Around 500 members of the legal community gathered for a special Red Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral on Oct. 1. The St. Thomas More Guild, an organization for Catholic lawyers in the Diocese of Buffalo, sponsored the annual Mass for lawyers, judges and public officials.
Bishop Richard J. Malone welcomed the congregation to the downtown cathedral to pray for all of those whose vocations are in, to use his words, "the administration of justice."
"We welcome our judges and attorneys, paralegals and maybe law students and professors," Bishop Malone said in his introduction. "Today we gather for you, and ask the Holy Spirit to gift you with the wisdom and prudence, and all that you know you need, to serve well in the important vocation God has given you."
A dozen priests including Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, bishop emeritus of the Buffalo Diocese, and Msgr. Salvatore Manganello, chaplain for the St. Thomas More Guild of Buffalo, stood at the altar.
Homilist Father John Stanton, who serves as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, held a career as an attorney before entering Christ the King Seminary in 2007. He recalled his anxiety while selecting a jury for his first Supreme Court trial.
"Those jurors ultimately decide the fate of the trial," he said. "Our greatest trial is that of our life. And God selects us to work in His vineyard. We make the cut of jury selection. For many of us it was our mom and dad who took the oath for us at the time of our baptism, but it was actually God, Himself, Who selected us all along, selecting us as He formed us in the womb, as the prophet Jeremiah told us. As our first reading from St. Paul to the Romans tells us, 'We all have a role in His plan of selection within the Body of Christ.' Some are selected by the Lord to be lawyers. Some are selected to work in the courts as judges and justices, others to serve in the capacity of paralegals or of secretaries or of jurors of clients. But we are all selected by God and loved deeper by our Lord, deeper than the depths of the ocean. And He's pretty clear in those opening few words of today's Gospel; those words that say, 'Whoever loves Me will keep My word.' That is how He focuses us to orientate our lives - to follow the Word, because He is the Word. He is the Word made flesh, dwelling among us. It's all about coming into the awareness that it really is the wisdom of the Lord that gives that preservation of justice that we celebrate so fervently within the court systems."
The Honorable William M. Skretny, chief U.S. district judge for the Western District of New York, kept with Red Mass tradition by offering judicial remarks at the close of Mass.
Born in Buffalo, Judge Skretny earned his JD from Howard University School of Law and his LLM from attended Northwestern. After serving as federal prosecutor in Chicago and Western New York, he was named the first assistant United States attorney in the late 1970s, and later the first Erie County Deputy Attorney. He also worked in private practice.
During his career Judge Skretny presided over such high-profile cases involving the Lackawanna 6, Tonawanda Coke and Flight 3407.
"Throughout his entire career on the bench, Judge Skretny has shown not only a commitment to justice, but also a sense of genuine humanity and personal kindness, both on and off the bench. He will tell you that he is most proud of being a husband, father of three children and grandfather of two grandchildren," said Michael McCabe, St. Thomas More Guild board member.
Judge Skrenty opened his remarks by listing the ongoing battles in the Middle East among the Muslims, and Israel's territorial dispute with Palestine and Hamas.
"Catholicism, too, is tied to a violent history, and today it faces numerous charges that are malignant and are at the heart of its ideology. In the face of such upheaval it would be easy to cast off religion in our daily lives and focus on purely secular concerns. But the existence of these problems does not mean that we should abandon the deeper lessons that all religions share. We must instead acknowledge and embrace the legitimate role of religion in public life. At bottom, all religions teach kindness, honesty, integrity, compassion, empathy, acceptance, self-reflection and discernment. They teach us to strive for, above all, justice - social, political and legal justice alike.
"It has often been said that what we learn from history is that we don't learn," he continued. "I implore you to prove that perception wrong. Let all of us learn and not forget that answering fire with fire is really no answer at all. That responding to hate and ignorance with more of the same does neither side any good. That the politically expedient solution is never the publicly beneficial solution. That the shortcut always makes the journey longer, and that equality will always triumph over discrimination."
Bishop Malone called the words "challenging to us, yet inspiring and encouraging if only we heed the very best call of our own faith."
The Red Mass dates back to the 13th century when it officially opened the session of the court for most European countries. It is named for the color of the vestments worn by the celebrants and was offered each fall to invoke divine guidance and strength for those entrusted with the responsibility of the legal and judicial systems.
The celebrants, government officials, lawyers and judges, would proceed into a church clothed in red vestments and/or red garments, signifying the fire of the Holy Spirit's guidance to all who pursue justice in their daily lives. Its first celebration in the United States occurred in 1928 in New York City.