Wednesday, June 19, 2024

‘God Calls You to be Martyrs of a Daily Kind,’ Bishop Gainer Tells Congregation at Annual Red Mass

Bishop Ronald Gainer told the public officials, judges and members of the legal profession gathered at the Diocese’s annual Red Mass that although the landscape in which they practice is fraught with danger, they can draw hope and strength in the Living and Risen Lord.

Much like the dangerous road to Jericho, on which a man was attacked by robbers before being cared for by Good the Samaritan in the Gospel Reading for the Mass, “there is no shortage of characters who lie in wait to beat you up,” he said. “Our contemporary society confronts us daily with new and ever-thornier challenges. The threats come before us in the order of ideas and in the culture itself.”

But as disciples of Jesus Christ, “we do not draw our hope from the state of our society or from the dominant culture, or from any ideology. We draw our hope from the person of the Living and Risen Lord,” he said.

Bishop Gainer was the homilist for the Red Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop Timothy Senior at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg on Thursday evening, September 28, and streamed on the Diocese’s YouTube Channel.

The annual liturgy, traditionally held in conjunction with the start of a new session of the Supreme Court, invokes the wisdom of the Holy Spirit on behalf of judges, attorneys, legislators and all who are involved in public service. The Red Mass is sponsored each year by The St. Thomas More Society of Central Pennsylvania, an association of Catholic legal professionals that works to promote the spiritual and intellectual wellbeing of its members.

In his homily, the bishop emeritus of Harrisburg spoke of the “fundamental misunderstanding” of the nature of the human person – a misunderstanding that is rooted in “spiritual emptiness and self-absorption,” and which is expressed in social, cultural, political and legal ways.

These ideas, which pit God as an enemy against freedom, are not new, Bishop Gainer said, but they are blossoming into “various ideologies that are antagonistic to Christian faith.”

“For those who choose to swim in these waters, religion is believed to cripple the human spirit, and self-expression is the preeminent right which must not only be tolerated by the rest of us, but expects us to affirm what we know to be false,” he said.

“We take great comfort and our spirits are lifted by others who – in challenges that were even greater than our own challenges – stood firm on the rock of our Catholic faith,” he said.

He pointed to the example of the recently-beatified Ulma Family – Jozef and Wiktoria and their seven children – who were martyred by the Nazis in 1944 for housing eight Jewish people in their small farmhouse in Markowa, Poland, for a year and a half.

Beatified on September 10 of this year, the Ulma family “should be for all of us examples of zeal for right order, of selfless service to others in need, and to obedience to the immutable Law of God,” Bishop Gainer said.

He also spoke of the example of the patron saint of statesman, lawyers and politicians: St. Thomas More, a devout Catholic lawyer who was beheaded by the order of King Henry VIII in 1535 for refusing to sign the king’s Act of Supremacy and Act of Succession.

“He did not separate public service from morality, he did not separate politics from character, he did not bend to the cultural expectation of England’s sovereign. He always placed the moral content of an issue before partisan loyalty and personal gain,” the bishop said of St. Thomas More.

“God may not ask you lawyers, judges and public officials to be martyrs by shedding your blood, but there should be no doubt that God does call you to be martyrs of a daily kind,” Bishop Gainer said. “The kind who live your lives and practice your profession with courage and moral conviction. The kind who form your consciences by anchoring them in truths that can be known and that are unchanging. The kind of daily martyrs who place the moral content of an issue before partisan loyalty or personal interest. The kind of daily martyrs who understand that our duty is to a Higher Law, which we daughters and sons of God can only serve, a higher Law which we are not authorized to rewrite.”

“May the grace of this Mass and the power of God the Holy Spirit strengthen you to be faithful to the noble tasks you have undertaken as your vocations,” he said. “May the example of the Blessed Ulma family assist you to be fearless in doing what is right. May you find authentic happiness in the work you do, and if you are in constant trouble on the dangerous roads you have to walk, know that as you walk that dangerous road, the destination is worth whatever price you may have to pay.”

The St. Thomas More Society was founded in 1990 to promote the spiritual and intellectual welfare of its members through prayer and the study of Catholic principles. During the Mass, Bishop Senior prayed a special blessing over the members of the legal community.

Linda Carroll, president of the St. Thomas More Society, expressed gratitude to those who attended the Mass, to which the public was invited.

“We appreciate that you took time to pray with us and for us,” she told the congregation. “I ask that you continue throughout the year to remember us in your prayers – those in the legal profession, those who write the laws, those who prosecute the laws, those who apply and interpret the laws, and those who enforce the laws. There are many, many challenges today, and everyone needs your prayers.”

Learn more about the St. Thomas More Society of Central Pennsylvania at

(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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