Sunday, October 06, 2019

In Wilton's "Supreme" Turn, "A New Season Filled With Hope"

Noon ET, 6 October 2019As things turned out, perhaps it's a good thing that Wilton Gregory didn't make the cut for the red hat this time. After all, that would've been the one thing that could've kept him from his first chance at what's arguably the ultimate act of his new post.

Well before the Pope announced yesterday's Consistory, this was already Red Weekend in the nation's capital.

With tomorrow's start of the new Supreme Court turn, this Sunday before the First Monday in October always brings the traditional Red Mass in St Matthew's Cathedral, which invariably attracts a quorum of the Court at the front of a crowd brimming with Cabinet secretaries, Congressional leaders, lower judges and, all told, the top tier of the District's legal and political worlds, Catholic and non.

Arranged by DC's John Carroll Society of Catholic lawyers and now in its 67th year, the Red Mass marks the supreme turn of the city's archbishop as high priest of "official Washington." However, with its preaching duties normally entrusted to distinguished prelates from across the map, only in his first and last years in office does the occupant of St Matt's take the pulpit for himself.

That said, even before today, Gregory had already preached the Red twice – first in 2002 as USCCB president (amid the first round of the abuse scandals), then in 2015, notably in the wake of SCOTUS' redefinition of marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. This time, however, he's no visitor, but the defining US pick of Francis' pontificate....

At least, so far.

Per custom, Chief Justice John Roberts – the first Catholic to oversee the judiciary in a century – led the congregation, with Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer, and retired Justice Anthony Kennedy rounding out the SCOTUS delegation. Among others, Attorney General William Barr was also in attendance.

In keeping with the customs of the Court, the Mass is not filmed and tight restrictions are kept on photography. For security reasons, meanwhile, the attending justices no longer join the bishops in the recessional.

On a context note, while the five-member Catholic bloc retains a majority of the Court, notably absent from today's rites was the junior of “the brethren,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose longtime involvement as both a coach at one of Washington's most prominent parochial schools and volunteering with the archdiocese's Catholic Charities played an outsize role in his introduction to the country ahead of last year's bruising confirmation fight.

Back to the ambo, nearly five months into his tenure – and said to be palpably "re-energized" at 71 by the challenge of the roiled, yet vibrant capital church after a historic year of crises – here's Gregory's homily today:
Dear Esteemed Guests and Treasured Friends in the Lord,

I am pleased to offer this year’s Red Mass for the People of God in the Archdiocese of Washington as your new Archbishop. It represents for me an important opportunity to acknowledge publicly the uniqueness of this assembled congregation which is comprised of so many individuals who represent the most prestigious offices of legal justice in our nation. By your presence, each one of you pays tribute to the venerable community of faith which is this local Church. And we, in turn, join with you in praying for God’s Blessings upon all the distinguished members of the Judiciary, Civic, and Legal Community throughout our nation at the beginning of a new judicial term.

New beginnings are always good for the soul. Each year at this time, the legal world opens a new judicial session and that also should inspire us to give thanks for the gift of this particular component of our freedom that is captured and operative in the courts of our land and in the opportunity to pursue justice as a legitimate expression of our freedom and hope. It might easily occur in the midst of the many other activities in which we are daily engaged that we could overlook or underestimate the beginning of the new judicial term in the face of the demands of the particular personal moments in our lives. Yet we would do so only at our own peril.

Every court in the United States remains an enduring and irreplaceable manifestation of our freedom as a nation and as a people. Distinct from the legislative or executive branches of our government, your enduring value is primarily to be found in your careful and balanced pursuit and impartial application of the twin virtues of justice and mercy under the laws of our country. For that very reason, we join you today in asking God’s own blessing upon the new judicial term that we are beginning.

The artistic renditions of the symbol of Justice that are so often found on the grounds of or nearby our court buildings have been wisely selected from classical imagery. The statue of a woman wearing a blindfold and often holding an ageless balancing scale is a frequent and apt symbol of what justice must be for all of us – evenhanded and without bias and prudent in attempting carefully to weigh all sides of an issue. That she is also depicted as a woman, beautiful and alluring, delicate and nurturing cannot be overlooked either. Justice in our courts must seek to display all of those qualities only hinted at through this symbol. The impartial feminine figure declines to be concerned about or even take notice of the appearance of wealth, age, gender, or power – she only mulls over the merits of the issues that she carefully balances on her scales of justice.

Themis is the name of the Greek Goddess of justice that we see most frequently – and Justitia is her Latin name. Whatever we may perhaps choose to call her; she is the symbol of a reality that apportions some divine attributes. You members of the legal world must hold forever before your eyes and hearts this image that is so often identified with the reality of divine justice.

There are godlike attributes represented in this statute that cannot and should not be easily dismissed. Justice is a divine characteristic of God Himself. Whether we are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim in heritage – we all believe that God is perfectly Just and always Merciful. And those of you engaged in the administration of justice can and must never completely remove those divine qualities from your service and your calling.

Saint Luke wrote the passage that we just heard saying that Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit. Those who are blessed with that same Spirit find reasons to take heart and comfort in facing the tasks that are theirs. We begin another judicial season asking for a generous outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all who serve us in the realm of our legal structures. May each one of you rejoice in a spirit of integrity, courage, and wisdom each day of this new year of legal justice and human compassion.

Your work in the field of justice is a blessing for the people of our society – reflecting those qualities that Isaiah the Prophet announced in our first reading. God Himself blesses His people through the works of justice and mercy which flow from and should be found in every court in our nation. Since God’s people long to be invited to bless His holy name through the experience of justice and mercy that they encounter in the courts of our land. How often in God’s Word do we find reference to lawyers and judges who can and do represent God’s own plans – or who unfortunately manage to thwart God’s design.

We begin a new judicial season always filled with hope that honesty and integrity will prevail and that the laws of our nation will be properly applied and observed. Those who work in the legal world carry a heavy burden and you must constantly work relentlessly to ensure that truth and fairness are not denied to any plaintiff or defendant.

Paul, the Apostle, comforts us all with the reminder that “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness.” We must humbly begin this new judicial term with the sure awareness of our human weaknesses that ultimately must be resolved through the works of God’s Spirit.

This theme is also echoed in Luke’s Gospel that reminds us that in spite of all of our best plans and lofty designs, we are ultimately safeguarded by Divine Providence. Therefore, as we pray for all those engaged in the administration of justice for our country, we remind ourselves that we stand as humble servants of a power far greater than our own modest skills and talents.

We pray for all of the members of the judiciary and legal world because yours is the tremendous responsibility of attempting to reflect God’s perfect justice and mercy in interpreting the laws of our nation and for all those who will come before you during this next year including those who may have engaged in a horrendous crime, to those whose language, culture, race, or religion are not your own, as well as those who are at precarious moment on the spectrum of human life. None of them are unimportant and all of them approach you for what they hope will be a sign and an expression of God’s truth. May this new judicial season bring you increased wisdom and prudent judgments. May this new legal calendar bring our nation a boundless new hope and confidence in our freedom as a people. And may God be glorified in all that you do in all the myriad courts and legal corridors of our land in attempting to reflect His always more Perfect Justice and Mercy.