By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published October 15, 2015 | En Español
Last week, I spent an awful lot of time with judges and lawyers! I was not seeking their professional assistance or responding to a legal summons, but I did marvel at the depth of their faith.
Both in Washington, D.C., and in Atlanta, dozens of court officials and attorneys came together for the annual Red Mass, which takes place in both communities at the beginning of each new judicial term. Catholics, Christians of other denominations, Jews and many from other religious heritages, as well as those who do not belong to any particular denomination, came to pray with us that the forthcoming judicial year might bring all of them the gifts of wisdom, prudence, justice and mercy.
We prayed for them, and they, in turn, prayed with us that our courts will be places of impartiality and fairness.
Each of these two Red Masses was sponsored by an association of Catholic attorneys—in Washington, the John Carroll Society, and here in Atlanta, the St. Thomas More Society. These two professional associations include members who may not themselves be attorneys but who have a deep respect for the legal profession. We are all familiar with the popularity of lawyer jokes and have probably chuckled at a few of them in the past. Yet the gathering of these legal professionals was prayerful and serious and a clear indication of the depth of their faith and their desire, as members of these Catholic associations, to be true servants of justice.
I received a kind note of thanks from one of the judges in attendance at one of these Red Masses, assuring me that this annual moment of prayer is deeply appreciated and a very proper preparation for the work that the courts will face during this next year. Like Pope Francis, who has made a frequent habit of asking us to pray for him, the judges and attorneys seemed genuinely grateful that people do keep them in their prayers since they recognize the enormity of their responsibilities in our society and their dependence on the prayerful support of all of us.
Our court system is a bulwark of the democratic nature of our country. None of us would agree with every decision rendered by our courts, but we all must admit that we would be immeasurably diminished without their services.
We can all recount a court decision from the past with which we took sharp exception, but the integrity, independence and impartiality of our courts keep us among the most fortunate of all nations. We can argue that occasionally our courts are “activists”—meaning that we believe they overstep their legitimate authority in a particular situation. We might suggest that at times the courts are hopelessly mired in traditions and language that fail to recognize current circumstances.
Whatever our complaints about the courts of our land, we all have a vested interest in praying for those who are our legal and judicial servants—if for no other reason than they might improve in their wisdom and prudence.
Our own Red Mass honored three people this year: Presiding Justice P. Harris Hines from our Georgia Supreme Court, who has worked tirelessly for young people within the court system; Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., of Charleston, South Carolina, and Reverend Dr. Norvel Goff Sr., interim pastor of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, where nine members were slain in an horrific act of hatred and violence last June. Mayor Riley and Rev. Goff were pivotal in calming and healing the community in the aftermath of that brutal event.
In so recognizing these two leaders, the St. Thomas More Society recognized the heroism that a terrible event can summon forth in even the most volatile circumstances. The three honorees were singled out by our own local lawyers and judges who realize that such strength of character and depth of faith enriches us all—perhaps especially those engaged in the works of justice and mercy in our judiciary. The St. Thomas More Society chose people that they admire, and we should all praise God for placing them in our world today, particularly during such moments of violence and hatred.