Using the example of St. Thomas More, Archbishop Raymond Burke exhorted legal professionals present at Tuesday's Red Mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral to keep God before their eyes as they strive to administer justice amidst a “society which is abandoning its Judeo-Christian foundations.”
Archbishop Burke flew in from the Vatican to celebrate the Mass at the invitation of his long-time friend, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix. The Red Mass is the only event on the archbishop's short itinerary.
“As a Catholic lawyer, it is an incredible honor to be graced with the presence of Archbishop Burke at the Red Mass,” John Kelly, general counsel for the Diocese of Phoenix, told The Catholic Sun. “This is also a man who has publicly and unabashedly defended the teachings of the Church on the sanctity of life. An opportunity to celebrate Mass with someone like this does not come along very often.”
The archbishop began his homily by explaining the origins of the Red Mass, a tradition dating to the Middle Ages. Noting that there was a stronger understanding of the “essential unity” of faith and reason in that time period, he said that celebrating Mass “at the beginning of the new judicial year pointed to the irreplaceable foundation of the service of pronouncing the just and the right on behalf of one’s brothers and sisters.”
He also explained that red vestments are worn during the Mass for two reasons: judges in the Middle Ages wore red robes and because they remind “us of the perfect obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ” in obeying the call of the Holy Spirit to lay down our own lives.
Archbishop Burke then presented the story of St. Thomas More, a lawyer who was martyred for choosing to serve God instead of the king. The patron saint of lawyers, the archbishop reminded, is known for exclaiming, “I die the king’s good servant, and God’s first.” “Saint Thomas More understood that there could be no contradiction between his service of his nation and his service of God, and that, in fact, he could only serve his nation truly and faithfully by his true and faithful service of God,” Archbishop Burke declared.
As he reflected on the calling of those in the legal profession, the archbishop called to mind the traditional formulation of a definitive sentence, “the judge, in giving the final disposition of the sentence, always first declared: 'Having God only before my eyes.'”
“The minister of justice bears a most heavy burden, the burden of emptying himself of himself, in order to have God alone before His eyes, in declaring what is just and right on behalf of his fellow citizens,” noted the archbishop. “At the same time, he enjoys the grace of the Holy Spirit for the carrying out of his service.”
This is no easy task, the Vatican-based archbishop noted as he assessed the current state of the American society.
In our culture, “the law more and more dares to force those with the sacred trust of caring for the health of their brothers and sisters to violate the most sacred tenets of their consciences, and to force individuals and institutions to cooperate in egregious violations of the natural moral law,” he said. “In such a society, the administration of justice is no longer a participation in the justice of God, an obedient response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but a façade cloaking our own selfishness and refusal to give our lives for the sake of the good of all our brothers and sisters.”
“It is a society which is abandoning its Judeo-Christian foundations, the fundamental obedience to God’s law which safeguards the common good, and is embracing a totalitarianism which masks itself as the 'hope,' the 'future,' of our nation. Reason and faith teaches us that such a society can only produce violence and death and in the end destroy itself,” Archbishop Burke warned.
Addressing the lawyers and politicians present, he stated, “All of us depend upon you to speak what is just and right on our behalf and on behalf of all our brothers and sisters, especially those whose lives are in any way threatened.”
Acknowledging the difficulty of this task, he prayed that all ministers of justice would always enjoy the comfort, strength, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Archbishop Burke concluded his homily by praying, “Let us lift up to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus those charged with the administration of justice on our behalf, imploring for them the gift of the Holy Spirit to inspire and strengthen them in declaring what is just and right on behalf of all our brothers and sisters, especially those who are in most need."