Homily by the Most Reverend Patrick C. Pinder

Archbishop of Nassau

on the Occasion of the Red Mass at St Francis Xavier Cathedral, Nassau, Bahamas

Sunday, January 8, 2012

(The Epiphany of the Lord)

 

Readings

Isaiah 60:1-6

Psalm: 72: 1-2, 7-8, 10-11

Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-7

Matthew 2:1-12.

 

Your Lordship, the Chief Justice and your fellow Justices of the Supreme Court, Madam President and Justices of the Court of Appeals; Other Members of the Judiciary; Honorable Attorney General, Director of Legal Affairs; President of the Bar Association and Bar Council; Members of the Bar and Legal Profession; Beloved in Christ:

I convey, in the words of Paul, grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is my pleasure to welcome you here on this very special day, the Feast of the Epiphany. This feast falls within the season of Christmas when we commemorate nothing less than the infinite coming among us as an infant. More precisely, this Feast signals that moment when Christ, the long expected Light of the World, was revealed in the flesh to all the nations, as represented by the Magi.

What a cause for joy! Here is the revelation of an unquenchable light—a light which illumines a world long shrouded in darkness and despair.

In today’s first reading, we see that the prophet Isaiah foreshadowed the incarnation of Jesus, born as man to be our hope and our savior. He foretells this glorious advent using the symbol of great light coming upon us.

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! 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.
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.
Raise your eyes and look about. (Isaiah 60:1-4)

Centuries after the Prophet Isaiah, Blessed John Henry Newman described a wonderful way of spreading this light in the context of our day and our time. He speaks of an apostolate of personal influence.[1] What does that mean? Newman noted:

“We shall find it difficult to estimate the moral power which a single individual, trained to practice what he teaches, may acquire in his own circle, in the course of years.”[2]

The concept is explained more fully in the Second Vatican Council’s “Decree on the Laity”, which was much influenced by Newman’s work:

A special form of the individual apostolate is the witness of a whole life issuing from faith, hope, and charity; it is a sign very much in keeping with the needs of our times, and a manifestation of Christ living in his faithful. Then, by the apostolate of the word, which in certain circumstances is absolutely necessary, the laity proclaim Christ, explain and spread his teachings, each one according to his condition and competence, and profess those teachings with fidelity...The laity accomplish the Church's mission in the world principally by that blending of conduct and faith which makes them the light of the world; by that uprightness in all their dealings which is for every man such an incentive to love the true and the good…; by that fraternal charity that makes them share the living conditions and labors, the sufferings and yearnings of their brothers, and thereby prepare all hearts, gently, imperceptibly, for the action of saving grace; by that full awareness of their personal responsibility in the development of society, which drives them to perform their family, social and professional duties with Christian generosity. In this way their conduct makes itself gradually felt in the surroundings where they live and work.[3]

Now that is a mouthful.  Yet it can not be emphasized enough that the apostolate of personal influence is simply showing forth in one’s personal actions the virtues that reflect true discipleship of Christ. It means standing for truth and integrity. It holds as its mission and chief joy the spreading of the good news by example more than words. It means providing a model of virtue to others. Ultimately, it means causing people to become aware of or intensifying their awareness of the divine presence and its saving grace. In brief, we have the power to exercise a healthy and saving influence on the lives of those around us.

And we all influence others daily, whether we intend it or not, whether we are aware that we are doing so, or whether our influence is for good or bad. Needless to say, the more highly placed we are, the greater our authority, the greater is our potential for influencing the lives of others. This should be a sobering thought for a significant number gathered here today. From an appreciation of this potential, the custom of the Red Mass arose, its purpose to invoke the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the exercise of that influence in the legal profession.

The wisdom of the ancients taught us that—“Statecraft is soul craft.”[4] This refers to a reciprocal relationship between the state and its citizens. This suggests something very significant for us. The character of the state fashions the character of its citizens and certainly, the character of its citizens influence the character of the state. Of course, the state exercises its influence over its citizens through laws, regulations, and the mechanisms of governance. It does so as well through the forces of law and order it sets up, not least of which are the justice system and the courts.

I must add that the culture of a people, including their traditions and beliefs, also exercises a powerful influence over those who live within its scope. It is obvious that religious faith falls into this category of “soul” crafters. We have had countless examples throughout history of those who demonstrated its extraordinary influence.

In taking the form and life of man, the Son of God began an apostolate of personal influence on earth. Jesus was born to show that the power of God can enable us, as human beings, to live righteously and to do great things. Not only does he demonstrate that this is possible for us all, he calls us to do likewise.  He calls us to exercise our own apostolate of personal influence. He calls us to reflect his light in our own times, in our personal spheres of influence.

In every age we need men and women to follow the example of our Lord, and our age surely is no different. We have just closed out a turbulent year, marked by troubles that ran the gamut of misery around the globe. It was a year of enduring recession, job loss and volatile financial markets the world over. Impressively, we in The Bahamas managed to keep our heads above water a lot better than several larger nations. Yet, we experienced an astounding number of murders in our supposedly Christian country. It is clear that incivility and violence have sunk to intolerable new depths.

With 2012 not yet a week old, murder has already soiled the New Year’s swaddling clothes. Many are wondering where lies the power or authority that can put a stop to or at least slow this advance.

Can it be that our problems have arisen and prevail because all too many of us are failing to present an apostolate of exemplary personal influence?

You, as members of the legal profession and the judiciary, are better positioned than most to appreciate how the foundations of our society are threatened by a multitude of negative forces. But bear in mind that, in similar circumstances, your patron and your model, Saint Thomas More exercised an apostolate of rare personal influence.

More had to decide whether to stand for truth and integrity consistent with his conscience in the exercise of his apostolate of personal influence. He did so to the point of martyrdom.

History provides us with a number of examples of sterling discipleship, even in modern times—that of Blessed Theresa of Calcutta and that of Martin Luther King Jr.

We may ask ourselves how these people found such strength and stamina and courage to stand against cultures of corruption, neglect and discrimination of all kinds. One answer may find its source in the Baptism of our Lord, which we celebrate tomorrow.

His Baptism opened the way for our own Baptism when we are invested as children of God. From that moment on, we enjoy the gift of the Holy Spirit and all that this entails. As St Gregory said so long ago, “Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him.”[5]

Our Lord promised never to forsake us. He also promised that we would be invested with power to perform great wonders. This is his divine commitment to imbue us with all the courage and strength we need to follow his example of humility and service. He offers a firm foundation upon which we can each build our own apostolate of personal influence.

With such power available to us, why can’t we effect more interventions for positive change? This question must surely exercise our waking hours. Is it not a great irony that Bahamians should constantly and loudly proclaim Christ as our society fractures more and more each day? It may even appear that we are witnessing the spurning and trampling of the very traditions and virtues that create an ordered society.

The state of the nation reflects the state of the hearts and minds of its people. The fault lies wherever there is a failure to engage positively an apostolate of personal influence.

Recently, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut raised a number of questions touching on the challenges that members of your profession have to contend with as Christians.

But how then do we bear witness to the Christian faith? How do you bear witness to the Christian faith amid the duties of public life, amid the give and take of litigation, amid tragic criminal cases, amid the rigors of academic life—teaching research, writing—amid the competing views and values that absorb most of your waking hours?  (“Origins” 41/20 [Oct. 20, 2011] p.312)

In all honesty, it is difficult to do so, but not impossible. It is achievable with the aid of divine grace. I offer you now a few principles for cooperating with grace to influence others in the most positive of ways.

To initiate and maintain an apostolate of personal influence requires a few essential components.

We must first believe in God’s love and his desire to save us. Our faith cannot be merely a faith by inheritance, association or paperwork. Let me be clear: We do not attain the status of disciple of Christ because our family was Christian, or because we go to church regularly or because our names are inscribed on the parish register.  As has been noted by others before me, we ourselves must be firmly convinced that what we profess is true and real and, in the fullest sense, life-giving and liberating. We must believe that faith in Christ has real, transformative power. And this power of self-transformation is not just for us as individuals-- Indeed, through the individual, it can transform our communities and, ultimately, decide the destiny of our planet.

Secondly, we can reflect the power of God in a way that will influence others to share the faith we hold so dear. We cannot speak saving truth with our lips only. There is no louder voice for the cause of goodness than the truth we speak through lives distinguished by truth and integrity—lives that are not shaken by passing trends, by political inclination or even by economic recession. Our truth and integrity must be immovable even when the world fails to recognize and applaud.

Thirdly, and above all, the apostolate of personal influence is only enabled by lives illuminated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Even when not recognized as such. (Rom 5:5). By the good example we model for others we ourselves are ennobled.

Fourthly, the love of God radiating from us can take the simplest of forms. It can be manifested in the form of friendship. It is always realized in service to others, however. It sometimes even takes the form of sacrifice as it did for Thomas More, Joan of Arc and countless men and women throughout history.

God became man and servant to us for our salvation. We, in turn, are called to serve the common good. The wonderful thing about life in Christ is that we are all empowered in unique ways to perform our services.

To approach a life of true discipleship is never easy. Our daily lives must contain adequate measures of self-forgetfulness, generosity and humility. And yet we lose nothing by this; indeed, we gain.

This is the infinite nature of God’s love. He is so good that he invites us to share in his life and in his care for his people. At the same time he gives us the resources to do it. It is like asking us to make a donation or to give a gift and providing us with the money to do so.

As the reading from Ephesians records, Paul described his stewardship and our ability to participate as coheirs with Christ:

Brothers and sisters:
You have heard of the stewardship of God's grace
that was given to me for your benefit,
namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation.
It was not made known to people in other generations
as it has now been revealed
to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body,
and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  (Ephesians 3:2-6)

The inheritance spoken of in these verses speaks of a generosity that we cannot equal, a liberality that gives us reason for hope.

It’s time once more to promote the virtues that have been trampled under by false notions of what liberty is. But there is hope if we all begin apostolates of unimpeachable personal influence. On this occasion I wish to remind you of the importance of your calling. You do have a responsibility to allow the best of your profession to influence and bring out the very best in our community.

 As St Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians:

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  (I Corinthian 1:4-9)

May God the Holy Spirit whom we invoke upon you this day, grant you the wisdom and the courage and the grace to be exemplary in your profession and in the life of our community.  May you do so despite the multitude of distractions which are sure to come your way during this legal year which we are about to begin.



[1] J.H. Newman. Sermon 5. Personal Influence, the Means of Propagating the Truth. (Preached on Sunday afternoon, January 22, 1832, in his turn as Select Preacher.)

[2] Ibid.

[3] "Decree on the Laity," Vatican Council, n. 13, 16.

[4]Aristotle, also G.F. Will.

[5] Oratio 39