Faith in practice

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At the dinner following a recent Red Mass, Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin talked to members of the legal community about civility. He reminded them to take a more gentle tone, respect the beliefs of others and work to build what Pope Francis calls a “culture of encounter.”

“If dialogue means anything, it means not only that we take another seriously, but it means that we revere the other as a fellow human being with gifts and talents from God,” the archbishop said. “… When we respect differences of opinion and dialogue, we respect and revere the differences that provide variety and give texture to this great country of ours made so by others having welcomed our forefathers and foremothers.”

nd-basilica-alter-with-bishop-kevin-c-rhoades-15col.jpg Bishop Kevin Rhoades (far right) leads the Red Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the University of Notre Dame campus. The purpose of the Red Mass, held especially for the legal community, is to invoke God’s blessing and guidance upon those who administer justice. (Photo courtesy Susan Good/Notre Dame)

The Red Mass, a Catholic service especially for members of the bench and bar, was the appropriate setting to speak of civility. Although the mix of religion with secular law could raise eyebrows, attendees said the annual service gives them the opportunity to reflect on their professional responsibilities within the judicial system and the larger community.

“I thoroughly enjoyed it,” said Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Rudolph Pyle III. “I thought it was a great reminder to all of us in the legal community of how we don’t just serve ourselves, but serve a greater purpose and the one who truly administers justice.”

Red Masses, so named because of the red vestments the priests wear, are held across the country every year, usually in October. St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C., celebrates a Red Mass to mark the beginning of the term for the Supreme Court of the United States.

In Indiana, Red Masses included those held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Oct. 2 in Fort Wayne and in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame on Oct. 7, with Bishop Kevin Rhoades as the celebrant. St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church was the site for the Red Mass Oct. 9 in Indianapolis.

Private attorneys, law school students and faculty, judges, law clerks and elected officials attended the services.

In the Circle City, the St. Thomas More Society of Indianapolis and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis co-hosted the Red Mass and dinner afterward.

The Mass at St. John’s began with the traditional processional of the judiciary followed by priests and the archbishop.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and U.S. Trustee for Region 10 and Region 13 Nancy Gargula led the line of judges to the front of the church. The members of the bench, dressed in their black robes, represented a variety of Indiana’s state and federal courts.

Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett attended the Red Mass at the Basilica as he often does. He has made a point of going since his law student days.

For a profession that carries the responsibility of administering justice, the Red Mass serves to emphasize the importance of serving the common good, and not the good of yourself or the good of a few, he said.

“For me as a lawyer and law teacher and a Catholic, the idea of law as a vocation is really important,” Garnett said.

To his students, he tries to communicate the message that law is a calling and not a job totally separated from personal beliefs and values.

As a Marion Superior judge, David Certo said his religious faith is tested every day, but his values have never conflicted with his duties on the bench.

“My oath is to follow the law, and that’s the oath I take seriously,” he said. “I also have an obligation to treat people with dignity and respect and that I can do following the law.”

Pyle also noted his faith has not come in conflict with his duties as a judge. Every morning, he takes time to say devotions and ask for guidance. If a troubling dilemma between his faith and his profession would arise, he said he would handle it by continuing to pray for guidance.

apb-redmass01-15col.jpg Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller (right) joined members of the judiciary for the 2013 Red Mass held at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Indianapolis. (IL photo/Aaron P. Bernstein)

The current president of the St. Thomas More Society of Indianapolis, Greenwood attorney Patrick Olmstead, called himself one of the weaker members, often having his character tested by opposing counsel. Lawyers, he said, have many pressures from running a practice and helping clients know the law and the facts of the case. Being a jerk to colleagues is unnecessary and only adds to the pressure, he said.

The principles espoused at the Red Mass, along with regular weekly worship services, help him to be more patient and less likely to fire off an email in anger. Olmstead learned civility in church as well as from his early mentors, namely John Hoover.

The decay of civility in the legal profession is a reflection of the overall decay of the sense of community in society, Olmstead said. At the Red Mass, however, attorneys and judges of different faiths come together and participate as a legal community.

Garnett echoed Olmstead in noting these are challenging times for the legal profession. The Notre Dame professor sees the challenges growing which, he said, makes the Red Mass even more important.

As he watched the congregants at St. John, the Rev. Rick Nagle was struck by the site of professional colleagues who share a common bond despite having to sometimes battle each other in court.

Promoting that professional collegiality was part of the impetus for starting a St. Thomas More Society chapter in Fort Wayne. Members of the bar in Allen and the surrounding counties have come together for the past 10 years to celebrate the Red Mass, and this year, with the encouragement of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend, they formed the society.

Allen Superior Judge Craig Bobay said the society provides the opportunity for lawyers and judges to discuss common ethical and spiritual issues that come before them. It gives a moral and religious basis for camaraderie, and the Red Mass is another forum for reflection on those ideals.

“It’s a nice time to come together to celebrate the way we make our living while also celebrating our common faith,” Bobay said. “We celebrate the role that the legal profession has in civil society.”

About three years ago, the Red Mass in Indianapolis was a sparsely attended event. During the 2010 service, there were only five dignitaries and just a handful of people in the pews being led in prayer by the archbishop and 12 priests.

Gargula began attending the Red Mass while in law school at Notre Dame and has maintained that tradition into her professional life. The dry spell, she believes, developed when attorneys had not been recruited to fill leadership roles.

Certo and Gargula, along with other members of the St. Thomas More Society of Indianapolis, actively reached out and engaged attorneys over the common themes of the profession and faith. The result was a markedly larger attendance to the 2011 Red Mass.

“It’s the one celebration where everyone has the opportunity to celebrate at the same time with a common goal,” Gargula said.•


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.