Red Mass Homily by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick

October 02, 2005

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, delivered the homily, below, at the October 2, 2005 Red Mass, held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC.

The Red Mass is a centuries-old tradition, invoking God’s blessings and guidance in the administration of justice under the power of the Holy Spirit. In Washington, the Red Mass is held on the Sunday before the start of the Supreme Court session each year.

This year’s attendees included President George W. and Laura Bush, the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John G. Roberts, other members of the Administration and Supreme Court, as well as members of the federal, state and local judiciaries.

The Mass in Washington is sponsored by the John Carroll Society, an organization for professional Catholics that sponsors spiritual, social and charitable activities. Following the Mass, the organization presented the Pro Bono Legal Service Awards to several local attorneys and an administrative assistant who have donated time and legal expertise on behalf of low-income residents of the Washington metropolitan area through the Archdiocesan Legal Network.

Cardinal McCarrick’s homily:

To preach this morning in the presence of the President of the United States, our new Chief Justice and many members of the Supreme Court, the other federal, state and local courts and the distinguished members of the Bench and the Bar is a very humbling thing for me and gives me an opportunity both to thank you all for your presence and so much more for your faithfulness to your awesome responsibilities, as well as to assure you on behalf of the Catholic people in this archdiocese of our fervent prayers for you as you help to guide our beloved nation in a challenging period of its history.

Our Gospel today is a very beautiful one. We are presented with Matthew’s narrative of one of the great parables of Jesus. It is the parable of the vineyard and of vine growers who forgot that they were not the lords of the vineyard, but only the workers there. What an awesome lesson for all of us. We all need to learn that we are just workers in God’s world who must be always conscious of His loving Presence as He guides and sustains every moment of our lives.

The parable of the vineyard has many meanings. This was probably clear to those who heard it and maybe not as clear to us. It speaks of the Father’s goodness, of His gift of this great vineyard and His entrusting it to the workers. The vineyard must yield good wine for the health and comfort of many people and the vineyard’s workers are given the chance to be part of this great accomplishment. It is a lesson not just to the people of Israel to whom the Lord spoke, but to all of us, as well. The parable also speaks of the rejection of the prophets, this sad history of God’s chosen people, for so much of their history. It speaks also ultimately of rejecting Jesus Himself, the Son, the Heir who comes to call the people back to faithfulness to the Father and is driven out of the vineyard and put to death. All of us share their guilt because ultimately we are all workers in the vineyard of the Lord. God has graced each one of us with a special role to play so that we may produce good things for Him and for our neighbor and that we might promote the Kingdom where He is Lord forever and ever.

Our Gospel has its roots in another parable, that of the prophet Isaiah who lived so many years before. This was the parable described in the first reading of the Mass. Isaiah describes another vineyard, a vineyard that God cared for so well and hoped it would bring forth a great crop to provide good wine for the tables of life. Yet this vineyard fails for other reasons, both man-made and reasons of nature. Isaiah makes it clear, and Jesus follows, that the vineyard is the house of Israel and, indeed, the vineyard is all of us.

It is sometimes difficult to have a great vineyard. It depends on so many things. Some of them are climactic and depend on the soil and the water and the sun. Others are man-made for they depend on the good care and loving concern of the vine keepers themselves. For a vineyard, there are good times and bad. There are times of plenty and times of challenge.

Life is like that, too. Isaiah preaches that message, also. The vineyard is the vineyard of the Lord. The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel. The vineyard of the Lord is all of us. In a deeper sense, the vineyard is this world in which we live in our own country, among our own people, in our own land.

For our vineyard, too, there are good times and bad. There are days of plenty and days of challenge. In this particular moment of the history of our lives, we walk our days in a time of great challenge. Let us count the ways:

· We are at war with international terrorism.
· We are facing a difficult conflict in Iraq; thank God, less so in Afghanistan.
· We are so clearly living in a world of conflicts, as in Darfur in the Sudan, in parts of Asia and Africa, in the Holy Land.
· We worry about AIDS in Africa and here in our own neighborhoods and poverty and hunger among so many people of our world.
· We worry about the poor at home, especially those who have lost so much in the wake of the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

These are the times of challenge when the vine growers need to work together and be more aware of the responsibility they hold to bring the wine of sweetness and the wine of strength to ourselves and to all our people.

All of these troubles weigh heavily upon us. How could it be otherwise? We tend to blame each other, and the level of our discourse can sometimes become shrill and caustic and uneven. What happens in the vineyard can happen to us in our public life. We must be careful that we do not condemn the vineyard and harm to the vine growers. And yet, thanks be to God, in the last few days, we have witnessed a period of greater civility in the selection of our Chief Justice. I pray that that civility will continue because it is so important not just for good government, but for the good care of our people who look here to all of you and your colleagues for the kind of leadership that is not destructive or not too intensely partisan.

We know that we must become friends again, not agreeing on everything, of course, but striving to dialogue more gently, more positively; more careful to set the conversation within a forum of mutual respect by being willing to listen for the good points that are usually present in every reasonable discourse and so will help us learn again to build and not to tear down. During the past few weeks, many of us, myself included, have spoken about civility and the need for it in every part of our civil life, in every part of our society – and not excluding the Church itself.

You are perhaps aware of the initiative that some of our senior statesmen have proposed in what is called the National Committee to Unite a Divided America. They have presented a declaration that is a call to civility in government. I find it to be of special value today. The declaration begins with the words, I quote, “The coming years will demand greatness from our leaders and our citizens as we navigate through a time of domestic and international opportunities as well as challenges that threaten our security and long term prosperity. The difficulty of this task is magnified by our country’s political divisions, for today we are too much a house divided. Yet if we continue to achieve our common goals we will surely write a great chapter in America’s history.”

I find those words to be optimistic, challenging and comforting, and I hope we all do. The document continues to say that, “Civility does not require citizens to give up cherished beliefs or water down their convictions. Rather it requires respect, listening and dialogue when interacting with those who hold different points of view.” Indeed, there is no doubt that some of the great moments in our history have occurred when people of different points of view have agreed to differ in a respectful manner and try to work together to find a place where there will be sufficient accord to build a better world.

This is my prayer this day in a very special way as we celebrate the Red Mass here at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. I take heart, as well, from the second reading in today’s Mass. It comes from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians. It begins by encouraging us to dismiss all anxiety from our minds and to present our needs to God in every form of prayer and petition. The most striking of Paul’s admonitions in this reading is his good counsel that our thoughts – and our words – should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, decent, virtuous or worthy of praise. Paul assures us as an apostle of the Lord that if we do this, if we speak and work in this way, the God of Peace will be with us.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful for our country, for each one of us, if our discourse could mirror that of the apostle and help change this vineyard of ours, so filled as it always is with promise and potential, into even more a place where good works can grow like precious grapes in the sunshine of a well-watered garden in the shade of a flourishing life. When all is said and done, we need to reflect on our own lives, our own mission and our own ministry, each one of us being called in a special way to exercise the talents which he and she has been given. The 80th Psalm, which we sang together this morning, proclaims this message as it sings of the vineyard of the Lord, “Give us new life and we will call upon your name. O Lord of hosts restore us. If you shine your face upon us, then we shall be saved!”

As we sang this great Psalm this morning, listening hopefully, each one with care to the challenge the psalmist gives us in the name of God Most High. You and I and all of us here who have our own responsibility in this vineyard are called to come together, each in his or her own way, to put our hands to that task so that the Lord of the vineyard might be pleased with our service and He might bless it with peace and plenty for ourselves and our neighbor and for all this beloved land of ours. Amen.

Susan Gibbs
Director of Communications
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