By Jeff Grant, The Catholic Sun
PHOENIX – A new year and a new look to Arizona’s government met with over a half-century of tradition in the Diocese of Phoenix this month.
As the state entered 2023, political change unfolded in both the Governor’s Office and Office of Attorney General, where the parties shifted hands for the first time in 14 years and 12 years, respectively. And while the majority in the Legislature remained intact, there were new faces at the Statehouse and new leaders in the House and Senate.
Against that backdrop, the Diocese celebrated its 53rd Red Mass, an annual rite marking the start of the legislative session and the judicial year. A Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, it is offered to invoke the Spirit’s guidance for the political and legal worlds.
Attorneys who attended also renewed their Oath of Admission to the Arizona State Bar.
The liturgy drew about 250 worshippers — mostly attorneys, judges, clerks and other members of the legal profession, along with their families to St. Mary’s Basilica in downtown Phoenix. A reception followed at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.
A Votive Mass celebrates an aspect central to Roman Catholics, such as the Trinity, God’s Mercy, the Sacred Heart, the Cross, the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit, Mary, St. Joseph, and the angels and saints. It is intended to promote devotion of the faithful toward these mysteries.
A key theme was renewal.
“As we begin a new judicial year — knowing that we’re going to forge ahead, trying our very best but always coming up in an imperfect way — [we are] trusting somehow in the end, God has this,” Bishop John P. Dolan said, celebrating his first Red Mass since being installed last Aug. 2 as the Diocese’s fifth bishop.
“We understand the law, as we know it, is always going to be imperfect. And we always try to make it as better as we possibly can, never fully achieving that,” Bishop Dolan said.
But, the law has no monopoly on imperfection, he reminded the congregation, recalling the sleepy Ss. Peter, James and John – Jesus’ inner circle who were implored by the Savior to pray during the Agony in the Garden, hours before Jesus would go to the Cross to carry out God’s plan of redemption.
“Regenerated in the Spirit of God — we’ll never be able to achieve that on our own,” Bishop Dolan said. “We see the same act in today’s Gospel (Luke 10:21-24), when Jesus says the Spirit of the Lord is upon him, to renew the face of the Earth; each and every heart.”
Still, the bishop urged lawyers and others to do their utmost and rest in God’s love.
“…in our imperfection, God still loves us. God still wants the best for us. That’s the beautiful gift that we get to celebrate today.
“We should ask the Spirit to guide us — the advocate Jesus promised. Those of you in the legal profession, you know exactly what an advocate is, standing by your client.
“I pray those of you on the bench, in the legal profession, in the St. Thomas More Society, students of the law, (you) will look to that higher calling not just to the retributive law or even the restorative law, but a law that renews the face of the Earth.”
‘THE SPIRIT IS WITH US’
The words resonated with worshippers.
“I liked what he said about renewal and the Spirit as an advocate,” said Christina Estes-Werther, society board member, former Arizona State Election Director and former lawmaker. She also served as deputy counsel and policy adviser to Gov. Jan Brewer.
“The Spirit is always with us, in our day-to-day lives, even professionally. We’ve gone through a transition in state government in Arizona; renewal is really important. (So is) listening — the Spirit is with us — and our being present in that moment (in order) to move forward together.
“We’re not always going to agree, but as long as we can respect each other and hopefully find compromise to move forward and help others — that’s the goal,” Estes-Werther said.
Arizona Catholic Conference Executive Director Ron Johnson, who represents the state’s bishops in public-policy matters, called the message “comforting.”
“It’s important for lawyers, judges, elected officials – the people who make laws – to look to the Holy Spirit. It can get almost overwhelming, until you realize there is something much bigger than you: the presence of God. It was a great reminder that He can do so much more than any of us.”
Robert J. McWhirter, who practices criminal law and some civil-rights law, and who ran for state Attorney General last year, said, “There is a fundamental truth and virtue that has to be maintained for democracy to continue to function. Lawyers have a role in that more than anybody else. Addressing society’s ills requires going beyond a retributive model, Catholics are called to do that,” he said.
Named for St. Thomas More, the 15th-century lawyer and chancellor of England who was beheaded for refusing to acknowledge King Henry VIII as head of the Church or the king’s annulment from his first wife, the Society is an organization of legal professionals. Its mission is “to preserve and promulgate the highest standards of professional knowledge, skills, integrity, ethics, civility, dignity and justice in accord with the best traditions of the legal profession and the Catholic faith.”
The Society’s Phoenix chapter first organized the Mass in 1970, but the Mass itself dates to the early 1300s in England, where it was offered to coincide with the opening of Parliament. The celebrant was vested in red, and the Lord High justices were robed in brilliant scarlet, giving the Mass its name. The Mass was first celebrated in the United States in the 1920s.
Among Catholic legal professionals here, it also is considered a valuable networking tool.
“It’s a nice way to come together,” said Arizona Supreme Court Justice Kathryn H. King.
“It really is a time to renew the purpose and calling of the legal profession; reaffirm those principles, gather as a community. I started attending when I became a young lawyer. My dad was a lawyer, so we would come. It was a nice father-daughter thing to do together,” she said.
St. Thomas More Society Chapter President Juan Ramirez echoed those thoughts.
“We don’t get to see each other often; everybody is busy with their practices, family and other personal responsibilities,” he explained.
“It’s important to network with people who share our values: honesty, truth, and who practice with virtue, and respect for the law and our systems. It’s important to have friends who share those values. It also helps with accountability. You want to make sure you’re being an exemplary professional,” he said.