Area judges, lawyers and public officials of all faiths came to St. Joseph Cathedral on Sept. 24 to participate in the annual Red Mass sponsored by the St. Thomas More Guild. The 700-year-old tradition marks the opening of the fall session of legal courts.
In his homily, Msgr. Salvatore Manganello, moderator for the St. Thomas More Guild which sponsored the event, spoke about a woman who complained about women's place in the Church. When asked if she would return to the Church if the changes she wanted were made, the woman replied, "No, I stopped believing."
"This is the reaction from many in our diocese in reaction to the crisis that has affected everyone in one way or another. We cannot ignore what is going on around us. But, also, we cannot always stop believing because of that," he said, recognizing that those present have not stopped believing.
Msgr. Manganello, himself a canon lawyer with the diocesan Tribunal, admits that it is easy to become disillusioned to the point of not believing when we disagree with the way the world or an institution is running.
"This time of crisis is certainly a testing of our faith," he said.
In St. Paul's letter to the Romans, the first reading of the Mass, he asks who or what will separate us from the love of Christ. "Will anger or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or the sword. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor present days nor future days nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord," wrote St. Paul.
"In this letter I have found comfort and I have found encouragement," Msgr. Manganello said. "As we listen to the word of God's edict, we are once again reminded that it is the love of God and Christ Jesus that carries us forward. Our faith is where we lay to focus our attention. The love of Christ is what we are called to carry out in our daily activities, especially the activities of justice tempered through mercy as we strive to combat evil in everyday life. ... Everything we do, our whole faith, our attention is always focused on the love of God in Christ. This is where we too, should take comfort and encouragement, that the crisis we experience now will not be our end, but that the Kingdom of God stands around us always."
The Honorable Frank P. Geraci Jr., chief district judge, U.S. District Court, Western District of New York, offered remarks at the end of Mass through a series of short anecdotes.
He mentioned "Utopia" a novel about a perfect world written by St. Thomas More in 1516.
"He envisioned a community that shared a common culture and way of life with the courage, dedication, integrity, civility and compassion that he demonstrated, that will serve as an example always," Geraci said, adding that it is the mission of lawyers and judges to make the world a "little better, a little more just, a little more kind."
In closing he informed the audience that the state of the world is made by the way people treat other people.
"Treat those around you with respect and dignity, and they'll try. Treat them with unkindness and you're sure to fail," he said. "Say hello to everyone you see. Say thank you and please. Focus on complimenting people on jobs they do well, instead of focusing on their mistakes. Seek out your co-workers and support those who support you. Be inclusive. Don't text or email when you can have a face-to-face conversation. Smile. ... go fourth and be kind."
The Red Mass dates back to the 13th century when it officially opened the session of the court for most European countries. It is named for the color of the vestments worn by the celebrants and was offered each fall to invoke divine guidance and strength for those entrusted with the responsibility of the legal and judicial systems.
Celebrants, government officials, lawyers and judges, would proceed into a church clothed in red vestments and or red garments, signifying the fire of the Holy Spirit's guidance to all who pursue justice in their daily lives. The tradition was adopted by the English Courts in 1310 when it was celebrated at Westminster Abbey. Its first celebration in the United States occurred in 1928 in New York City.
The Red Mass is a tradition in Western New York and is sponsored by the St. Thomas More Guild, an organization for Catholic lawyers in the Diocese of Buffalo. St. Thomas More is the patron lawyers, civil servants and politicians, as well as adopted children and difficult marriages.