On behalf of Bishop Malooly, the Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Wilmington, and the diocesan priests, Monsignor Steven Hurley, the Vicar General, Father Joseph McQuaide, the Chancellor, Father Glen Evers, the Chaplain of the St. Thomas More Society and Monsignor John Hopkins, Pastor of the Parish of St. Joseph on the Brandywine, I welcome you — our judges, lawyers, paralegals and friends — to our annual Red Mass. We pray for all who have dedicated themselves to the promotion of the common good of society and the protection of the human dignity of each person through service to the law. We pray that the gifts of the Holy Spirit may guide you in all your professional and personal life.
I have heard it said that a good lawyer never asks a question to which he does not know the answer. Today’s Gospel recounts the story of the Pharisee who would not have made a good lawyer. He asks Jesus a question. He wishes to test him and asks whether it is lawful or not for a man to divorce his wife. The answer was not what he would have expected. Let us look at the question, the response given by Jesus and the significance of that response.
First, the question. The Pharisee and others gathered around Jesus that day knowing that John the Baptist has been beheaded because of his opposition to divorce. This opposition became “personal” when John stood up against King Herod’s desire to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias, because it would require Herodias to divorce her husband.
And now the response. Jesus’ answer is undoubtedly not one of the expected options he could have given. Jesus instead explained that Moses had allowed for divorce because of “hardness of heart.” In other words, because people were living in a fallen world. Jesus then referred back to the Book of Genesis and God’s original intent in creating the world and humankind. It is the story we heard in our First Reading today from the Book of Genesis. This second creation account of Genesis tells how God first created a man and, in seeking to give him a companion, created animals of every kind and brought them before him. This man gave names to the animals, thus showing that he had mastery over them. None of these animals were a suitable companion, however, for the man. And so God then casts a deep sleep on the man, takes a rib out of the man and fashions woman out the rib. Upon seeing her, the man exclaims that this at last is bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. The woman and man are equal partners. Unlike the animals that had been brought before the man, neither the man nor the woman has mastery over one other. They have been created by God to be perfect partners.
And so what is the significance of the Jesus’ response? On the immediate level, Jesus reminds us of the sanctity of marriage. It is a covenant that was created by God and to which God calls a man and woman to live. It is not just a societal custom but something that springs forth from God himself. It is the one blessing that was not forfeited by original sin. As we gather today, let us ask that God’s grace be showered upon those who are married and those who will be married in the coming days. Through God’s grace, may their covenantal commitment to each other, despite the challenges that might present themselves, be strengthened and deepened with each and every passing day.
As we gather at this Red Mass today, I would also, however, invite us to reflect for a moment on how there is an even broader significance to Jesus’ response that applies to all of us today and especially those of the legal profession. As men and women versed in the law, it is important to note that Jesus is consistent in saying that he did not come to do away with the law. In today’s Gospel, he tells the Pharisee that Moses created this law to meet the situation of a world that had veered off from how God had intended it to be. A world in which there is no law requiring us to stop at a red light, would not be a world of which any of us would wish to be part. Jesus, however, is telling the pharisees that we need to go beyond what the law allows or requires.
There is, with Jesus, however, a new beginning. The Book of Genesis opens with the words, “In the beginning…” And while today’s Genesis reading tells us of our idyllic origin, it is not long before the Book of Genesis and the Old Testament recount how sin entered the world, how brother killed brother, how people were unfaithful and wandered from God and how humanity, despite God sending messengers and prophets to us, was unable to heal the separation from God. That opening picture of Genesis, so aptly referred to by those opening words “In the Beginning…” had become something completely different.
That is until the moment in which an angel was sent to the town of Nazareth to a young girl named Mary and the Word of God was incarnated. St. Mark, the Evangelist, makes this clear by the way he opens his Gospel. Verse 1 of the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark begins with the words: “The beginning…” Just as Genesis told of the beginning of creation, there is now, St. Mark is telling us, a new beginning with the entrance of Jesus Christ into the world. It is like a computer that is running extremely inefficiently. But then you turn it off and back on. You reboot it and suddenly it is working correctly again. Jesus comes into the world to usher in the Kingdom of God, to allow us to live according to Kingdom values, according to the way that God originally created us to live: to be one with Him and to be a human family.
As lawyers, you study laws, enact laws, interpret laws. Your service to those who are in need and for the common good is laudatory. The law, at its best, keeps us safe. As people of faith may you also know that you are not only of the law, but of the Spirit. It is the Spirit of God who renews the face of the earth. The Spirit who calls us to live as God initially created us to live. We especially invoke the Holy Spirit today that the new beginning ushered in with Jesus’ entrance into this world may be furthered in and through your professional life. May you be strengthened in your commitment to the sanctity of the human life from the moment of conception to natural death, to the dignity of the human person, to the sacredness of marriage and family, to the common good of the human family.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.
Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created.
And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.