Justice, mercy are twin virtues for the law, Red Mass homilist says

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer speaks with Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl after the annual Red Mass Oct. 2 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer speaks with Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl after the annual Red Mass Oct. 2 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

By Mark Zimmermann Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Those involved in the administration of law should seek justice and mercy in their work, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis said Oct. 2.

“Those two virtues must intersect in our lives and actions,” said the archbishop, who was the homilist at the 64th annual Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington.

The Red Mass in the nation’s capital is celebrated just before the Supreme Court begins its term in October; opening day for the court this year was Oct. 3.

The Mass seeks God’s blessing and guidance on those who work in the law, including judges, diplomats, government officials and attorneys. The Mass also was attended by university officials and law professors and students.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl was the main celebrant of the Mass, which was attended by five Supreme Court justices: Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. and Supreme Court Associate Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Other government officials at the Mass included U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch; U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.; and Denis McDonough, President Barack Obama’s chief of staff.

Archbishop Hebda noted that those present at the Red Mass felt the absence of Antonin Scalia, a Catholic who faithfully attended the Mass during his nearly three decades as a Supreme Court associate justice. Scalia died Feb. 13 at age 79.

“He (Scalia) was someone who seemed to understand the necessity of exploring the connection between justice and mercy,” the Minnesota archbishop said. “In addressing law students at the University of St. Thomas in my archdiocese just last year, shortly before he passed away, he stressed the importance of their moral formation, stating that ‘the rule of law is always second to the law of love.'”

With that statement, Scalia was not showing a lack of appreciation for the rule of law, but he was demonstrating “a heightened appreciation for the importance of the law of love — and for the mercy that flows from it — in the practice of law and in the administration of justice,” Archbishop Hebda said.

Noting that Pope Francis has declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy in the church to reflect on God’s infinite mercy and the call for believers to be instruments of mercy, the Red Mass homilist said the pope “has noted that mercy ‘does not approach “cases,” but persons and their pain.'” The pope, he added, has said, “Mercy gets its hands dirty. It touches, it gets involved, it gets caught up with others.”

Archbishop Hebda said this personal approach to sharing mercy is especially important for the work of law. “We need to remember that real people are at the heart of what we do and are affected by the decisions we make,” he said.

The Minnesota archbishop said the Catholic Church respects the important work for the common good carried out by government leaders and those who administer justice.

“Men and women of goodwill throughout this nation depend on you to protect their liberties,” Archbishop Hebda said, noting how Pope Francis during his visit to the White House last year encouraged public servants to build a tolerant and inclusive society that safeguards people’s rights and rejects unjust discrimination.

Gathering together to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the administration of justice is an appropriate response to facing difficult challenges, he said, noting that this year’s liturgy was being held “at this critical moment in our nation’s history, at this time when America seems to be almost paralyzed by a political polarization that impedes our ability to address effectively a whole host of pressing needs.”

Archbishop Hebda noted several contemporary problems “in a society in which shopping malls and discos and schools have all too often become places of unthinkable horror, at a time when old hatreds and prejudices seem to be rearing their ugly heads, or when our first freedoms are so readily put at risk.

But he said that through prayer and action, people can take on the “privilege role as the hands of God’s mercy” to bring healing to the world, a work that people are called to do together, and then “we can — by God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit — do amazing things.”

Noting the importance of common prayer and mutual support, Archbishop Hebda said that can foster “faith capable of moving the mountains of despair and division, faith capable of pursuing justice while manifesting mercy, (and) faith capable of making a difference in our lives and in our communities.”

The Red Mass in Washington is sponsored by the John Carroll Society, an organization that provides spiritual, intellectual, charitable and social opportunities for Catholic professionals and business men and women in service to the archbishop of Washington.

The concelebrants included Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States; Archbishop Hebda; Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Virginia; Auxiliary Bishop Richard B. Higgins of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; and Washington Auxiliary Bishops Barry C. Knestout and Mario E. Dorsonville. Twenty-one priests also concelebrated the Mass.

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Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.


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