sources of help in fulfilling the trust which God puts in us. In today's Gospel account, "the Apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!'" The prophet Habakkuk reminds us in today's first reading that "the just one, because of his faith, shall live." Faith is not only the assent of our intellect to God's truth but also the surrender of our total selves to God, our putting our trust in Him. Pope John Paul II stated: "Faith does not seek the extra-ordinary, but strives to be useful by serving our brothers and sisters in the light of the Kingdom. Its grandeur lies in humility: ‘We are unworthy servants …' A humble faith is an authentic faith. And an authentic faith, even if it is as small ‘as a grain of mustard seed' can make extraordinary things happen" (Homily at Znjan Esplanade, October 4, 1998).
St. Paul not only points to faith but also to love in his advice to Timothy. Love, from the Gospel viewpoint, is fundamentally a decision of the will, a commitment, to desire and to foster as best we can the total good of the other, including his or her eternal salvation. Understood in this way, love certainly includes a desire to live by the natural moral law.
Finally, St. Paul advises us: "Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me." As we seek to fulfill the trust which God puts in us, one more source of inspiration, assistance and strength is God's Word, a life-giving Word, which is transmitted to us by the living tradition of the Church and the official teaching office of the Church, the magisterium.
Today's Psalm refrain exhorts us: "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts." Indeed, today, we have heard God's voice directing us to be faithful to our calling, both as the disciples of Christ and as women and men dedicated to the administration of justice in its many facets. Yes, we have heard His voice: through divine revelation, through the teachings of the Church, through the demands of faith, and through the natural moral law. His voice is that of the Master, for He alone is Lord and God. We are all His servants, in whom He puts His trust. Through the help of the Holy Spirit, in faith and in love, and by reflecting on His Word, may we fulfill the trust which He puts in us for the honor and glory of God, for the welfare of all our brothers and sisters in the human family and for the life of the world! Amen!