Holiness and heroic courage emphasized by visiting Bishop Thomas Paprocki at annual Red Mass
FORT WORTH — Devin Martin never heard of the Red Mass. So when the first-year student at Texas A&M School of Law was invited to attend the annual gathering of lawyers, judges, and public officials at St. Patrick Cathedral on September 23, he was intrigued.
“I thought it would be a good experience,” said the 22-year-old Fort Worth native who learned about the centuries-old Catholic tradition from his law professor. “I came hoping for something spiritually enlightening that would make me feel closer to God.”
The Red Mass gives the legal community an opportunity to pray for divine guidance and wisdom from the Holy Spirit so that judicious, fair decisions are made for the common good.
Professor John Murphy tells his students the law is more than just winning cases.
“It’s about helping people and you can’t do that without divine intervention and the Holy Spirit,” explained the Texas A&M faculty member and St. Patrick parishioner. “They should ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit throughout their career. That is what this Mass is all about.”
Wearing crimson red vestments to symbolize the fire of the Holy Spirit, Bishop Michael Olson concelebrated the Mass with visiting Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, Father Jonathan Wallis, diocesan vicar general, Monsignor E. James Hart, chancellor and moderator of the curia, and a dozen diocesan priests. More than 100 attorneys, law students, and members of the judiciary attended the evening liturgy.
During his homily and later at a reception following the Mass, guest speaker Bishop Paprocki discussed how holiness impacts effective leadership using the lives of the saints as an example. Ordained a priest in 1978, the Chicago native earned a law degree from DePaul University College of Law and a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. To provide legal services for the poor, he co-founded the Greater Chicago Legal Clinic and was named Catholic Lawyer of the Year in 2003. An accomplished marathon runner, author, and legal scholar, Bishop Paprocki frequently gives the keynote talk at Red Mass events around the country.
Addressing the congregation inside St. Patrick Cathedral, the Springfield bishop chose not to talk about St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, who is commonly the focus of Red Mass homilies. Instead, he highlighted the work of a more obscure martyr. St. John Fisher was a contemporary of More’s who also refused to condone Henry VIII’s divorce and declaration of himself as head of the Church.
“Unlike Thomas More, he was a cleric — not a statesman or lawyer. Yet, in his life, we see lessons worth learning for everyone in a position of authority,” Bishop Paprocki pointed out. “St. John Fisher models for us the paths to holiness in a very special way.”
Standing strong when Henry VIII undercut the authority of the Church and its teaching on marriage, St. John Fisher worked tirelessly to sway others to the truth, inspiring many to follow him. His life was infused with holiness, learning, prudence, and zeal — the defining qualities of Christian leadership.
Leading others to the truth is tough, the bishop asserted.
“It confronts you with hard choices and often leads to harsh consequences. John Fisher knew this,” the prelate added. “He faced a king and culture that rejected the truth and all who adhered to it. Yet, he refused to back down from what he knew was right.”
The Catholic bishop would not recognize Henry VIII as head of the Church and was beheaded in the Tower of London.
Bishop Paprocki called this “heroic courage” and reminded his listeners to be leaders of faith who point others to the truth. If legal professionals follow in the footsteps of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, “the common good will be promoted, the dignity of the human person will be respected, and you will lead for the benefit of society and to the glory of God,” he said.
At the reception, the bishop’s remarks touched on a similar theme of holiness by offering personal reflections of nine saints who influenced his life. He called Pope St. John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Francis de Sales, St. Josemaria Escriva, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher, and the Blessed Virgin “heroes for holiness.”
“God’s grace will give you the strength to charter a faithful course in your daily life just as it did the saints,” Bishop Paprocki assured the audience.
Living in a culture that urges Christians to abandon their beliefs, the legal community in particular faces growing challenges.
“Heroic courage is the antidote,” he encouraged. “It springs from our trust in God.”
Leza Kerr, a justice on the Texas Second District Court of Appeals, said the Red Mass is a reminder that God’s guidance is needed in the administration of justice.
“In these turbulent times, any chance we have to unite and come together to ask for God’s intercession in the legal field is helpful,” she said. “It’s critical to understand how much we need to be guided by the Holy Spirit in our work. In the day to day, it’s sometimes hard to keep that in mind.”