Red Mass Homily

by the Most Reverend Patrick C. Pinder

 

on the occasion of the Red Mass

at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral

Nassau, Bahamas

 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord

 

Readings:

Isaiah 60:1-6

Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6

Matthew 2:1-10

 

Governor General and Lady Foulkes, Your Lordship, the Chief Justice and your fellow Justices of the Supreme Court, Madame President and Justices of the Court of Appeals; Other Members of the Judiciary, Madame Attorney General, Minister of State in the Ministry of National Security, Director of Legal Affairs, Director of Public Prosecutions, President of the Bar Association and Bar Council; Members of the Bar and Legal Profession; Beloved in Christ:

It is once again my pleasure to welcome you to our Cathedral to celebrate the Annual Red Mass.  Our celebration today has two dimensions.  Firstly, it brings us together to celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord, who brought a priceless gift to a world that was lost in darkness.  The prophet Isaiah sings of that treasure – the gift of light, which has the power to dispel the darkness of evil:

Rise up in splendor! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.

See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory. (Isaiah 60:1-2)

These words harken back to the very first spoken words of Sacred Scripture.  God says, “Let there be light!” (Gen. 1:3)  Then they take us forward to the Gospel of John, which is proclaimed on Christmas Day and declares of Jesus:  “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.  What came to be through him was life, and his life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  (John 1:3-5)

The second dimension of our worship today is to invoke the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit upon members of the legal profession, the judiciary and associates at the start of the legal year.  Guidance and blessing are essential to your profession, given the importance of its role in seeking to ensure social order and civility among us.

Over the past year, our world has been assailed by one storm after another; storms both real and metaphorical.  More and more each day, the problems of the 21st century are challenging much of what we count as joy – liberty of person and the ability to earn one’s living in legitimacy and peace.  It might seem also that we are losing the delight of functional families and productive relationships.  In some areas, extremists are snatching away the liberty of worship from those who do not share their doctrines.  Human smuggling and modern piracy have become an affront to our humanity even in our region, which some call ‘paradise’.  In some countries today, there are children who have never known freedom from fear and dire want.  In some areas, war is the norm for their peoples and women and children are used as commodities.

The word of God tells us that God created us to have exceeding peace, joy and abundance and forged a world of wonder to supply them.  Yet, peace, joy and abundance are often challenged by their opposite numbers.  It is a situation of which members of the law and justice community worldwide are unavoidably aware.

Here in The Bahamas, we are fast developing the same unbalanced, frightful equation.  We are witnessing what appears to be the erosion of light and the spread of darkness.  So many of the acts of human depravity, which we used to hear of in the news from other countries and decry, are becoming commonplace here, now.  Although Isaiah tells us that the glory of the Lord shines upon us, some may be doubtful, given the events of the last four days in 2013 and the first few days of this New Year.

The newspapers of December 27 announced that the year’s murder count had surpassed that of 2012.  If that were not enough, the headlines of December 30 seemed to rip the fabric of all we had come to believe of our culture and society.  Eleven shot and four killed in Fox Hill.  On the wings of New Year’s Day came further murders, which suggested that the violence of the old year was not a fluke, but was becoming frightfully common.

The past year taught us that these murders and various assaults on public order and personal peace were being committed mostly by young men.  But we also learned that young women also are joining the ranks.  Amidst persistent economic woes, it has been this cheapening of life, our most precious gift, which confounds many us and robs us of the goodness God has intended for our enjoyment.

The signs are clear.  The moral compass of far too many Bahamians is askew.  Self, rather than community, has been assigned as true north.

In the face of a surge of moral decline, the police, the legal profession and the judiciary have accepted the often thankless role of “cleanup committee.”  Let me say here that I am deeply grateful for your continuing efforts.  You face a task that seems insuperable – making sense of and containing the debris of incivility and outright malice; in fact, trying to make sense of the senselessness.

What then is the root cause of so widespread a decay in our Commonwealth of the Bahamas?  I firmly believe it is rooted in the denial of the very foundation stone upon which civilized society rests, namely, respect for the person and the value of human dignity.

Yet, in the midst of darkness, a glorious light appears to illumine our way.  Jesus came into the world to dispel the darkness and give life.  This is the message of the Incarnation.  It is the message of Christmas, which we continue to celebrate until next Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Benedict XVI spoke powerfully of the root of the present woes:  In his view, it is the lack of fraternity, which feeds much of the poverty that afflicts the world.  In this case, poverty does not refer to the lack of material means only.  It encompasses a profound poverty of the interactions among nations.  It involves the entire spectrum of human relationships, but none of greater impact that the disintegrating family and community relationships.

Pope Francis offer further cogent reasons for the growing crisis.  He notes:

The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.  Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.  God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.  This is a very real danger for believers too.  Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless.  That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for you, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.[1]

The truth of the foregoing statements is writ large in Bahamian life in the second decade of the 21st century.

A recent newspaper article shed light on one of the major factors contributing to the breakdown of order in our country.  We are losing the essential role of the nurturing family.  More and more, the family unit consists of single women who have more of what they can’t afford and less of what they need.  In other words, the pattern seems to involve more children than they can provide for and a lack of income other than the dole provided by Social Services.

Furthermore, many Bahamian families are often lacking a key element; that is, a father functioning beyond the level of biology.  The father, in the divine plan, should be one who partners with the mother in every facet of their lives for the nurturing of their children and each other.  Sadly and increasingly, “father” features in multiples in too many households.  Worse still, many of these fathers, for all practical purposes, can be accounted deceased or significant contributors only to growing disorder.

While wholesome family life is central to a wholesome, productive society, it does not and cannot complete the picture.  No sector of our society or economy can disclaim responsibility – an absence of malice does not constitute innocence.

The community at large, in all its public and private aspects, must share responsibility for the destruction of our peace.  We have a fairly exact profile of the ones pulling the triggers, but we steadfastly refuse to accept our responsibility as co-conspirators.  In one way or another, the society, as a whole, supplies the guns and the ammunition.  Some do so literally.

When all such factors come together, as they have in this country, we should not be surprised by the spurning of the common good.  Why should there be consternation that the observance of the law has been put on a sliding scale?  Nowadays, personal desires and advantage are trumping statues.  A little infraction in the beginning becomes a big one in the end.  Wrongdoing is cumulative: it mushrooms; it corrupts.  The smallest infraction by one person is soon co-opted by the many and becomes an intractable affliction infecting the whole society.

In his message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Francis addressed this subject.  He said, “We are concerned by the various types of hardship, marginalization, isolation and various forms of pathological dependencies which we see increasing.  This kind of poverty can be overcome only through the rediscovery and valuing of fraternal relationships in the heart of families and communities, through the sharing of joys and sorrows, of hardships and triumphs that are a part of human life.”

Using the biblical story of Cain and Abel, Francis declared that their identity and vocation was to fraternity.  The Pope notes:  “Cain’s murder of Abel bears tragic witness to his radical rejection of their vocation to be brothers.”  This is a powerful statement.

Fraternity is not optional. It is a vocation for each of us. Turning deaf ears to the call of brotherhood or actively rejecting it, is rejecting Christ, rejecting the Word of God, rejecting the fatherhood of God.  Here lies the stubborn root of our world's trouble.

Sacred Scripture makes clear God's take on the matter. After Cain has killed Abel, the Lord asks. "Where is your brother?" (Gen 4:9)

This brief question to the world's first murderer exemplifies the centrality of brotherhood to God's great plan for our peace and fulfillment. Cain's reply tells why peace and fulfillment appear to be fleeing beyond our grasp. "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9).

This was obviously the wrong answer. The Book of Genesis tells us, "Cain went away from the presence of the Lord" (4:16). Cain chose to separate himself from God and thereby launched a world of suffering for himself and his heirs.

We are our brother's keeper. We were formed for companionship and for mutual support. It is the reason God created Eve to share Adam's life. "The LORD God said: "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him." (Gen 2:18)

The call to association with our fellow human beings, to reciprocity, to communion and self-giving is imprinted in our DNA. When we deny the appeal to fraternity, we shut the door to peace and open wide the gateway to evil in all its variety.

It is vital to know that however dormant fraternity is in us, Christ is the answer for its activation. He came into the world to reconcile us to God and provide us with the means of bridging the gap between us and our estranged brothers and sisters. This is the good news of the Gospel. Our humanity can be retrieved through faith in the saving grace of Christ. This is true evangelization, not the condemnation of our brothers and sisters.

By sending his only son into the world, God intended us to dwell in the fullness of the glorious light which Isaiah described so well:

“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. Then 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.”(Is 60: 3-6)

Do we wish to avail ourselves of the riches of God's grace? Do we truly wish to bring respite and healing to our communities? Then, we must follow the path of discipleship the Lord carved out for us. It is a path made abundantly clear by the example of his earthly life, by his willing sacrifice and by his resurrection.

Above all, we are commanded to go forth and spread the Gospel—the good news that is the only true and reliable source of light to our world, the only sure and sustainable path to relief from the current monstrous upwelling of crime. We must bring the light of Christ back to our community, not just in prayers and pronouncements of convenience, but in truth and fidelity to God's word.

We must demonstrate the Gospel in all our actions, personal and public. We must remember the words of St Francis of Assisi. "Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words."  The obligation is especially heavy for those who are called to lead, in whatever domain.

In this regard, we do need a new evangelization—one which must begin in our homes and spread out to illuminate the community. This new drive must be founded on Christ and in Christ, who alone has the power to renew lives lost in error. Our point of departure must be personal, spiritual renewal. As Benedict XVI noted, being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. That person of whom Benedict speaks, that person who empowers us to be effective, is Christ.

Peace in our homes and in our streets will require no less than the gold standard of relationships among men and women— commitment, constancy and personal sacrifice. It requires the delay of self-gratification for the greater good.

Scripture speaks of the divine life, which we partake of in Christ. For:

“... the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.  From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace....” (John 1: 14-16)

Christ is the inexhaustible source of our hope and joy. The encounter with him imbues us with the power to renew our lives and our communities. And as Pope Francis has said, "even if the Christian Message has known periods of darkness and ecclesial weakness, it will never grow old. Jesus can also break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him and he constantly amazes us by his divine creativity."

So the first step on our journey must be to relearn who Christ is and recapture the profound love, compassion and mercy, which exemplified his life and his dealings with others while he dwelled among us.

There is no exclusion in Christ. He was Saviour to Matthew the tax collector, to the Samaritan woman, to Mary Magdalene and to the Roman centurion. He is Saviour to the very people, whom we consider beneath our notice or unworthy of our society.

St Paul revealed this glorious mystery of Christ in his letter to the Ephesians: “When you read this you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3: 4-6)

Our mission is to tell of God's love for humankind, his willingness to forgive, his patient love and the long period of grace he has given for the healing of the nations.

It is important to realize, however, that the work of evangelization and healing cannot be the work of the Church alone. It is not just a Sunday thing. It requires the involvement of the entire community, across economic sectors, across community organizations and associations, bridging the public and private sectors. It requires daily input. It requires patience. We are all called to care and to rescue.

It should excite our compassion that there are members of our Bahamians community living in substandard conditions that insult dignity and poison any desire for good citizenship. If these things do not touch our hearts, they should still propel us to immediate and sustained action for the best reason in the world.  Such inequities in a society breed the dissatisfaction, envy, anger and disregard for authority and law, which rob our neighbourhoods of peace. Remember that peace is not just the absence of conflict, but also the presence of caring, of opportunities, of hope.  Policing alone will not suffice, if the underlying causes are not addressed.

All is not bad news. I wish to report that in our schools we have initiated a Male Mentorship Program. This is geared towards our young men. It is simply remarkable how the young men in this program develop healthy, positive, fraternal bonds with one another.  It is also remarkable how their academic performance improves beyond expectations. This is a good report.

Perhaps this Male Mentorship Program is best suited to smaller groups in a school context. So I add, with a superabundance of caution, now may be the time for us to look again at a national program focused on at risk young men. The program should be realistic in its goals and its methods.  It should seek to instill healthy life-styles, positive social attitudes and most importantly skills training.  It should be effective in attaining these goals.  It should also be cost-effective so that its burden on the national purse is sustainable.

The word of God tells us that we can make a difference. As St Paul affirms, "I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me." (Phil 4:13) Our efforts to improve the quality of life in our community must be founded on the splendor of the truth and the love of God. No matter how painful, we must face the realities of life as they now obtain in this country and each must accept responsibility to act as the Lord speaks to our conscience.

Our efforts may find meaning and comfort in the prayer of St Francis of Assisi:

 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

May the Lord strengthen us all as we journey more surely in the light of Christ and as we draw more deeply into the fullness of his presence.



[1] Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudiam”, 2.