Just less than a week after a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, Arizona elected officials and legal professionals came together to pray for peace and to look to their patron — St. Thomas More — for courage at the annual Red Mass Jan. 12 at St. Mary’s Basilica.
Referencing the reading from Romans, Fr. Eugene Mary of the Trinity Florea acknowledged the “groaning” felt in the past year, not only from the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest stemming from racial violence, but also the political turmoil and divisiveness culminating in the attack on the Capitol.
“Perhaps you, as legal professionals, feel this ache in a particular way, especially as Catholics seeking to uphold the rule of law in the public square,” said Fr. Eugene Mary, director of Merciful Heart Hermitage in Black Canyon City. “We groan within ourselves as we see the societal structures and moral values that have always supported us to now be seemingly collapsing.”
There may be a temptation to ignore the anguish or deny it is there, but, he noted, Jesus wants to meet us in that groaning. The solution is to bring that pain to Jesus in prayer.
While finding time for prayer can be difficult, Fr. Eugene Mary pointed to St. Thomas More, the former chancellor of England who broke with his friend and king, Henry VIII, over the latter’s decision to divorce his wife and break from the Catholic Church, ultimately leading to the saint’s martyrdom. In addition to being a layman and lawyer, Thomas More was also a husband and father of four children and four foster children.
“He had a lot on his plate,” said Fr. Eugene Mary. “He even had a pet monkey. And yet, for him, prayer was such a great priority that he woke up every day at 2 o’clock in the morning to pray. … I believe it is this prayer — strengthened by daily Mass, the Holy Eucharist — that enabled him to make this sacrifice.”
Speaking to the Sun after the Mass, Fr. Eugene Mary offered practical tips for incorporating prayer into our daily lives: commit to quiet prayer for just 15 minutes a day, designating a room or corner of a room as an “oratory” or prayer space, with an icon, candle or statue, reading the Scriptures, praying the Liturgy of the Hours or Rosary and attending daily Mass.
The annual Mass, sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society of Phoenix, was also livestreamed this year in an effort to allow for greater participation while being mindful of social distancing.
“A lot of people are seeking comfort, some security and something to hold on to that’s solid,” said Juan Ramirez, president of the society and a parishioner at St. Augustine. “It’s a good time for people to take a deep look toward God for stability.”
Attending the Red Mass, “is something that brings all of us together,” said State Representative Regina Cobb, LD-5. “We need to have that unifying message as we go forward through our session. It starts our session out every year on a high note and a note of faith and unity.”
Cobb, who represents La Paz and most of Mohave Counties and attends St. Mary Parish in Kingman and St. Francis Xavier Parish in Phoenix when the legislature is in session, brought her granddaughter Emelyn to the Red Mass and read the First Reading
“We have a major problem in society as a whole today where we are very quick to see the worst in people instead of seeing the best in people,” said State Senator TJ Shope, LD-8, who represents Central and Eastern Pinal County and Southern Gila County.
To counter that, the senator noted how elected officials of different parties will sit together at lunch and talk about their families or hobbies.
“That’s really the start of the camaraderie for people,” said Shope, who attends St. James the Apostle Parish in Coolidge in the Diocese of Tucson, and All Saints Newman Center at Arizona State University in Tempe when the legislature is in session. “You get to know somebody as an individual, and it makes a lot of that adversarial relationship really begin to fade away.”
The Red Mass also helps public officials to, like St. Thomas More, find courage, said Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference.
“As noted in the homily, we’re certainly going to have a lot of challenges coming up on areas like religious liberty and respect for all human life,” Johnson said, appreciating Fr. Eugene Mary’s emphasis that “Jesus is with us now during these tough times, and throughout this civil unrest.”