At Supremes' Mass, A Call To Civility and Community

For the 61st time, this Sunday brought one of the great meetings of church and state as a majority of the Supreme Court again led the congregation at Washington's St Matthew's Cathedral for the capital's annual Red Mass. Organized as ever by DC's John Carroll Society, the liturgy invoking the Holy Spirit on judges and lawyers – its roots dating to the 1300s – is held on the eve of the new SCOTUS term, which begins tomorrow, and takes place in many other locales over these weeks. This time around, the high court delegation was topped by Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. (Wuerl and Roberts are shown left at the foot of the cathedral steps, with the CJ's wife, Jane, escorted by the capital's retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick; the other justices follow behind.) Kagan and Breyer being Jewish, only half of the Supremes' six-justice Catholic superbloc were present. The Court's third Jewish member, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, attended the liturgy earlier in her 20 years on the bench, but boycotted the rites after she deemed one Red Mass' homily as excessively anti-abortion while the issue lay before the Court. (This first Sunday of October likewise marks the annual Respect Life Sunday in the US church.) Among other prominent guests were the White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, whose frequent appearances before the Supremes as the government's top appellate lawyer have led to his post's nickname as the Court's "tenth justice." Back to the pulpit, the choice of the DC Mass' guest preacher represents one of the more delicate and coveted speaking slots given an American prelate. This year – in the wake of the Court's controversial end-of-term rulings on minority voting rights and same-sex marriage, with religious freedom very possible to figure on the docket just ahead – the task fell to Bishop Kevin Farrell, the (blogging, tweeting) head of the booming Dallas church, and a familiar face on the District scene from his quarter-century there as a priest and auxiliary bishop. Amid a weeklong government shutdown that's only further inflamed Washington's usual political combat, Farrell dedicated his focus not to any hot-button issue, but to blast the country's hyper-polarized political discourse and its consequences for the governed. Along the way, the Dallas prelate subtly wove in the thread of immigration, reflecting both his own story as an Dublin-born émigré to these shores and his years at the helm of DC's Centro Catolico Hispano, where he succeeded the apostolate's founder, a Capuchin friar named Seán O'Malley. Today's pulpit turn was just the beginning of a high-profile month for Farrell – at October's end, the latest edition of the Dallas church's annual ministry conference will be even more closely watched than usual as the designated chief of the Pope's "Gang of Eight," the Honduran Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, swoops in to give the English and Spanish keynotes at the 7,000-person gathering. Here below, Farrell's Red Mass preach as prepared for delivery. * * * For me, there is something of a “homecoming” occurring here this morning. As many of you know, I came to the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. in 1982 and was ordained auxiliary bishop here in 2002. In 2007 I was not told “go West, young man,” but I was told by the Holy Father to “go Southwest” and so it is there that I am blessed to serve as the bishop of the sprawling Diocese of Dallas, Texas. When I have thought about this homecoming for me here today, I pondered the words of Robert Frost, who wrote “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Far more than that, I find a kind welcome each and every time I return to this archdiocese and want to thank Cardinal Wuerl for this opportunity to be with you today. In preparing for this homecoming, I also thought about the title of Thomas Wolfe’s book, You Can’t Go Home Again. It is the story of a fledgling author who writes a book and makes several references to his hometown. The book is a national success but the residents of the town were unhappy with his depiction of them and so sent him menacing letters and death threats. I would hope that what follows may be as invitational as is your welcome to me and that it confirms you in your faith and trust in God. I also hope that it gives each of us something to think about and to ponder. Many of us, myself included, often ask “What did you think of the homily?” Might I suggest that another question today might be, “What did you think about differently in light of the homily?” My hope is that if you find some of these words particularly challenging, they would not be so troubling that you preferred I followed Thomas Wolfe’s instruction [And] Not Come Home Again (!). Read More...