“But for you who fear my name, the sun of justice will arise with healing in its wings…”
- Mal. 3:20
MERRILLVILLE – Lawyers, judges and financial professionals gathered at the invitation of the Diocese of Gary on Oct. 7 to hear one of their own, attorney-turned-bishop Robert J. McClory, make a connection between traditional religious values and the justice meted out in courtrooms.
“Pray, God, that we would see the source of motivation to do what is right, that there is a wider response not just to God, but to each other, to the wider good,” Bishop McClory said in his homily at the annual Red Mass celebrated throughout the Catholic world to bring together “all those who work for justice in our world, to reflect and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the coming year’s efforts.”
The tradition of the Red Mass dates back to 1245 in Paris, and 1301 in Westminster, when the wisdom of the Holy Spirit was invoked upon members of the legal profession and the courts at the beginning of each judicial year. The name reflects the color of the Mass vestments worn for the Mass of the Holy Spirit.
That tradition was set aside this year as Bishop McClory donned a blue and white chasuble in celebration of the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary on Oct. 7 at Our Lady of Consolation. “Looking at today’s Gospel,” the bishop said, “it is intrinsic to the Judeo-Christian tradition (of) respect for the law. Mary, a good Jewish girl permeated with devotion to God, when told that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, (exhibited a belief) in that sense of a higher power … and gives us a sense of transcendence, cooperation with a higher divine command.”
The bishop began his homily with a thought-provoking question related to the connection between religion and the law that has arisen in recent years. “Why are there so many Catholics (6) and Jews (2) on the Supreme Court?” he posed to the congregation.
Unlike in the past, he noted, when the highest court was predominantly Protestant, with one seat usually allotted to a Catholic and another to a Jew, “That era has passed. There is something about the legal profession (that has) a particular draw for Catholics and Jews. Is it access to upward mobility?”
The bishop suggested instead that “both of these minority religions have the protection of (human) rights at their core. Both struggled with prejudice (against them) and may have seen the legal profession as a way to protect their rights,” the bishop explained. Both religions, he added, value higher education “and the principles that reflect on protecting the rights of others.”
Furthering his argument that religious values lead to legal careers, he cited the shocking 1927 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., ruling 8-1 that a Virginia state statute permitting compulsory sterilization of the unfit, including the intellectually disabled, "for the protection and health of the state" did not violate the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. While never expressly overturned, that ruling has been widely repudiated and effectively rendered moot by later legislation.
The “sole dissenter” to that 1927 decision, the bishop noted, “was the only Catholic on the court, Justice (Pierce) Butler. His dissent may have been motivated by his Catholic faith; the Church was against forced sterilization.”
“The law is not just a profession, but a vocation,” added Bishop McClory, While he left his law practice after several years to answer a call to the priesthood, he recalled that he pursued a law career as “not just something nice to do, but something I ought to do.”
Lake Superior Court (Room 1, Hammond) Judge John Sedia of Schererville, a parishioner at Our Lady of Grace in Highland, said he regularly attends the Red Mass “for the same reason you go to church, to get sustenance from your faith.” He called it “a great tradition, and a reminder of my faith and my responsibilities and what I need to do. That Supreme Court decision the bishop spoke about reminds me of that, too.”
Attorney Anna Mandula of the firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard and Smith LLP in Highland, said she has attended the Red Mass for at least five years and keeps returning, “because I like the opportunity to reaffirm the Indiana Attorney’s Oath during Mass, ground myself and remind myself why I chose this profession.”
The St. Mary, Crown Point parishioner said she was reminded by the bishop of something her first-year law school ethics professor stressed. “He was the first person I recall who referred to law as a calling,” Mandula said.
Julie Murzyn, an attorney with O’Neill McFadden & Willett LLP, Schererville, who attends St. Michael the Archangel in Schererville, termed this year’s Red Mass as “the first of many I will attend. The homily was excellent, with the parallels of the law and religion.”
What attracts people to the law as Christians, she suggested, is that “it centers you and reminds you of what is important, what matters and doesn’t matter in the day.”
Red Mass attendees were welcomed by Judy Holicky, coordinator of stewardship for the Diocese of Gary’s Catholic Foundation for Northwest Indiana, to a post-Mass breakfast and continuing education program. She introduced Sister Maria Giuseppe Moxley of the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus, who explained the efforts to rebuild the St. Joseph Carmelite Home in East Chicago, heavily damaged in a May 16 fire.
Holicky urged attendees to support the Carmelite Home financially and with their prayers, and outlined the work of the foundation, which manages 41 endowment funds to encourage financial stewardship and generosity in support of local parishes, schools and other ministries.
The keynote speaker, Indiana Senior Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura, former Lake County Juvenile Court judge, director of the Indiana Department of Child Services and chief of staff to Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, detailed her career protecting the rights of children and offered anecdotal remarks about several of her cases that concerned abortion rights.