byMost Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
Red Mass Homily Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More
We are honored to be here in Tallahassee for these Catholic Days at the Capitol and to be present with all of you who participate in the government of the State of Florida in the executive, legislative and judicial arenas. We are deeply grateful for your service to all the people of Florida and assure you of our cooperation and support in a task that is a noble one but, not by any means, an easy one. The reason we have come for these days is so that you might listen to us, our concerns, and petitions and that we might listen to you in response to them. As men and women of faith, we celebrate this Red Mass so that we might join in solidarity with you through the Lord and to pray for the Holy Spirit’s continued guidance upon you in your important and varied deliberations, which affect the good of all.
This year the Red Mass is a bit different because today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, exactly 40 days after Christmas. It is also Candlemas Day, for it is a tradition to bless candles on this day to remind us that Christ is the Light of the World. Candles light and warm the winter days, and we are grateful to God that this is not so necessary in Florida. As we just heard in the Gospel of Saint Luke, Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to the temple, in accordance with the Jewish law, to present Him to the Lord and offer a gift of thanksgiving for His birth. What is significant is that they did what everyone else did in following the law and not exempting themselves from what was expected, even though their Son was God Himself.
On the occasion of the Presentation of Christ, Mary and Joseph encounter the representation of the Old Testament, in Simeon and Anna, who had awaited the birth of the Messiah and who greeted Him with great joy as the fulfillment of their lives. For this reason, the Feast of the Presentation is also celebrated as the Feast of the Encounter. It is Jesus Christ who is the light of this encounter, well expressed in the words of Simeon, “a light revealed to the nations.”
As we celebrate this Red Mass on the Feast of the Presentation, it is most fitting that we also do so on the Feast of the Encounter. We are all here today, at this Mass and at the Catholic Days at the Capitol, to encounter each other. We come to express ourselves because we trust each other and seek the common good, which is the God-given nature of government. Laws and public procedures are not ends in themselves, but means by which the God-given dignity of every human person made in His image and likeness, are protected, and enhanced. Those include the rights of an unborn child in a mother’s womb, the rights of the elderly, the infirm, those with disabilities, the immigrant, the poor, the criminal, those on death row, and, in the words of Pope Francis, “those at every periphery of life.” We all, the elected members of government and those who are governed, encounter each other so that the light which Christ reveals may be at the center of what society is all about. Such can only come about through honest encounter with each other, not for the good of an individual, but for the good of all. As I said before, government is a most noble task but not an easy one, by any means.
Pope Francis has given us a good model of encounter this year by opening a Synod on Synodality for the entire Church. Truly our encounter with each other at all times must be in the spirit of synodality of encounter, which Pope Francis considers essential in the life of the Church. The Synod is meant to encourage speaking and listening in all aspects of the Church’s life so that the voice of the Holy Spirit can be discerned. The discussion and discernment that will take place during the Synod are not meant, as Pope Francis has made clear, to debate the teachings of the Church or any of its established traditions and disciplinary practices. There can easily be a misconception of a synod, which understands it as meant to change who we are as a Church and how we live as the Church. Pope Francis has been very clear that the purpose of the Synod is to discern the theme of synodality, which has existed in the Church from its very beginning as expressed in the Acts of the Apostles. He stated, “Synodality is not a chapter in an ecclesiology textbook, much less a fad or a slogan or to be bandied about in our meetings. Synodality is an expression of the Church’s nature, her form, her style, and mission.” Pope Francis has expressed that synodality, encounter, is the means by which we, as members of the Church, make ourselves available to each other so that we can hear what each person has to say as a possible expression of the Holy Spirit.
As men and women of faith, synodality can be considered an expression of who we are as a state and nation. We can even understand our very Constitution as a child of synodality. It is not our role to alter the laws of God but to discern them and to implement them for the good of all. That is what our founding fathers did. We need to hear, to support and to articulate the dignity of every human person made in the image and likeness of God.
Unfortunately, due to many factors, including that of the Covid pandemic which has challenged us for the past two years, there is an anger and division that is evident in every aspect of our nation and world. The Feast of the Presentation and Candlemas Day, take place the day before the Feast of Saint Blaise, on which throats are blessed so that a healing can be affected within the person receiving the blessing. There truly is a need for healing at this moment and that healing can only take place by encountering each other as made in the image and likeness of God and by respecting each other in that capacity. It is the Holy Spirit who heals, and as we celebrate this Red Mass on this Candlemas Day and Feast of the Encounter, we especially ask for His healing upon our society and nation today.
As brothers and sisters in the Lord, we give thanks to God for each other and support each other in the role to which God has called each of us in life. May our encounter with each other during this Red Mass and during these Catholic Days at the Capitol continue to strengthen us as men and women of faith in God and in the communion He wills for us. I conclude with the prayer for the Synod.
We stand before You, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in Your name.
With You alone to guide us, make Yourself at home in our hearts;
Teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in You our unity so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right.
All this we ask of You, who are at work in every place and time, in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
February 4, 2022