Speaking at the annual Red Mass in Washington held just before the Supreme Court opens its session in October, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis encouraged those involved in the administration of law to seek justice and mercy in their work.
“Those two virtues must intersect in our lives and actions,” said Archbishop Hebda, the homilist at the 64th annual Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. The Mass seeks God’s blessing and guidance on those who work in the law, including judges, diplomats, government officials and attorneys. The Mass was also attended by university officials and law professors and students.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, was the main celebrant of the Oct. 2 Mass, which was attended by five Supreme Court justices: John G. Roberts Jr., Chief Justice of the United States; and Supreme Court Associate Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer, and Samuel A. Alito Jr.
Other government officials at the Mass included U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch; U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.; and Denis McDonough, President Obama’s chief of staff.
Archbishop Hebda noted that those present at the Red Mass felt the absence of Antonin Scalia, a Catholic who faithfully attended the Mass during his nearly three decades as a Supreme Court associate justice. Justice Scalia died Feb. 13 at the age of 79.
“He (Scalia) was someone who seemed to understand the necessity of exploring the connection between justice and mercy,” the Minnesota archbishop said. “In addressing law students at the University of St. Thomas in my archdiocese just last year, shortly before he passed away, he stressed the importance of their moral formation, stating that ‘the rule of law is always second to the law of love.’”
With that statement, Scalia was not showing a lack of appreciation for the rule of law, but he was demonstrating “a heightened appreciation for the importance of the law of love – and for the mercy that flows from it – in the practice of law and in the administration of justice,” Archbishop Hebda said.
Noting that Pope Francis has declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Church to reflect on God’s infinite mercy and the call for believers to be instruments of mercy, the Red Mass homilist said the pope “has noted that mercy ‘does not approach “cases,” but persons and their pain.’” The pope, he added, has said, “Mercy gets its hands dirty. It touches, it gets involved, it gets caught up with others.”
Archbishop Hebda said this personal approach to sharing mercy is especially important for the work of law. “We need to remember that real people are at the heart of what we do and are affected by the decisions we make,” he said.
“Men and women of good will throughout this nation depend on you to protect their liberties,” Archbishop Hebda said, noting how Pope Francis during his visit to the White House last year encouraged public servants to build a tolerant and inclusive society that safeguards people’s rights and rejects unjust discrimination.
Gathering together to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the administration of justice is an appropriate response to facing difficult challenges, the Red Mass homilist said, noting that this year’s liturgy was being held “at this critical moment in our nation’s history, at this time when America seems to be almost paralyzed by a political polarization that impedes our ability to address effectively a whole host of pressing needs.”
Archbishop Hebda noted several contemporary problems “in a society in which shopping malls and discos and schools have all too often become places of unthinkable horror, at a time when old hatreds and prejudices seem to be rearing their ugly heads, or when our first freedoms are so readily put at risk…”
But he said that through prayer and action, people can take on the “privilege role as the hands of God’s mercy” to bring healing to the world, a work that people are called to do together, and then “we can – by God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit – do amazing things.”
Noting the importance of common prayer and mutual support, Archbishop Hebda said that can foster “faith capable of moving the mountains of despair and division, faith capable of pursuing justice while manifesting mercy, (and) faith capable of making a difference in our lives and in our communities.”
The Red Mass in Washington is sponsored by the John Carroll Society, an organization that provides spiritual, intellectual, charitable and social opportunities for Catholic professionals and business men and women in service to the archbishop of Washington.
The concelebrants included Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States; Archbishop Hebda; Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Virginia; Auxiliary Bishop Richard B. Higgins of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA; and Washington Auxiliary Bishops Barry C. Knestout and Mario E. Dorsonville. Twenty-one priests also concelebrated the Mass. After the Mass, the John Carroll Society presented Pro Bono Legal Awards to a law professor, two attorneys and a law firm who serve the poor through Catholic Charities Legal Network. This past year, the network provided $2.7 million in legal services to 4,100 clients through its 723 attorney volunteers and 65 participating law firms and solo practices.
CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl talks with John G. Roberts Jr., Chief Justice of the United States, as they leave the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle after the annual Red Mass Oct. 2. The Mass traditionally marks the start of the court year, including the opening of the Supreme Court term.
CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, talks with Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy as they leave the Cathedral of St. Matthew the ApostlE after the annual Red Mass Oct. 2. Also pictured is U.S. Justice Clarence Thomas at left.
- John G. Roberts Jr., Chief Justice of the United States;
Supreme Court Associate Justices
- Anthony M. Kennedy,
- Clarence Thomas,
- Stephen G. Breyer,
- Samuel A. Alito Jr.