Red Mass Homily
Catholic Lawyers Guild
Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola
October 8, 2023
We are very pleased to welcome and have with us for this Mass the Palm Beach Guild of Catholic Lawyers. We celebrate this annual Red Mass at the beginning of the judicial year to ask the Holy Spirit’s guidance upon all those involved with the important mission of interpreting, carrying out and implementing the law. The judges, lawyers and all those who work with the law, present with us this morning, are great blessings to all of us in our lives. As misunderstood as the law may be today in the minds of many, we are a nation built on the principle that the just application of the law serves the good in the protection of the rights of all men and women. A lawless society is anarchy, and a society that governs solely by legal mandate of one person is oppression. We thank all of our lawyers for their work, which is not an easy one but one that is essential to all of our lives. We ask the Holy Spirit’s continued guidance upon them. They are truly ministers of justice, steadfastness, compassion and the American spirit.
The Second Reading for today, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, is a very appropriate one for Catholic lawyers who seek to use the law founded upon the very law of God Himself as He created the world, with a vision, purpose and natural law. St. Paul reminds all of us, and in a particular way those who are lawyers, “Your thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous or worthy of praise. Live according to what you have learned and accepted … then will the God of peace be with you.”
The parable in the Gospel today is a powerful one reminding us of the fundamental law of God Himself. His justice is His love and mercy. The chief priests and elders of the people were not pleased with the teaching of Jesus and wanted to ensure that he would not be listened to. Jesus tells them the parable of the property owner who carefully put together a well-protected vineyard. He leased it to tenant farmers as he went on a journey. When it was time to harvest the vineyard, the tenants responded by crippling and killing his servants. Finally, he sent his son to them, whom he expected they would respect, but they dragged him outside the vineyard and killed him.
Obviously, to the hearers of the parable, those mistreated and killed by the tenants were the prophets who came to proclaim the word of God. The Son is Jesus Himself who would be crucified by the scribes and the Pharisees in order that His word might be silenced. Jesus is a good lawyer and asks them to condemn themselves: “What will the owner of the vineyard do to that wicked crowd who put his son to death?” They reply that he will act in justice in order to receive his vineyard back. It is important to note that those answering the question of justice were not at all interested in justice but only about themselves. However, the Lord surprises all with His answer that the one rejected by the tenants will become the keystone of the building. In God’s justice, He will dispense even mercy and kindness to them, provided that they see the limitations of their ways and repent. This is the last thing the scribes and Pharisees wanted to hear, that Jesus would be the keystone of the building.
The message of the Gospel is a difficult one for all the world to hear today, not only in terms of God’s mercy and forgiveness, which is at the center of our faith, but also in regard to the very way in which God created the world and the very purpose and identity of each and every individual human being made in His image and likeness. Unfortunately, in the world today, political position and ideology are taking the place of religious faith. What is especially concerning is that faith is interpreted, not through the eyes of the Gospel, but through the eyes of ideology. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, speaks so frequently about this. In fact, the Synod, which is taking place in Rome during this month of October, is meant to counteract that tendency which so dangerously exists among us.
The Synod is being misunderstood as a means to change the teaching, practices and doctrine of the Church. It is not meant to do this but to help us understand them better so that they may be lived properly in the world, which needs the message of the Gospel. Instant communication, which has so many positive assets, also brings with it a tremendous difficulty as it no longer informs but tries to persuade, especially in regard to a political stance or an ideology. The Pope insists that the purpose of the Synod is to help us listen. We know how listening is hard today, and that when someone is speaking, we are formulating an answer in our minds before we even hear what is being said. We know how true that is for all of us when we speak.
One of the fundamental values of the law is that it gives each person the right to speak and to be heard. The law and the courtroom are places of fair and just listening. Unfortunately, so many matters are tried in the media. This is why Pope Francis has asked for silence before the media during the Synod. It is so that those at the Synod can listen and be heard carefully and not be misinterpreted in a public context before the Synod is concluded. The statue of Lady Justice, representing fairness, is blindfolded as she holds the scales of justice in her hands, determining an unprejudiced decision. Her inability to see causes her not to be distracted in her judgment but also causes her to listen more carefully. Listening is essential to her role despite what she may see before her. A key part of the Miranda warning is the right to remain silent. Pope Francis has emphasized that we must listen to each other carefully so that we may hear the word of God as it speaks to us in our hearts. The loudest voice within us is the voice of God, but is so many times drowned out by the clamor around us.
The true Lady of Justice is Mary, our Mother. As we celebrate her during this month of October, the month of the Rosary, she stands before us as a perfect model of God’s justice, which is his love and mercy. She also reminds us, by her silence in the Gospel, that listening to the word of God supersedes all other listening. We ask her to help us, in our noisy world, for the gift of silence which she possessed. May she be a guiding influence in the Synod that is now taking place.
As we continue to celebrate this Red Mass, we thank our judges, lawyers, law scholars and paralegals for all that they do so that the law can effectively mirror the law of God Himself and give each of us the ability to be the person God made us to be in His image and likeness. Again, we thank all those gathered for the important mission that they carry out. We give thanks to God for the great nation in which we live in which the law is properly understood and held in esteem. May this always continue to be the case.
Most Reverend Gerlad M. Barbarito
October 13, 2023