Gifts of Holy Spirit, religious educational liberty stressed at Red Mass

North Texas Catholic
(Oct 9, 2023) Local

Dozens of local priests attended the annual Red Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral on September 28, 2023. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

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FORT WORTH — The practice of law, as opposed to the exercise of one's faith life, represent not separate, unrelated spheres of activity as some might think but rather are inexorably linked, Bishop Michael Olson said during the Diocese of Fort Worth's Sept. 28 Red Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral.

A tradition stretching back to the 13th century when it officially opened the term of court for many European cities, the Red Mass gathers attorneys, judges, and public officials, encouraging them to seek the Holy Spirit's guidance in their pursuits of justice and truth.

This year's Mass, followed by dinner at the Fort Worth Club, attracted record attendance.

“Largest turnout in our 17 years of holding the Mass,” St. Thomas More Society Fort Worth President Courtney Taylor said. “This year we had about 250 come to dinner and even more attend the Red Mass.”

Referencing the first reading from the Book of Daniel — Susanna was falsely accused by corrupt officials yet, through intervention of the Holy Spirit, stood up for by Daniel — Bishop Olson underscored the symbiosis between law and faith.

“The truth [is] that the lawyer's role in defending and promoting justice is more than a technical understanding of the law accompanied by artful glib,” Bishop Olson said.

Rather, Bishop Olson stressed, it involves “the advocacy of God on behalf of the vulnerable for the sake of truth.”

The vocation of Catholic lawyers, judges, and officials entails reliance on the grace of God including the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Bishop Olson added.

Courtney Taylor, president of the St. Thomas More Society Fort Worth, kicks off the reception and dinner for attorneys, judges, and public officials after the Red Mass at the Fort Worth Club on September 28, 2023. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

“Your Catholic faith, which engenders hope, must hold pride of place in your practice of law and ethics so that it will become the source of your good and just works,” Bishop Olson said. “He has called you to advocate for truth in the promotion of authentic justice for all. We ask Him to protect you from temptation to corruption and cowardice.”

Notre Dame Law School Professor and Associate Dean Nicole Stelle Garnett, during the dinner following Mass, discussed religious liberty battles and challenges, particularly within the realm of education. Battles which in several instances Garnett fought as an attorney advocating for increased religious liberty.

Garnett cited Father John Bapst, a Jesuit priest serving in Ellsworth, Maine.

“One Sunday in 1853, he came to Mass and directed the children entrusted in his care to stop reciting from the King James Bible at their public schools,” Garnett said. “Such recitations were a cornerstone of public school curriculum at the time.”

Fr. Bapst's request resulted in the expulsion of 16 students the following day and anti-Catholic fervor-filled nativists running Fr. Bapst out of town.

In 1928 a Catholic high school named after Fr. Bapst opened in Bangor, Maine. The school closed in 1980 and immediately reopened as a secular school following Maine's institution of guidelines on the distribution of public funds, vouchers, and similar programs, which forced faith-based religious schools to either “stop being Catholic [or other faiths] or lose public funding. Guidelines, Garnett added, much later deemed an unconstitutional test by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Such perhaps was not entirely the fault of state officials, Garnett said, citing a litany of 20th century Supreme Court opinions “all over the map” on questions of religious liberty albeit also largely hostile toward religion in the century's increasingly secularized culture.

Keynote speaker Nicole Stelle Garnett, a law professor at Notre Dame Law School, presents during the reception at the Fort Worth Club following the Red Mass on September 28, 2023. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Of late, the tide has turned toward religious liberty's favor, Garnett said.

Garnett cited the 2022 Carson v. Makin Supreme Court ruling and similar recent cases falling on the side of allowing vouchers for faith-based schools and upholding other religious liberty freedoms.

Good news, Garnett said, but also foolish to declare victory just yet as numerous challenges legal and logistical still lie ahead.

“Fortunately, religious liberty laws increasingly are on our side,” Garnett said.

Still, work, and much prayer, remains to be done.

Catholic and other faith-based schools “moved heaven and earth” to reopen to in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic before many public schools followed suit, Garnett said.

“Because we understand that education is more than just instruction,” Garnett said. “It is also about the formation of children made in the image and likeness of our loving God.”

Irene Newman laughs at a joke made by keynote speaker Nicole Stelle Garnett, a law professor at Notre Dame Law School, during the reception at the Fort Worth Club following the Red Mass on September 28, 2023. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Fort Worth attorney Catherine Schmucker said the Red Mass serves as an important annual reminder in her evolving faith-life journey.

“To remind ourselves that as lawyers, especially Catholic lawyers, our vocation is rooted in Truth with a capital T. Everything that we do has to reflect that ultimate Truth,” she said.

Texas A&M University School of Law Professor John Murphy praised Bishop Olson's reminder of seeking the Holy Spirit's guidance and inspiration.

“I don't practice law anymore,” Murphy said. “But I'm training the next generation of lawyers so it's important to me to impart that to the students.”
Gray Wood, one of several A&M law students who accompanied Murphy to the Red Mass, said Bishop Olson's homily nicely addressed the duties and societal roles of Catholic attorneys.

“Our Catholicism is not something that impedes us from making just decisions,” Gray said. “It actually empowers us.”

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