‘It can’t be true justice unless mercy is able to flourish,’ Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli said during the homily at Red Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral this morning.
Each year the Mass is attended by judges, magistrates, tribunal members, judicial registrars, court officials and barristers, many dressed in their full court attire, to mark the start of the legal year in Victoria.
Concelebrating with Archbishop Peter were the Dean of St Patrick’s cathedral, the Very Reverend Werner Utri, the Reverend Cameron Forbes, the Reverend Tony Kerin and the Reverend Michael Gallacher. With Master of Ceremonies Reverend Linh Pham, cantor Dr Brianna Chesser and organist Christopher Trikilis. The Honourable Justice Michael Wheelahan and the Honourable Justice Tim McEvoy gave the scripture readings.
The Red Mass is a European tradition first celebrated in Paris in 1245 and in England in 1310. The term ‘Red Mass’ refers to the red vestments worn by the celebrants, representing the Holy Spirit. The Mass is a ‘Votive Mass of The Holy Spirit’, where the Holy Spirit is called upon for wisdom and guidance for all who seek justice.
This was Archbishop Peter’s first Red Mass as Archbishop of Melbourne.
In his homily, Archbishop Peter invited those gathered to reflect on their own journey of faith as men and women who serve the law.
‘The law exists to carry the story of justice and mercy into each generation. But this story needs its faithful story-tellers.
‘Might you be courageous in your commitment to telling the story of justice and mercy in our society? We need witnesses who can bring this story into the light, that we might together find ways for living well. Of course, each of us has a role to play in this task – each of us is made for justice and mercy.’
After Mass, the judiciary, members of the legal profession, staff and their families were invited to join Archbishop Peter for morning tea in the Cathedral Presbytery.
Archbishop Peter’s homily
For those who can recall their student days, and the study of the linguistic arts, you will be familiar with the multiple meanings deriving from the Greek word ‘logos’. At its base, ‘logos’ pertains to speech and narrative. But it also means to give an explanation of something. And finally, it takes on a meaning around intentional human behaviour: it does what it says. Logos appeals to our reasoning mind, and when exercised well it reveals things for what they are; it tells a truth-seeking story, speaking a word of purpose and direction into the world in which we live. We linguistic creatures are the meaning-bearers for this world, and ‘logos’ is one of our key tools of trade.
But this world of meaning and story, this reason-bearing world, is not of our creation even as we are privileged participants in it. In the Prologue of John’s Gospel, we are told that ‘logos’ is firstly God’s story: “In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn 1.1) This Logos of God is the light by which we see in our world, illuminating our lives and revealing our purpose. (Jn 1.9) But most especially, this Logos took on our humanity – God chose to dwell among us as one of us. The definitive word became the Word-made-flesh, full of grace and truth. (Jn 1.14) And his name is Jesus.
The words that Jesus spoke, and the manner in which he gave flesh to these words – in his life, death, and glory – continue to reveal to us the way by which we may live well in justice and mercy. The life of Jesus Christ is the rule and measure – the God-given law – by which we can discover how to live lives that are centred on justice and mercy – a way of living well – for all of humanity. In this way, the logos of Jesus – both in his words and deeds – is a law, a rule and measure, for our flourishing. A disciple of Jesus to someone who faithfully retells this story in the world.
In the Gospel today, the word Jesus spoke opened for us one such rule and measure by which we might seek to live. He spoke a word on the understanding of family. (Mk 3.31-35) For Jesus, a family is not just formed in a shared DNA; the communities in which we move and live also need to be family-like in their ways. In justice, Jesus acknowledged his blood family; in mercy, he opened the gift of family to the community of God. This rule and measure that Jesus spoke of offers a gift for our society today: that we might organise ourselves according to the rule and measure of the way of a family, that tells of justice in its organisation, and mercy in its relations.
If the law is truly 'family-like' in its foundations, then it is relational in its structure. It is in this setting that justice might find its proper footing, attentive to the truth of whatever matter is at hand. But it cannot be true justice unless mercy is allowed to flourish, for mercy is always attentive to the truth of the persons involved. Therefore, the laws of our land, if they are to be truthful guides for living well, should be parent-like in their nature, showing us how to live, and sustaining us in our living. The law exists to carry the story of justice and mercy into each generation. But this story needs its faithful story-tellers.
So, at the commencement of this Legal Year, might I be so bold as to offer to you – the fraternity of law practitioners in our State – an invitation? Might you be courageous in your commitment to telling the story of justice and mercy in our society? We need witnesses who can bring this story into the light, that we might together find ways for living well. Of course, each of us has a role to play in this task – each of us is made for justice and mercy – no-one more so than me, who has been sent to be a witness to the logos of Jesus.
None of us should ever tire of retelling the story of justice and mercy, especially at this particular time when that story has not always been told faithfully and truly. May we pray for one another, that together we will do our bit to tell this story faithfully and well. We cannot become the people and society we are called to be, until this word – this logos – is truthfully heard, and made flesh among us.