Homily by His Grace Archbishop Patrick C. Pinder, STD, CMG, KC*HS
on the occasion of the RED MASS
St. Francis Xavier Cathedral
Nassau, The Bahamas
Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
Sunday, January 8, 2023
First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
Responsorial Psalm: 72:1-2, 7-8,10-11, 12-13
Second Reading: Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
Honourable Chief Justice Sir Ian Winder and fellow Justices of the Supreme Court, President the Honourable Sir Michael Barnett, Kt., and Justices of the Court of Appeal, Other Members of the Judiciary, Director of Legal Affairs, Director of Public Prosecutions, President of the Bar Association and Bar Council, Members of the Bar and Legal Profession, Beloved in Christ:
It is my pleasure to welcome you to St. Francis Xavier Cathedral to celebrate the annual Red Mass. In particular I wish to welcome Chief Justice Winder who is here in his capacity as Chief Justice for the first time. On the whole, it is good for us to be back in person after the two year disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Red Mass is celebrated on the Sunday prior to the second Wednesday of the month of January.
Depending on the year, that Sunday could be the Feast of the Epiphany on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This year it falls on Epiphany. There is a centuries old custom according to which, on Epiphany, a Proclamation was issued, indicating the dates of all the important Liturgical Feasts for the year ahead. With the widespread use of printed calendars, this practice gradually fell into disuse. It is still helpful and useful though and for 2023 this is what it says:
“Know, dear brothers and sisters that, as we have rejoiced at the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, so by leave of God’s mercy we announce to you also the joy of his Resurrection who is our Saviour.
On the Twenty-second day of February will fall Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of the most sacred Lenten Season.
On the Ninth day of April you will celebrate with joy Easter Day, the Paschal feast of our Lord Jesus Christ.
On the Twenty-first day of May will be the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.
On the Twenty-eighth day of May, the feast of Pentecost.
On the Eleventh day of June, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
On the Third of December, the First Sunday of Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Such is the Epiphany Proclamation for 2023.
For those who may be attending for the first time, I point out that the Red Mass is the occasion when the Church invokes the guidance of the Holy Spirit upon members of the judiciary and the legal profession. It is also a time for asking the Holy Spirit to shower you with wisdom and discernment, which are so necessary for maintaining integrity in the conduct of your professional duties.
Know that yours is a very special profession. You provide a vital service to our community. The word “justice” and the need for it appears in the Scriptures over 300 times. The book of Deuteronomy supports this when, in the context of the Exodus experience, it says: “In all the communities which the Lord, your God, is giving you, you shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes to administer true justice for the people.”
Because of the great importance of your work, you are commanded to hold to the highest standards, and so Deuteronomy continues: “You must not distort justice: you shall not show partiality; you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes even of the wise and twists the words even of the just.” (Deuteronomy 16:18-19)
Our Lord bore many titles during his life on Earth. For us, one of the most important is Christ identified as “the Light” to dispel the darkness. Today, although our perception of that light may dim at times, we of faith know that it is ever present and undiminished in its power.
An image of Light permeates the first reading from Isaiah. The theme is picked up by the Gospel of Matthew with the luminescence of the Star which led the wise men to Bethlehem and to the revelation of humankind’s salvation. By divine inspiration, Isaiah foretells Christ’s birth as a beautiful explosion of light, a dawn of divine glory that pierces darkness, blesses, and restores all it touches.
Rise up in splendour, Jerusalem! Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
But upon you the Lord shines,
and over you appears his glory. (Isaiah 60:1-2)
In every age, including our own, the light of Christ is so vital to our wellbeing and even survival. This New Year, 2023, brings with it many old challenges and unknowns that will impact lives, sooner or later, to greater or lesser degree.
Whether we like it or not, 2023 comes dragging a great weight of chains, the unlovely inheritance from preceding years. Economies across the globe are still struggling to recover from the COVID pandemic. We are still contending with fallout from the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. It is a war that shows no sign of abating. It has taken countless innocent lives and fueled an energy crisis which has afflicted nations worldwide, including our own. Tyranny and conflict respect neither human rights nor boundaries. “Our time is experiencing a grave Famine of Peace” said Pope Francis in his recent Christmas urbi et orbi message.
In his message for the 56th World Day of Peace, January 1st, reflecting in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic, Pope Francis noted: “… we never emerge the same from times of Crisis: we emerge either better or worse.” Then he asked: “What did we learn from the pandemic? What new paths should we follow to cast off the shackles of our old habits, to be better prepared, to dare new things? What signs of life and hope can we see, to help us move forward and try to make our world a better place?
Then he goes on to say: “… the greatest lesson we learned from COVID-19 was the realization that we all need one another. That our greatest and yet most fragile treasure is our shared Humanity as brothers and sisters, children of God. And that none of us can be saved alone.”
Continuing in that same message, Pope Francis says: “We cannot continue to focus simply on preserving ourselves; rather, the time has come for all of us to endeavour to heal our society and our planet, to lay the foundations for a more just and peaceful world, and to commit ourselves seriously to pursuing a good that is truly common.”
To live better lives after the COVID 19 emergency, he says: “we cannot ignore one fundamental fact, namely that the many moral, social, political and economic crises we are experiencing are all interconnected, and what we see as isolated problems are actually causes and effects of one another. Consequently, we are called to confront the challenges of our world in a spirit of responsibility and compassion.”
This year we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of our National Independence. We are surely grateful for that. As we face this National Milestone there are several serious matters before us that cry out for mitigating legislation and institutional support for those who seek justice.
Among them are several issues that have too long languished in the desert of prejudice and require urgent attention because they negatively impact many lives. I refer to matters of Marital Rape or the issue of equality of citizenship for the offspring of Bahamian women and men. We need to deal with the issue of Immigration in its various dimensions. This is a fitting occasion to give recognition to immigrants who have settled here and made significant contributions to building this nation.
When dispensing justice the court must be fair to all persons even if it is difficult and requires a strong condemnation of wrongdoing even if the wrongdoer is cloaked in Authority.
Equality before the law is and must be accorded to all no matter the race, creed, personal disability or sexual orientation.
With an increasing population of aging persons, the law needs to be increasingly vigilant in ensuring that their rights and their property are protected and that the elderly are not abused in any way.
As we heard, so many of the issues we face are interconnected. This is especially true with issues facing our youth. What young people experience at home and at school will affect how they behave in the community. All too many young men are engaging in serious crimes and ending up before the courts. Remember, our youth are our children, our relatives and our fellow citizens. “Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together.”
This year as we engage deliberations to shape our nation’s future, we need to challenge the tendency among us to rely solely on Government to solve our ills. Here we do well to recall the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan in a 1969 university commencement address. He noted: “Government cannot provide values to persons who have none or who have lost those they had. It cannot provide a meaning to life. It cannot provide inner peace. It can provide outlets for moral energies, but it cannot create those energies.”
At this landmark year for our nation we need to remember that nation-building, is a corporate responsibility. Each citizen must, as it were, move an oar to drive the ship of state forward.
Government bears a huge responsibility and obligation. But so too do those mediating institutions, those Intermediate structures. I speak of structures like the family, the Church, your professional associations and even your circle of friends and so on. These are the structures which stand between the individual, private citizen and the large public institution.
This is the arena where individuals find meaning in life and where their values are formed, nurtured, encouraged and supported. This is an important piece of our social reality which we ought not to forget.
Legislative activity is at its best when based on care for people with special emphasis on a preferential option for the vulnerable and the marginalized.
This is most important to you the members of the Judiciary and the Bar. Your judicial activity, like the obligation of lawmakers, must be activated by CARE for people and with that preferential option for the weak, the vulnerable and those on the margins of society.
Many in our society view justice one dimensionally as punitive or retributive. You can not! You and I are mandated by Scripture to:
“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.” (Psalm 82:3)
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17)
The book of Micah offers further clarification: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
In the year ahead may we live the words of the National Motto: “Forward, Upward, Onward, Together”. Success of any merit, stability and more widely disseminated prosperity will demand that we set aside divisions rooted in considerations that ultimately separate us.
In 2023, my prayer is that all who call this country home will be driven by the divine Light to confront “issues of injustice – protecting the vulnerable, fighting for the oppressed, walking alongside the wounded”. As has been said in many ways, our pattern must be Christ, the One who heals, restores and redeems.
As members of the legal profession, and as jurists what role will you choose to undertake as individuals or cooperatively? As we seek to build a better Bahamas, it starts by seeing people as God sees them – recognizing that we are all created in the image of God and worthy of redemption and, with the Lord’s help, worthy of restoration.
The example of Jesus demonstrated so very much. He went out of his way to touch the lives of those considered beneath society’s notice and care. He told his disciples not to bar children from coming to him to be blessed. He touched and healed lepers. He dined with despised tax collectors. Jesus rescued the woman caught in adultery. To the repentant murderer who was hanging on a cross next to him, he promised life with him in paradise. Jesus pursued justice activated by love. He physically and spiritually rescued those in need.
Pursuing justice involves time and sacrifice. It often requires looking at our realties from new, previously unexplored angles. It can mean stepping out of our comfort zones and persevering with patience over a longer period for a fuller reward. It means walking in wisdom, seeking advice, consulting Scripture and, above, moving forward prayerfully.
Remember, the battle is not ours alone. It starts in seeking the wisdom, love and protection of Christ, and continues with a foundation of prayer. Be courageous yet humble in your area of contribution. The Lord empowers you through the Holy Spirit.
This is my prayer for you today — That in fulfillment of your duties as those who serve our community in the administration of justice, you should be guided by the Light of the Holy Spirit in all your efforts and deliberations, for the good of our Nation and the glory of God.