Red Mass 2021

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The Lord calls all of us to be saints. He calls all of us to holiness. I’m sure you’ve heard this many times before: the great teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the universal call to holiness. The Council Fathers stated the following: “Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord – each in his or her own way – to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect.” Each believer must discern his or her own path to holiness. And to do so according to one’s state in life, including one’s job or profession. I’d like to focus on this call to you who are members of the legal profession. Of course, you have a great model and example in your patron saint, Thomas More. I invite you to think about how you, as lawyers and judges, can be credible witnesses to Jesus and His Gospel. You are called to be Christ’s disciples not only at home or at church, but also in your law offices and courtrooms. You are called to witness to Christ to your co-workers, your clients, and even your opponents by your goodness, by your integrity, and by your charity. The call to holiness includes working in the legal profession with integrity and skill in the service of your clients and also by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain. The graces of your Baptism and Confirmation are not to be put aside when you go to work nor the Holy Spirit left outside when you enter the courtroom.

The path to holiness always involves in some way the cross, heeding our Lord’s words in the Gospel today about denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily in following Jesus. Our Lord says: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Your patron, St. Thomas More, certainly heeded those words as he gave his life for the sake of Jesus. Jesus said: “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?”  I’m sure you know the famous quip of Thomas More in the play, “A Man for All Seasons.” More’s former friend Richard Rich gave false testimony against him at his trial and was rewarded with an appointment as Attorney General of Wales. St. Thomas More said to him: “It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales, Richard?” How often we can be tempted by the things of this world, by money, by ambition, by popularity, and by worldly gain and success. If we succumb, we can lose our souls in the process. The path to holiness entails self-denial, renouncing these gains for the sake of Jesus and His kingdom.

This makes me think about the challenges of living one’s Catholic faith in the legal profession today. This includes understanding law in the context of the higher law to which we are bound. I doubt that there are many law schools today in our country that teach about civil law’s connection to the natural law to which we as disciples of Jesus understand ourselves to be bound. I imagine that most law schools today teach the ethical duties of lawyers, but often these fall short of the moral imperatives we as Catholics embrace for the improvement of the administration of justice.

Perhaps our biggest challenge today comes from the culture we live in and the direction of our culture. After all, law is shaped by culture. In fact, law and culture reinforce and shape each other. When we look back at the immoral laws about slavery followed by Jim Crow laws in the Deep South, these unjust laws were shaped by a culture in which the moral compass of the citizens was distorted. This is a major challenge for us today, not just politics, but culture. We live our faith in a culture which is often at odds with the truths of our faith, for example, extreme individualism. As Catholics, we uphold individual rights, but always within the context of our responsibilities for the common good. We uphold the dignity of every human person in a culture that Pope Francis often describes as “a throw-away culture,” where even human life is discarded or devalued. There are also the strong currents of relativism and materialism in society today. To be a faithful Catholic in any profession in the midst of a culture that is not open to the transcendent truths of faith and reason is a challenge, and particularly for you in the legal profession given the mutual reinforcement of law and culture. This is a complex topic that I don’t have enough time to speak about in this homily, but I encourage you to think about it. I will offer just three suggestions for your pursuit of holiness in today’s culture, followed by a contemporary saintly example for you.

  1. Never cooperate illicitly with evil. Of course, judges must follow the law in the cases that come before them, but there is a moral duty to recuse oneself if the law would require one to perform an intrinsically evil act or cooperate with evil in a manner that is morally impermissible.
  2. Always pursue justice. Your service of the needs of your clients may prove a challenge if your client wants you to engage in conduct that you know to be unjust and immoral, even if it might be legal. You are always obliged to follow your properly formed conscience in these matters. Some legal ethicists hold to what is called “role morality,” a position popular today in legal ethics. Proponents of role morality hold that a lawyer must do what the client wants, as long as it is legal. The lawyer thus assumes an amoral role. This theory exalts autonomy above the objective good and it exempts a lawyer from any measure of accountability for assisting his or her client’s immorality. Catholic lawyers are to pursue justice above the self-serving interests of their clients. To exalt one’s client’s will and autonomy above the common good, ignoring the goods of truth and respect for others, is problematic. True justice cannot be reduced to doing whatever one’s client desires. A Catholic lawyer should always consider justice as the ethical yardstick when considering what his or her client wants to do.
  3. “Avoid greed in all its forms.” This command comes from Jesus and is addressed to all His disciples, to you and to me. You are well aware that the noble legal profession has been adversely affected by our materialistic culture. We need only consider the environment of some mega law firms in which profit reigns supreme, despite the human costs. The ultimate aim is not the attainment of justice, but the maximization of profits. A Catholic lawyer should be troubled by this since he or she knows, as Scripture teaches, that the love of money is indeed the root of all evil. The culture of some law firms reflect the culture of our materialistic society. The Church encourages leaders of law firms to create a different culture, an evangelized culture. One way to do this is to hear the cry of the poor and the needy by serving the least fortunate pro bono or with reduced charges, according to their means.

I’d like to now conclude with an example of holiness to inspire you in your vocation. This past May, a young judge from Sicily was beatified by Pope Francis. His name was Rosario Livatino. He worked as a prosecutor in Agrigento dealing with the criminal activity of the mafia in the 1980s and he confronted the corrupt system of mafia bribes and kickbacks given for public work contracts. In 1989, he became a judge at the young age of 37. In a culture deeply affected by the public evil of the mafia, Blessed Rosario, throughout his career, worked against corruption and gained success in a number of cases, obtaining the seizure of large sums of money and property, and the arrest of senior figures in organized crime. As a devout Catholic, he courageously pursued justice. For him, to render justice was an act of prayerful self-dedication to God. He once said: “To render justice is a fulfillment of oneself, it is a prayer, it is a dedication of oneself to God.”   

Blessed Rosario not only pursued justice in his work, but also pursued the supreme law of the Gospel, which is charity. He once said: “Justice is necessary, but not sufficient, and must be overcome by the law of charity which is the law of love, love of neighbor and God.” He knew that only charity solves problems at their roots. He lived his profession with a strong sense of justice that came from his faith as well as with a spirit of charity. The strength of his faith was the cornerstone of his life as a lawyer and judge.

Blessed Rosario learned to live in courage and selflessness from his attendance at daily Mass, his personal prayer, and his daily reading of the Scriptures. Even as a young student, he was devoted to the Bible. He wrote: “the Bible is the chest in which is enclosed the most precious jewel that exists: the Word of God… the Bible is a jewel that never wears out and it is not a futile ornament, but a wonderful and wise master to spiritual and material life.”

In Blessed Rosario’s writings, the letters S.T.D. were found at the top of the pages, standing for “sub tutela Dei,” which mean “under the tutelage or guardianship of God.” In everything he did, he knew that God’s sight was upon him. This is how the young judge lived his life: under the sight of God, in the light of faith. On his desk was always a crucifix and the New Testament, the pages of which were underlined and crumpled, he read it so often. He drew his profound wisdom from the Gospel, the teachings of the Church, and the lives of the saints.

This young Catholic judge provided a credible witness of coherence in his life of faith and his daily work. He knew that the Christian is called to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, who must sanctify the world through one’s daily life and work. He is a model for those in the legal profession of courageous integrity, dedication to justice and the common good, and witness to Jesus and the Gospel in one’s profession. He lived the Christian faith not only when he passed through the doors of the Church, but also when he passed through the doors of the court. He did not hesitate to take sides in defense of the truth and in the protection of the victims of the mafia, even at the cost of his own life. Unlike many other judges, politicians, and other public officials, Blessed Rosario avoided any questionable contact with, or dubious favors from, mafia families. He would not stop investigating or prosecuting cases when the defendants were affiliated with the mafia, despite the risks that entailed. As a result, he was soon hated by the local bosses who eventually ordered his assassination.

On Sept. 21, 1990, assassins rammed Judge Rosario’s car while he was driving to court. They shot at him through the windows both from a car and from a motorcycle. Rosario was wounded in his shoulder. He left his vehicle and started to run away. The killers chased him and kept shooting. Rosario lost one of his shoes and fell down. Then, looking at the man who was about to shoot the last bullet, he said: “Cosa vi ho fatto, picciotti?” “Guys, what have I done to you?”  There was no condemnation or hatred in his words. These words remind us of the words of Jesus we chant at the Good Friday liturgy: “My people, what have I done to you?” 

Blessed Rosario Livatino was just 38 years old when he was assassinated. He has since inspired a generation of Catholic lawyers in Italy and beyond. St. John Paul II called him “a martyr to justice.” On the day of his beatification, Pope Francis said: “We give thanks to Rosario Angelo Livatino for the example he leaves us, for having fought every day the good fight of faith with humility, meekness and mercy. Always and only in the name of Christ, without ever abandoning faith and justice, even in the imminence of the risk of death.” I encourage you to read about Blessed Rosario’s life since I’ve only given you a sketch in this homily. Along with St. Thomas More, your patron, may Blessed Rosario intercede for you in your pursuit of holiness through your lives of faith, justice, and charity and in living a life of consistency between your faith and your work! May you practice law “sub tutela Dei,” under the tutelage and watch of God!