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At Red Mass for legal professions, Bishop Burbidge encourages people to open their hearts to God's word

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Noting that in today’s society, “the justice and peace for which we long are seriously threatened,” Bishop Michael F. Burbidge told those involved in the administration of justice that such societal ills could be healed “by listening to God’s Word and allowing it to reign in our hearts.”

“Imagine the darkness and evils that would be eradicated, if we heard the Word of God and followed it,” Bishop Burbidge said, adding, “There is a natural law written in every human heart by God the Creator, and from this, all human laws must flow.”

Bishop Burbidge was the homilist Oct. 4 at the 68th annual Red Mass offered at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, to invoke God’s blessing and guidance on justices, judges, diplomats, attorneys and senior government officials. 

“When we open our hearts to God’s word, the Spirit sets us on fire,” the Bishop said. “We become witnesses to Christ’s saving work in the world. Only with and through him can we face the divisions, anger and violence in our communities with sure hope for true and lasting peace.” 

Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory was the principal celebrant of the Mass. In addition to Bishop Burbidge, the concelebrants included Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States; Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, rector of the cathedral; and Msgr. Peter Vaghi, pastor of the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Md., and chaplain to the John Carroll Society, which sponsors the Mass.

Because of the safety measures in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance at the cathedral was limited and the Mass was livestreamed to more than 800 people.

The Red Mass, sponsored by the John Carroll Society, is traditionally held on the Sunday before the first Monday in October, the day on which the U.S. Supreme Court reconvenes after its summer recess. 

Bishop Burbidge encouraged those at the Mass to “strive daily to bring Christ into the public arena. Be authentic witnesses of His saving work.”

Reminding those in the legal profession that wisdom, understanding, counsel and strength are gifts of the Holy Spirit, Bishop Burbidge prayed “that these gifts be yours as you confront the complex issues facing our nation, bear the public scrutiny brought upon you, and as you discern the many voices that clamor for your attention.”

He urged those in the legal profession to “defend every human life, from the moment of conception to natural death; to eradicate the evils of racism, discrimination and bigotry that plague our communities; to bring justice to the poor, the weak, the immigrant and the marginalized; to promote religious liberty and freedom of conscience; and to care for God’s Creation, our common home.” 

He also asked those at the Mass to “imagine the blessings that would be ours, if we practiced the wisdom of our founding fathers: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.’” 

He said that “life and liberty are not earned. They are not given by any human person or institution — they come from the hand of God … life and liberty are divine gifts.”

“Some forget this, sadly some reject it; some sadly grow weary in proclaiming it,” Bishop Burbidge said. “So, we say, ‘Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.’ ”

During his homily, Bishop Burbidge also prayed for those he called “guardians” of “the character of the law, the sacred character of the law” and for those who have died, “asking especially for His mercy to come upon Justice Ginsburg.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18 at the age of 87, served as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court for 27 years, having been appointed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993. President Trump has nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic, to replace Judge Ginsburg.

Bishop Burbidge asked those in the legal profession to follow the example of St. Thomas More, “a witness anchored in the truth. He was a civil servant, but without compromise, he was forevermore — and without compromise and no matter how great the threat — God’s servant first.”

St. Thomas More was a late 15th and early 16th century English lawyer and statesman who served as King Henry VIII’s lord chancellor. A devout Roman Catholic and fierce opponent of the Protestant Reformation, he was beheaded for refusing to acknowledge Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and the king’s self-proclamation as the supreme head of the Church of England. At his execution, his last words were “I die the King's good servant, and God's first.”

He was canonized in 1935 and proclaimed patron saint of politicians and statesmen in 2000.

“As you prepare to go forth into the world, ask God to give you the wisdom and courage … to be authentic witnesses to the truth. This is the sacred duty you all share,” Bishop Burbidge said. “Through the intercession of St. Thomas More, ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit, to strengthen and guide you.”

During the Mass, prayers were offered for those suffering from the coronavirus, including President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump.

Bishop Burbidge said, “We pray with confidence today in Christ Jesus who is with us at this Mass (and) who told you and all of us: ‘The Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name — He will teach you everything.’ ”

Prior to the Mass, Anita McBride, a member of the society’s board of governors and a fellow in residence at American University in Washington’s department of government who formerly served as assistant to President George W. Bush and chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush, said St. Matthew’s Cathedral was a fitting church for the Red Mass.

“This cathedral church is named for St. Matthew the Apostle, the patron saint of civil servants,” she said. “Appropriately, the choice of this patron underscores the importance of all those who serve in the municipal, state and national governments, as well as the many international organizations located in the metropolitan area.”

She added that the cathedral “plays a major role in the Catholic life of the nation’s capital.”

At the end of the Mass, Archbishop Gregory announced the names of four attorneys and one law firm who were honored with the John Carroll Society’s Pro Bono Legal Awards in recognition of volunteer service through the Catholic Charities Legal Network. This year’s recipients of the Pro Bono Legal Awards are attorneys Lindsey Erdmann, Steven B. Mudd, Sanjay Jose Mullick and Kathleen T. Wach, and the law firm of Wiley Rein LLP.

Noting that on the same day as the Red Mass Pope Francis issued his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” Archbishop Gregory said the encyclical “invites all people of goodwill to care for one another as sisters and brothers, (and) these honorees have done just that with fervor and compassion.”

Archbishop Gregory pointed out this past year, the 750 attorneys and 50 law firms serving through Catholic Charities Legal Network donated more than $3 million worth of legal services and more than 5,000 hours to serve more than 3,000 clients. “They are real legal heroes and they are changing lives,” Archbishop Gregory said. 

Because of the coronavirus safety measures, the brunch that traditionally follows the Red Mass was not held. The Pro Bono Legal Award honorees will be recognized when larger gatherings can resume.  

The Red Mass is a tradition that dates back many centuries to Rome, Paris and London. The name comes from the color of the liturgical vestments worn by the celebrants and the color of fire, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. 

The John Carroll Society is a Washington area organization that provides spiritual, intellectual, charitable and social opportunities for Catholic professionals and businessmen and women in service to the Archbishop of Washington. Its primary purpose is to assist the archbishop of Washington in his many works of charity and community projects. 

Msgr. Vaghi noted that in attendance at the Mass were members of the United States Supreme Court, including John G. Roberts Jr., the Chief Justice of the United States, and “governmental officials serving at every level of government — local, state and federal — and in various parts of the world.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020