HOMILY OF MOST REV. BERNARD HEBDA
ARCHBISHOP OF SAINT PAUL AND MINNEAPOLIS
THE 2023 RED MASS
SEPTEMBER 29, 2023
SAINT VINCENT ARCHABBEY BASILICA
How wonderful to be here. Allow me to begin by thanking Bishop Kulick and Archabbot Martin and the leaders of the Saint Thomas More Society for the kind invitation to be with you this afternoon for this Red Mass.
I jumped at the opportunity not only because of my respect and friendship for Archabbot Martin and Bishop Kulick, but also because of my respect for the legal community and my desire to support faith-filled lawyers, judges and public servants in their important work.
The Red Mass is a wonderful tradition across our country and most especially here in the Diocese of Greensburg and I am happy to support and encourage that tradition. I am delighted that it is supported by Saint Vincent College and Seminary as well.
I have to tell you I also realized it would be an opportunity to catch a first glimpse of some fall foliage and it is always wonderful to be home. There’s something about being home. I grew up in Pittsburgh. We have one of your fellow lawyers here was with me from first grade on, and then I had the Sisters of Charity teaching at Resurrection as well, so it feels like home even to be here in Latrobe.
As providence would have it, our celebration this afternoon coincides with the Feast of the Archangels as the Archabbot mentioned. It is specified in our Catholic liturgical books as Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. It is interesting that their names suggest that all three draw their very identity from God. Michael means ‘who is like God’. Gabriel means ‘man of God’ and Raphael means ‘healing of God’.
Anytime we hear that syllable “el” in a Hebrew word, we know that there is a connection to God. Angel, for example, means “messenger of God”. Nathaniel in our gospel means “gift of God”. Uriel means “light of God”. Ariel means “lion of God”. You get the point. You are lawyers, you are smart.
For your Catholic trivia, those who study the angels and archangels are called angelologists and their field is angelology. The greatest of angelologists I suspect was Saint Thomas Aquinas. Not unlike many of you, he received his foundational education at a Benedictine monastery, Montecassino, so you know that whatever he says has to be correct. He would tell us that angels are spiritual beings as opposed to corporal beings, i.e., beings with bodies.
Like us, they are created by God. Everything in the universe is created except God himself. Aquinas writes that they have an intellect and a will like human beings, but no body.
Scripture tells us that they sometimes take the form of a body, for example, when they appear to Abraham or to Tobit or to the Blessed Mother. But this is a mere appearance rather than their essence. Given that they don’t have bodies that will decay like ours, they can’t ever have bad knees or hips like I do. They’re immortal.
The things about angels is that their whole being is focused on serving God. They are perpetually in action. Just imagine their billable hours if they could charge God, huh?
I think many years ago, many moons ago, when I was at Reed Smith, we billed in six-minute segments. I don’t know what the standard is now. But in any event as we heard in the gospel this afternoon, angels are perpetually ministering to God, descending and ascending on the son of man. That is why they have those “el” names. They’re completely focused on God.
What about us? Where do we fit in? While we have to toil on this earth and are held back in some ways by our bodies, some more than others, Scripture tells us that because of Christ, our inheritance is even greater than that of the angels.
Through Christ, we though “made . . . little less than a god,” (Ps. 8:6) each have a possibility of being God’s daughters and sons and in that way being even greater than the angels. Indeed, every time a priest says Mass, he prays as he mixes the water with the wine, “through the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ,” so that we can share in His humanity, so that He can share in our humanity.
Imagine that! Our destiny is to share in the very divinity of Christ. Given that exalted status, shouldn’t we be willing to serve the Lord at least as much as the angels? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we as lawyers and judges and public servants would be as dedicated in our service as are the angels? While God’s healing is already taken as a name, Rafael, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could earn the name “God’s justice” or “God’s compassion,” or “God’s defender of the poor”? While the heavenly court wouldn’t seem to need angelic defenders of justice, we certainly need them here on earth.
That’s in part why we gather here this afternoon in this beautiful space, to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that we can be faithful defenders of justice and advocates of those in need.
Speaking back at the time of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, Saint John Paul gathered Catholic jurists from around the world in Saint Peter’s Square and noted that our world needs men and women who courageously and publicly oppose the countless violations of rights, which unfortunately continue to demean individuals and humanity.
The Archangel Michael, as we heard in our first reading, had to wage battle against the forces of evil in heaven. We need to do that here on earth. Saint John Paul went on to speak of justice as it relates to the indispensable vocation of the Catholic lawyer. What Catholic judges and lawyers and those involved in the administration of justice possess is the awareness that their work, passionately supporting justice, equity, and the common good belongs to the plan of God, who asks all human beings to recognize one another as brothers and sisters, as children of one merciful Father, and who gives them the mission of defending every individual, especially the weakest, and of building a society on earth that conforms to the requirements of the Gospel.
The establishment of universal brotherhood certainly cannot be the result of jurists’ efforts alone, but their contribution to accomplishing this task is specific and indispensable. It is part of their responsibility and their mission.
Saint John Paul’s predecessor, Blessed Paul VI, had a similar appreciation of the work of justice. If you want peace, he proclaimed to the world, work for justice. Ever since he called for the Year of Mercy that began in 2015 and ran through 2016, our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been reminding us that we need not only defenders of justice but also instruments of mercy. Just as we as lawyers or judges or paralegals or folks involved in any way in the administration of justice could root our identity in God’s justice, so too, we need to be women and men whose lives radiate the very mercy of God.
Pope Francis, good Jesuit that he is, reminds us that the Old Testament uses various terms when it speaks about mercy. The most meaningful of these are hesed and rachamim. The first when applied to God, expresses God’s unfailing fidelity to the covenant with his people, whom he loves and forgives forever. The second, Rachamim, which literally means insides, can be translated as heartfelt mercy. This particularly brings to mind the maternal womb and helps us understand that God’s love for his people is like that of a mother for her child.
How wonderful it would be if our work as lawyers and judges and administrators of justice, if in that work we would also be devoted to spreading God’s mercy, or that we would draw our identity from that and take on the name Ramiel, the formulation that stresses the feminine dimension of the mercy of God, or Hesed. Hesed-style mercy is so much of the essence of who our God is that you don’t even have to add “el” to the Hebrew word for mercy. Hesed, the “of God” is already implied. As judges and lawyers and public servants we can’t allow our commitment to justice to squeeze out all room for mercy. Mercy should affect the very way that we practice law or serve in the public sector.
With particular relevance for those of us who are gathered here this afternoon, Pope Francis has noted that mercy does not approach cases, but persons and their pain. As he reminds us, mercy gets its hands dirty. It touches, it gets involved. It gets caught up with others. It necessarily gets personal. The getting personal applies to all involved. While we might quickly see how the call to be merciful might shape the way that we deal with those accused of being perpetrators of injustice, Pope Francis would seem to suggest that that mercy would first of all shape the way that we deal with those who have been victims of injustice. Going beyond the way in which we look at those involved in the controversies that we so often face in our professional lives, mercy should have an impact as well on the way that we treat our colleagues, our coworkers, the very way that we look at the world. There has to be a civility in the way that we interact with one another.
Finding a way to be both just and merciful is a difficult task. Finding a way to be the Lord’s servants while pursuing professional excellence isn’t easy either. It’s for those reasons in part that the church has traditionally offered a Red Mass, asking for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all those who are involved in the administration of justice.
We are blessed to have the example of Saint Thomas More, our saintly patron, who not only exemplified what it meant to pursue both justice and mercy, but also how to serve both our God and our state, which is no small task in the present disposition of things.
Please be assured of my prayers for that outpouring this afternoon and throughout this year that you might be women and men of mercy and justice, that you might be women and men of integrity that like Nathaniel, you might be men and women in whom there is no duplicity. May the Lord and His angels assist you in your work, to build up God’s kingdom, most especially here in the Diocese of Greensburg.