Homily by the Most Reverend Patrick C. Pinder, S.T.D.

Archbishop of Nassau

 

on the Occasion of the Red Mass, January 6, 2013

Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord

 

St Francis Xavier Cathedral, Nassau, Bahamas

 

Readings:

Isaiah 60: 1-6

Psalm 72

Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6

Matthew 2: 1-12

 

Honourable Attorney General, Minister of State Gomez, your Lordship the Chief Justice and Justices of the Supreme Court, Madam President and Justices of the Court of Appeals, Members of the Judiciary, Director of Legal Affairs, Director of Public Prosecutions, President of the Bar Association and Bar Council, Members of the Legal Profession, Beloved in Christ:

It is my great pleasure to welcome you this Cathedral to celebrate the Red Mass.  As always, the Red Mass is a solemn yet joyous event.  Solemn because it is an occasion when we invoke the guidance of the Holy Spirit on the legal profession.  We do so particularly, given the many challenges we face as a society.  Yet, at the same time, we recall that there is a light that can dispel the gloom.  There is a remedy of which we avail ourselves.  That is why it is of supreme importance that we gather here to ask the Lord’s guidance and blessing upon members of the legal profession and Judiciary at the start of the upcoming legal year.

For the faithful, this day has a precious significance.  It marks the Feast of the Epiphany that commemorates the first of the two earliest occasions on which the divinity of Jesus was revealed.  The event was the visit of the magi to the manger in Bethlehem, where the Gospel tells us that the son of God was born, taking on human flesh with all the challenges and potential pitfalls that it entails.  These wise men followed an unknown but phenomenally bright star to find the child who was born and to present gifts and to worship the infant Jesus.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, they knew him to be a king and obviously one of great importance, as confirmed by their eagerness to pay him homage.  The Gospel reports:

“After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, suddenly some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east asking, ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’” (Matthew 2:1-2)

“Having listened to what [King Herod] had to say, they set out.  And suddenly the star they had seen rising went forward and halted over the place where the child was.  The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:9-11)

These gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh—have traditionally been interpreted as reflecting the triple roles of Christ in relation to humankind.  Gold is for Christ’s role as king.  Frankincense represents his divine nature and role as the most high priest.  Myrrh, used to anoint the dead, prefigured his paschal sacrifice for the salvation of us all. 

The second milestone in fixing the divinity of Jesus was attained at the Baptism of our Lord by John in the River Jordan.  Know as “the Baptist,” John was given the grace to prepare the way for the advent of Christ.  Through the baptism of Jesus, the world was given an unquestionable confirmation that God had become flesh and for our salvation.  The Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father identified Jesus as his son “in whom he was well pleased.” (Matthew 4:17)

How can we not be seized with humility and joy on the Feast of Epiphany?  The feast is a reminder that our Lord came to free us all from the bondage of sin and the disorder it brings, regardless of our race, station in life or nationality.  In a glorious passage filled with words signifying light and premonition, Isaiah notes, this “shining forth” of Christ.  It is an epiphany, which brought us, as children of God the power to make our impossibilities possible, to lift us out of darkness.  The prophet Isaiah bids us: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!  Your light has come, the glory of the Lords shines upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1) 

Custom was, in the days when few had access to calendars, that on this feast the date of Easter was announced publicly so that all would know it.  Thus the dates of all the feasts dependent upon Easter, from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost, would also be known as well.  For good measure then, the date of Easter this year is March 31st.

You, whose vocation is the service of justice, know better than anyone else in our islands the need for the revelation of divine light among us.  Daily you see the shadows cast over our community by willful or negligent behaviour, indicating a sore need for the healing light of Christ.

Isaiah foresaw the depths of sin into which humanity would fall.  His prophecy alludes to it as a thick cloud.  It blocks the light, which everything on this earth needs to thrive.  “See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples….” (Isaiah 60:2)

You who play a vital role in our human efforts to contain the effects of this darkness, are deserving of our admiration, our respect, and indeed the support of our prayers.  You have committed to a work that must tax even the sturdiest and most grounded of human beings.  Greatest praise is due to those who resist temptation, uphold our Constitution and dispense justice with objectivity and mercy and compassion in imitation of our Lord.

Never before in our history have your contributions been more necessary.  You strive to bring order to an increasingly disordered society.  Never before has the illumination of Christ been more essential to light our way.

It is sobering to know that virtually all human behaviour, the good and the bad, is learned.  Human behaviour reflects concepts and cultural teachings that have become internalized, be they truth or fallacy.[1]  Human experience has shown that when we build our lives and communities on fallacies and lies, we build on sand, subject to be swept away by any ill wind or tide.

Up to the middle of the last century, among the key concepts by which many Bahamians ordered their lives were community and faith in God’s saving grace.  Our parents and grandparents demonstrated a belief that communal living and neighbourliness were essential to safety, order and survival.  More often than not, parents, teachers and community leaders taught us to believe that each of us bore a direct responsibility for caring for each other, for building community and for preserving order.  Such wisdom seemed to prevail when our circumstances and means were modest at best.  It was a time when giving, whether to an individual or a cause, entailed personal sacrifice, but our indigent forebears gave anyway.

Then came economic growth funded by fairly stable tourism revenues.  The resultant benefits brought the Bahamian majority the possibility of education beyond primary level and jobs for which they did not have to travel abroad, leaving family behind.  Economic growth also brought, for the first time, the possibility of widespread homeownership and money to satisfy not only needs, but wants also.  With easier circumstances, one would have expected an increase in charity and neighbourliness.

It seems to me that the opposite has developed in our country.  We are seeing the development of a modern turn of mind that disparages many of the traditional values.  More and more the entertainment media, especially the film and popular music industries, promote violence, promiscuity and materialism.   At the same time, they downplay civic responsibility and the values, traditions and practical wisdom which used to be passed down from our elders to younger generations through old stories, songs and even worship.

Eavesdrop on a great number of conversations in Bahamian homes, classrooms, association meetings, in various social situations and it is likely that you will perceive a great generational shift.  Somehow the younger Bahamian has been conditioned to believe that salvation and freedom are a one-person deal, characterized by competition for dominance, entitlement, greed and a belief in personal advantage to the detriment of others.  The common good is no longer the driver of our creativity…it has yielded the field to a desire for personal gain and a profound sense that others must pay my way.  Here is a strong base for a dysfunctional society.  I have seen the condition so aptly and sadly described as living in “an age of public affluence and civic squalor.”

As we approach the 40th anniversary of our national independence and as we seek to progress in the formation of our national character there are a number of things we need to keep in focus.  Among them are faith in God, democratic values and a sense of civic responsibility.   These, and not the law, are the pillars of community, the foundation of charity and the lifeblood of a successful democracy and social order.  Constitutions and law are essential roadmaps to the destination.  We have to have the desire and the will to follow their indications. 

Yet no society can escape disorder if we fail to inculcate, constantly highlight and perpetuate certain concepts, values and duties.  These include truth, justice, freedom, equality, human rights, respect for properly constituted authority, rule of law and due process.  Of equal importance are respect for property, volunteerism, patriotism, tolerance, mutual assistance, self-restraint and self-respect.  These are virtues and values which make for good citizenship.  These are virtues and values which all who desire to be good citizens should assume as obligations.  No democracy can flourish unless its citizens are virtuous…not angels, not saints but men and women of virtue.

Three weeks from today we will engage in an exercise of our democratic process.  As we approach January 28 there are three things we ought to bear in mind. 

1. The activity, in our community, we know as the selling and buying of numbers is long-standing, widespread, and illegal.  As we approach January 28, we need to ask ourselves whether or not the good of our country and its future do not require that this activity be addressed by legitimate authority?

2. No matter what the outcome of the referendum, you have no obligation to gamble.  So if you take the position that you do not buy numbers before the referendum and you do not intend to do so afterwards whatever the outcome of the referendum you are already a winner.

3. No matter how much money your make or how little money you make you should be in the habit of saving regularly and not in the habit of gambling regularly.  If you are in the habit of saving you will have money when you need it and you will not have to resort to gambling for it.  Saving should be a life-long habit for all of us.  We should encourage the young to get in the habit of saving from the time they receive their first paycheck.  If we can get this message across it would be a giant leap forward for the personal financial discipline of individuals and families in our community.

In our time as in every age, people need a sense of enduring meaning in their lives.  It is their dissatisfaction and desperate search for meaning that drives much of the disorder which societies are experiencing. 

The Church responds with the proclamation of the Gospel which liberates the dignity of the human person from changing opinions and changing times.  It ensures the freedom of men and women as no human law can do.  It completes the work the law is intended to perform—it brings peace.

Peace begins with faith in God and in Jesus Christ.  It is this faith that sheds light on the moral principles that are “the sole and irreplaceable foundation of that stability and tranquility, of that internal and external order, private and public, that alone can generate and safeguard the prosperity of states.[2]

The Church teaches men and women that God offers them the real possibility of overcoming evil and attaining good.  The Lord has redeemed humankind.

To establish the principles and values that sustain a society worthy of human persons, love must be put at the forefront.  Love is the reason our Lord came to earth and took human flesh for our salvation.  Jesus teaches us that love is the distinguishing mark of discipleship.  It is the only channel to human perfection and consequently to the transformation of our societies and ultimately our world. 

Love must be present in and permeate every social relationship.  Personal behaviour is only fully human when it is born of love, manifests love and is ordered to love.  Our lives must be characterized by an outpouring of charity, of that true Christian charity which fulfills the Gospel’s law.  It is humankind’s surest road to peace.  Love is the light Christ brought us. 

If we are to hope, to find respite from earth’s dark night, we must seek our true epiphany and our true identity in this light of Christ.  Then, as Isaiah tells us “you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.” (Isaiah 60:5)

When we build our life concepts on the eternal truths that have come to us through the privilege of our tradition of faith, especially through the Scriptures, we have a far better chance of building ordered and sustainable lives and communities.  When we, as a spiritual Jerusalem, dwell in love, in the light of Christ, not only can we emerge from the night that shrouds us, we can rise up in splendor and provide light to others.  This is what the Church calls the civilization of love. 

Isaiah prophesied: “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.  Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.” (Isaiah 60:3-4)   I pray that more of us will avail ourselves of this light by walking more truly in the pathway our Lord forged for us. 

On this occasion I pray that you who exercise the ministry of justice, in the vocation of the legal profession, may by your efforts and achievements bring much good and benefit to our community in the course of this legal year.  In your daily efforts may you be inspired and blessed every step of the way.



[1] Everett E. Allie, The Origin of Social Dysfunction: the Pathology of Cultural Delusion http://www.buildfreedom.com/t/origin/chapter_1.shtml

[2] Pius XII, Summi Pontificatus