A visiting archbishop urged members of Arizona’s legal profession and state legislators to uphold the right of religious freedom during the annual Diocese of Phoenix Red Mass sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society Jan. 14 at St. Mary’s Basilica.
“The gift of religious freedom … so prominent in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, runs the risk of being taken for granted. In a democratic republic, it is precisely this gift that needs safeguarding,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, in his homily during the Mass.
Among those attending were judges, lawyers, government attorneys, lawmakers and law students.
Archbishop Kurtz, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, said preserving and upholding religious freedom is intertwined with the Catholic faith and the Church’s stand on the issue. He noted that America’s experience contributed heavily to the 1965 deliberations of the Second Vatican Council during which “Dignitatis Humanae,” or the “Declaration of Religious Liberty,” was approved.
“First, we promote and defend religious freedom because we believe truth, not power, undergirds a rightly ordered politics. Second, because our faith convictions or dictates of conscience call us to inspire a culture. And finally, because religious freedom gives us the space to serve with integrity of faith and conscience,” the archbishop said.
“The human person has dignity because he or she is created in the image of God, and this means in part he or she has the capacity to seek the truth about God. As Americans, we intuitively understand individuals should be free to seek the truth of life. A politics that respects religious freedom is a politics that acknowledges the pre-eminence of the search for truth that is at the heart of what it means to be human. In some of our challenges to religious freedom, I think we see that when we lose this respect for the search for truth, our politics degenerates into power-seeking for the purpose of imposing one’s will on others,” he continued.
The message clearly resonated with those attending.
“We are called to live in society first as Christians. We have a lot of responsibility. Without these freedoms, you can feel isolated trying to live that life,” offered attorney and St. Augustine parishioner Juan Ramirez, secretary of the St. Thomas More Society.
“It’s uplifting for us to be encouraged in the faith. It’s important for everyone to have the freedom to express their faith. That makes for a better America,” said Arizona Catholic Conference Executive director Ron Johnson.
“We’re grateful to the diocese and Archbishop Kurtz, and thankful for what he said, advocating for the right to religious freedom. This is such an important topic today,” said Amy Shepard, vice president of ecumenical relations for Alliance Defending Freedom, the Scottsdale-based nationwide nonprofit legal organization that focuses on religious liberty, pro-life issues and the protection of marriage.
Begun in 13th-century France, the Red Mass expanded in the early 1300s to England, where it marked the opening of Parliament. This year’s liturgy in Phoenix, the diocese’s 49th annual Mass, coincided with the opening of the 54th Arizona Legislature. The Mass’ name comes from the color of the priestly vestments symbolizing the color of the Holy Spirit, as well as the fact that royal judges wore scarlet robes centuries ago.
“This Red Mass is meant to stir into flame your calling as real as Andrew’s and Simon Peter’s,” Archbishop Kurtz, said in a reference to the Gospel passage in which St. Mark (Mk 1:14-20) recounts Jesus’ calling of his first Apostles.
“It gives us a great start to the year. It’s always a blessing to be part of this Mass,” added estate planning and probate attorney Ryan Scharber, a parishioner of St. Anne in Gilbert.
Red Mass in the Diocese of Honolulu: Homily excerpts