Published October 17, 2013
ATLANTA—Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the 2013 Red Mass on Oct. 10 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Atlanta. Following is the text of his homily at that Mass.
Tenacity is the virtue of never giving up, as the Gospel passage today so effectively reminds us! Sacred Scripture is filled with the description of many virtues that can often be viewed from a much different light depending upon one’s perspective. The virtue of perseverance can be just another word for intransigence in some cases. The virtue of mercy might be just another word for foolish naiveté. The virtue of justice can sometimes be seen merely as ruthless vindictiveness.
You as members of our legal world are entrusted with the awesome responsibility of deciding the meaning of these and many other virtues in a wide variety of circumstances and then applying your findings in individual cases. That is why you continue to need the prayers of the people for whom you engage in the labors of the law. Our fervent prayers for you and for all of your colleagues in the legal world are the purposes of this annual Red Mass celebrated near the beginning the legal calendar.
Virtues are always desirable human and spiritual qualities that every person should pursue. Yet since all virtues can and sometimes do have very different meanings depending upon how they are interpreted, we must all take care that what we believe to be a virtuous action on our part is not in fact quite the opposite.
Each one of you must prayerfully and thoughtfully judge the people and the circumstances that appear before your courts and who seek your legal assistance so that your decisions and efforts are truly virtuous and continually exercised according to the highest standards. This is no insignificant responsibility since often individuals who ask that justice be rendered while tempered with mercy may also escort other people who could be seeking unyielding justice. And just as regularly as you know, the virtue of mercy for some people might be only another name for sheer gullibility. Yours has always been a challenging world of not mistaking virtues for other than what you might intend or that the law requires.
Each day and occasionally many times during the course of a single day, you must display the wisdom of Solomon, as he ultimately was able to discover the truth by understanding the human heart. I am certain that there are moments when you must now feel overwhelmed by the burdens of your office and for that very reason; today we want to assure you of our prayers for your success and consolation. Yours is not an easy task under the very best of circumstances—and considering the ruthless polarization that has so seized our society—it is a task that has only grown much more difficult.
We now live at a moment in time when it is easier and far more common to demonize the person rather than to engage an individual in honest debate and civil discourse. The brutal rhetoric that is too easily accessible on social media raises the temperature of our conflicts to a level that regularly results in violence—and not simply written or spoken violence—but that which manages to take lives indiscriminately. Our courts are now safeguarded by elaborate detection devices intended to protect those who are supposed to be protecting us. Other public places are now the locations of violent actions that were once unimaginable, yet are now seemingly the targets for aggressive and perhaps unstable personalities. It is within this social climate, that you must render prudent and serene judgments that are intended to advance and to secure democracy and the common good.
Ultimately, each of you must consider the rich heritage that religious beliefs offer to all of us whatever religious faith you might profess as well as those who belong to no particular faith tradition. God alone possesses all the virtues in perfection—justice and mercy, patience and zeal, compassion and righteousness, as well as all of the others. We mortals merely seek to participate in those Divine attributes and to exercise them as would God Himself.
Members of the legal profession are not divine, but you must desire to exercise the works of justice and mercy as God alone would have you – impartially, consistently, and generously. That is why we pray for you and all of your colleagues to possess and to exercise those virtues that redound to our good and the progress of this great nation of ours.
Our Red Mass is an annual plea to the All-Merciful, All-Just God to apportion a generous share of those perfections with all of you so that in your decisions and deliberations, God Himself will be glorified and our civic community will be more secure and more a place of peace, harmony, and unity for all citizens of this great State of Georgia. Amen.