Friday, 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle II

Published: October 3, 2014

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily during the Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock on Friday, Oct. 3, 2014.

Bishop Taylor

Today we are gathered for our annual Red Mass in which we invoke the Holy Spirit on you who exercise the legal profession as judges, legislators, attorneys and those involved in government, city officials, and so on. 

We have this special Mass to thank you for your service to the community, especially in your role in promoting justice, protecting human rights and fostering the common good. We also have this Mass to offer you the opportunity to reflect on the God-given power and responsibility of all in the legal profession.

And because this service you offer us not only is very important but also sometimes very difficult, we have this Mass to ask God to fill you with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in Isaiah 11:2-3 to enlighten you and to empower you. To enlighten you regarding what is to be done (especially in difficult to discern situations) and to empower you to do what you know is right (especially in the face of incomprehension and opposition). To enlighten you with wisdom, understanding, counsel and knowledge. And to empower you with fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.

And yet what a source of inner freedom it is to sincerely seek to do his will in all things. You'll sleep well at night  even in trying times.

As bishop, I — like many of you — am a public person. So I understand the pressures that can come with your public role. Sometimes the issues themselves are difficult to sort out — it's hard to act when you don't yet know the full picture and the parties involved have a vested interest in keeping you in the dark. People do lie, after all.

And even honorable people "repackage" the truth in order to better make their case. And so today we pray for wisdom, understanding, counsel and knowledge. Other times it's pretty clear what we have to do, but it isn't going to be pretty. People are going to get angry or be scandalized. Innocent people are going to get hurt and there's no way around it — for instance, the children in a child-custody case. And so today we also pray for fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.

Let me share with you a secret that has given me a great deal of peace when I have had to deal with difficult, painful situations. I draw on that last gift of the Holy Spirit (the fear of the Lord) in this way: I remind myself consciously that the only one I have to please is the Lord.

I don't have to please the public, or either party in a dispute, and especially not myself. The only one I have to please is the Lord. If that's your focus, even those who disagree with you and are displeased with you can tell that you're not in this for yourself. It will also keep your own motives pure, so long as the only one you're really trying to please is the Lord. Scripture repeats insistently "the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord."  

And isn't it true that most of the time we fear displeasing others more than we fear displeasing the Lord? We fear losing a case, we fear displeasing the electorate and losing an election, we fear criticism by our peers and we fear negative publicity. There are a lot of reasons to fear apprehension about things that come up in the legal profession, not to mention in our lives in general. 

And yet the "fear" referred to in "fear of the Lord" is not apprehension, as if we were concerned that God might do us harm if we offend him or don't get things right. Rather it means being more concerned to please him than we are worried about the unpleasant and even predictable fallout that doing his will and speaking his sometimes unpopular truth may entail. And yet what a source of inner freedom it is to sincerely seek to do his will in all things. You'll sleep well at night — even in trying times!

The antiphon for today's responsorial psalm was: "Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way." That's what we have gathered here to pray for today. May the Lord fill you with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and "guide you along the everlasting way!"