By Tony Gutiérrez, Catholic News Service
PHOENIX (CNS) — In a liturgy inviting “tongues as of fire” from the Holy Spirit to guide lawyers and government officials, it seemed oddly appropriate that the fire alarm inadvertently went off just before the Diocese of Phoenix’s annual Red Mass began Jan. 11 at St. Mary’s Basilica.
“You will notice that I asked the basilica to set off the fire alarm right before Mass so that it would be in your mind already,” joked homilist the Very Rev. Paul Scalia, a renowned Catholic apologist and author and son of the late U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.
The Red Mass is celebrated annually for members of the legal profession. In the United States, the Red Mass has typically been celebrated to mark the opening of the judicial year, but in Phoenix it is celebrated to mark the beginning of the Arizona state legislative session.
State Rep. Neal Carter, LD-8 in Pinal County has attended the Red Mass before as an attorney, but this was his first time to attend as a legislator, having been appointed to fill the seat opened by the late 2021 death of Frank Pratt.
“Truth transcends time [and] space, it comes from God, and it transcends the partisan concerns of day-to-day politics,” reflected Carter, who attends St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Florence, in the Diocese of Tucson. “If you use truth as a guiding star, like the Magi did, you will arrive at true justice, peace, happiness, joy and the promises of the Spirit.”
Father Scalia, who serves as episcopal vicar for clergy for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, and pastor of St. James Parish in Falls Church, Virginia, noted in his homily that the “time of Pentecost” referenced in the Acts of the Apostles was not what we celebrate on Pentecost Sunday, but rather a feast in ancient Israel commemorating when the Law was given at Mount Sinai.
“There are two ways of viewing human laws. Either they correspond to the truth, or they’re instruments of power,” he said. Although the nation’s Founding Fathers were flawed men, they understood this truth.
“They sought, however imperfectly, to establish the government according to the truth of the human person — truth that transcended any one group or power bloc,” said Father Scalia. “They appealed to self-evident truths and unalienable rights to shape society.”
The Christian Pentecost fulfills the events of Mount Sinai, he said. Rather than God appearing in a cloud of fire to give us the Law on stone tablets, He enables people to live it by the fire of the Holy Spirit. This fire enlightens, purifies and strengthens those in the legal profession, he said.
“This enlightenment is particularly important for the work of law so that those so doing can see and grasp the truth and the dignity of the human person whom our laws should serve,” said Father Scalia.
Comparing our reason to a window, just as a dirty window can distort the light, so can our own human fallen nature distort that enlightenment of our reason. Using the Abolitionist Movement as an example, he noted that the immorality of slavery is a truth accessible to human reason.
“But greed for power or financial gain had rendered reason impure and untrue,” said Father Scalia. “It was the Christians of the Abolitionist Movement who shed light on the issue, and whose faith purified reason of its selfishness.”
Priests and legal professionals can both face temptation to vanity, pride and selfish gain, said Father Scalia, noting that it can be easy to make decisions based on what others might think, say or publish.
“It is the fire of the Holy Spirit that strengthens our will to do what we know we should do, not only to see the good, but to choose that good has to be done,” he said. “The Spirit bestows the strength of will to give counsel or to render a decision that might make a person unpopular or even a little poorer.”
After Communion, Arizona Supreme Court Justice Kathryn King, who attends St. Francis Xavier Parish in Central Phoenix, administered the Oath of Admission to the State Bar of Arizona to all attorneys present.
“The fire of the Holy Spirit is very relevant to applying the law as we do as judges,” she said in an interview after the Mass. King, who was appointed to the court in July 2021, added that the Red Mass is “a nice opportunity for all of the legislators, lawyers and judges and those who are involved in the law to come together and celebrate in Christ before the legislative session begins.”
It’s important to have a Red Mass because members of the legal profession have a major influence on society, said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted at a reception following the Mass.
“We need to regain our confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit,” said the bishop. “We need constantly to be lifting up the nobility of those of that profession and then supporting and encouraging and instructing our Catholic lawyers to live their faith in the public square.”
Reflecting on Father Scalia’s homily, Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference — the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops —, said that the message resonated with legislators attending.
“The central core of the message is that we really value the truth over power, and how if you really want to help those who are the most disadvantaged — the poor and others — we really need to focus on the truth, which too often gets lost today,” said Johnson.
Juan Ramirez, serving in his second year as president of the St. Thomas More Society of Phoenix, which organizes the annual liturgy, said he was pleased with the turnout, noting the lack of reception and limited gathering the previous year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Such a gathering “helps us to maintain that community,” said Ramirez, who attends St. Augustine Parish in Phoenix. “It’s very important for us Catholics to create a culture of faith and fellowship.”