By Christopher Lushis
NOTRE DAME — “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, this is our Christian vocation.” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades offered this challenging reminder to those present at the South Bend Red Mass, celebrated on Oct. 6 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, in honor of all those who work in the legal profession.
The Red Mass, which Bishop Rhoades celebrates on each end of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend annually, derives its name from the red vestments worn by the priest, which represent both the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit and the scarlet robes traditionally worn by justices from the 13th century, when the feast was first established. Notre Dame Law School faculty and students participated during the special ceremony as lectors, ushers and gift bearers.
Throughout the Mass, Bishop Rhoades invoked the Holy Spirit to bestow His gifts of wisdom, courage and right judgment upon all lawyers, judges and those serving in civic office, as well as upon students and professors of law, political science and constitutional studies.
Emphasizing the words of St. Paul, Bishop Rhoades said, “We are all given to drink of one Spirit. The Holy Spirit unites us as one Body in Christ. Amid our diverse ministries, offices and roles that the Spirit bestows, that same Spirit unites us.”
Bishop Rhoades further stressed the need for living an “integrated Christian life.” He explained, “As lay faithful, your vocation to holiness expresses itself in a particular way through your involvement in temporal affairs and your participation in earthly activities. The big temptation, of course, is to separate your spiritual life from one’s everyday professional life. You are Christians and you are lawyers, judges, civil officials, professors or students. But this does not mean that you therefore lead two parallel lives. We are to bear witness to the Gospel everywhere.”
Bishop Rhoades continued by identifying four separate ways of living out this call to holiness. He began by stressing the “serious duty in our democratic system to ensure through laws and judicial means the protection of human life and dignity, a dignity that comes from our Creator. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of your witness to the inviolability of human life, your defense of the right to life and human dignity, not halfheartedly, but with maximum determination. It is incumbent upon us as disciples of Jesus, as Catholics, to defend human rights, the most fundamental being the right to life, and to defend the human being in every phase of development, from conception until natural death, and in every condition, whether healthy or sick, rich or poor.”
Secondly, Bishop Rhoades focused on protecting religious liberty. “Freedom of conscience and religion is intimately linked to respect for human dignity,” he said. “Though we are blessed in our country with a tradition of strong commitment to religious freedom, that commitment is threatened by attempts to limit that freedom, reducing religious freedom to freedom of worship. But genuine religious freedom includes not just freedom to worship. It includes freedom to live our faith, to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness through our works of education, charity and health care, and to do so without compromising our values.”
He continued by stressing the requirements of upholding traditional marriage and defending the family. “Your duty to the Church and to society as members of the legal profession to promote and to defend marriage and family life is a sacred one. We need your firm commitment in this area, your fidelity to the teaching of the Church, a teaching that is rooted in both faith and reason. The family, founded on the communion of one man and one woman in marriage, is endangered today.”
Bishop Rhoades touched upon the action by the Supreme Court that morning, which effectively legalized same-sex marriage in Indiana, highlighting the dangers and consequences of such a decision.
He stressed that “the Church has a firm commitment to uphold the dignity and rights of those with same-sex attraction; men and women who deserve our respect, care and compassion, and who must be defended against any unjust discrimination.”
He continued, “However, this argument is grounded in the fundamental meaning of marriage. Unfortunately, many are no longer convinced of the unique and irreplaceable value that marriage and the family have in the development of society. We must live our conviction that the family found in the marital communion of one man, one woman, is the cradle of life and love, the place where according to God’s plan children are born and grow.”
Finally, he stressed the need for charity. “Charity is the highest virtue, the mark of the disciple of Jesus, the key to holiness. Your witness of love, especially on behalf of the poor, the sick, the suffering and the needy, is an essential part of living the Gospel in the world.”
He also expressed his gratitude to those in attendance who have generously given to the community through pro-bono work. “I thank you for your witness to the Gospel in so many ways — your faithful and unselfish dedication to the good of others, your commitment to liberty and justice for all and your preferential love for the least of our brothers and sisters.”
Bishop Rhoades thanked all who contributed to making the event a success, specifically Dean Nell Newton, the diocesan Office of Family Life, the Notre Dame Choir, those concelebrating the Mass and all the students and seminarians who were present for the special occasion, especially the members of the Notre Dame Right to Life Club.
Bishop Rhoades then concluded the Mass with a special blessing for all those involved in law, government and civic affairs, asking God’s wisdom to shine forth to sanctify the people of the United States and help work to preserve peace throughout the world.
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