MAKING CONNECTIONS: Bishop McKnight preaches Red Mass homily in St. Louis

Summons Catholic lawyers, judges to be prophetic, holding fast to the Holy Spirit’s gifts


Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City preached the homily at the Archdiocese of St. Louis’s Red Mass, on Oct. 7 in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

The Red Mass is celebrated at the beginning of the judicial session each year for judges, prosecutors, attorneys, law-school professors and students, and government officials.

The readings for the Mass were: Joel 3:1-5, Acts 2:1-11, John 14:15-16, 23-26.


I wish to thank Archbishop (Robert) Carlson (of St. Louis) for the invitation to be with you and preach the homily on the occasion of this annual Red Mass in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, a Mass in which we pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon all those who have responsibility for the common good in the legal profession and the judiciary, especially for the students of law who are here among us.

We also pray for those who serve in the legislative and executive branches of our state government; God knows they could use our prayers, too.

As the new bishop of Jefferson City, our state capital, I am honored to be with you and to pray for another outpouring of the Holy Spirit for a Church, a state and world so desperately in need of it.

We are living in difficult times; and in times like these, more prayer is what we need, not less.

Of course, when has the Church or the world ever been without difficulties? And yet, the context of the clergy sexual abuse tragedy for us Catholics has a particular sting to it like no other.

As the rest of society experiences a growing awareness of the pain and suffering caused by abuse, our Church is called, despite her past failings, to reach out with preferential considerations and sensitivities to those who have been harmed. I think of the suffering of survivors, their families and their social communities.

We, as a Church, have been broken by the scandal. Broken, indeed, but not defeated, because we still have a mission to fulfill. This broken world of ours is in need of Jesus, in need of His Gospel, and yes, in need of His Church.

We Catholics believe that Christ founded our Church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. These words form part of the Creed that we are about to profess once again.

But the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic not because of us, but because of Jesus and the gift of His Holy Spirit upon the Church.

We just heard proclaimed from the Acts of the Apostles about the first Gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, the celebrated birth of the Church. And every time we celebrate Mass, we encounter another Pentecost.

The Church is reborn from the sacrificial offering of Jesus given into our hands and broken in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In every Eucharistic Prayer, the priest or bishop invokes the Holy Spirit not only on the gifts of bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Jesus, but on the assembly as well, “so that we might become one body and one spirit in Christ.”

With the gift of the Holy Spirit comes the bond of communion, a bond of peace. We are bound to one another in Christian charity, and so we ritually manifest our sense of obligation to each other in the Sign of Peace.

“Whoever loves Me will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our dwelling with Him.” The Church was founded to be the place on earth where people can find God and experience His love, mercy and forgiveness.

We receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the external mission of the Church, not for ourselves.

The Prophet Joel tells us something about this gift of God’s Spirit poured out upon the Church, poured out upon you who are busy with the legal realities of our civic society.

He says: “Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions” (Joel 3:1).

Prophesy. Dream. See. Yes, to be able to see what God sees and what can only be comprehended by the Gift of the Spirit.

We are called to view our world differently, with all its brokenness and sorrows, with a biblical set of eyes. We are to see, with hope, not only what is wrong but also what is right and what could be made right.

We are to see the opportunity for healing, reconciliation, and charity that every fractured life presents.

Prophesy/ Dream/See: The Catholic tradition holds that sons and daughters of the Church, from the moment of their baptism, share in the prophetic dimension of Christ’s mission.

That is, by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are given the spiritual powers necessary to see, dream, and prophesy or proclaim the fundamental truths of our faith.

The Word of God is made manifest not only in what we say, but also and perhaps more importantly it is communicated through our acts of faith.

We are to speak a word not of our own, but from God’s wisdom: “yet the word you hear is not Mine but that of the Father Who sent Me” (John 14:24).

Did you notice in the Pentecost account how the disciples praying in the locked upper room received “tongues as of fire” and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim? It wasn’t their own word, their own “tongue,” but one of “fire,” of God’s Spirit.

And then there is the other side to the Pentecost miracle. Not only were the disciples empowered to speak in different tongues, but those who heard them were able to understand them.

In the way that Luke reports the Pentecost event, we hear that there was not only the miracle of speaking in tongues but also the miracle of hearing: “Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?” (Acts 2:8).

Where there is an openness to hearing the Word of God, the Spirit can overcome all sorts of obstacles that stand in Its way. By God’s power, miracles are performed every day in and through the Church — through you!

So what is a Catholic lawyer in today’s society supposed to do with that? How can you save your soul, let alone witness your Catholic Faith, while practicing law?

By using the gifts of the Holy Spirit that have been given to you.

By tradition we speak of them as seven:

•WISDOM: the ability to judge and direct human affairs according to divine truths.

•UNDERSTANDING: a penetrating insight into the very heart of things, to see as God sees.

•COUNSEL: allowing oneself to be directed by God in matters necessary for salvation.

•FORTITUDE: a firmness of mind in doing good and avoiding evil.

•KNOWLEDGE: the ability to judge correctly about matters of faith and right action.

•PIETY: a reverence for God as His children by giving Him worship in fulfilling our duties to Him, and because of Him, to others.

•FEAR OF THE LORD: a reverential awe for God because of His love and mercy for us; that we cannot stand to be apart from Him or to offend Him because of what He does for us; rather than simple servile fear or fear of being punished.

We exercise these gifts of the Spirit in the following ways:

1) Through personal prayer — which I define in this context as giving God the opportunity to change our minds or interpretations of things so that we can see and dream as God would have us do.

2) By preserving one’s character, integrity and honesty in your legal profession, even if or especially if others do not.

3) By maintaining civility in a culture of discord and chaos.

On this last point, I would like to share with you an experience I had while serving at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as the executive director of the Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

During my time there, I got to know a certain priest who worked in the Diocese of Arlington as the bishop’s vicar for clergy.

When another priest-colleague of mine was about to complete his term working with me at the Conference, he once mentioned that he regretted never getting to take a tour of the U.S. Supreme Court. So I hatched a plan with the priest from Arlington, who happened to be named Father Paul Scalia.

My colleague and I were given a wonderful tour of not only the iconic courtroom with the bench and high-backed chairs for the justices, but we also got to see the cloak room, the library, the dining room and fitness rooms.

With wonderful and unexpected happiness, our personalized tour concluded with a visit to the chambers of Father Paul Scalia’s father, Justice Antonin Scalia, who was quietly working in his office.

It was a rather humanizing moment to witness such a powerful figure in our nation’s capital taking delight in his son’s presence, as well as the evident devotion and respect of a son for his father.

Evidently, Justice Scalia was an avid hunter. There were stuffed game of all kinds all throughout his chambers.

I also noticed a picture, the only picture of another sitting Justice in the room, that of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As I learned from Fr. Scalia afterward, Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg, were good friends. They both loved opera and would often go to the opera when it was in town.

While they were of different religions, different genders and of completely different judicial philosophies, they had enough room in each other’s hearts for friendship.

Having friends with people who are different from us allows for Pentecost to happen all over again!

Our Catholic Faith, the Gift of the Spirit that we have been given, makes it possible to overcome any differences in race, religion, politics — even judicial philosophy.

To see as God sees. To dream as God would have us dream. To speak God’s truth.

You have been called to evangelize by being good Catholics. Our community needs good Catholics in the legal profession who are boldly Catholic, not in any triumphalist sense — our shame at our own scandal should prevent that — but in humility, boasting only of the merciful works of God, as the Apostles did after Pentecost.

Our world needs to see in you, through your character and integrity, your spirituality and your civility the beauty of our Catholic Faith.