Thursday 27 September, 2007
Sacred Heart Catholic Church
Wilton D. Gregory,
Archbishop of Atlanta
Distinguished Members of the Judicial and Legal Community of North Georgia and Friends All,
There was only a single Catholic signer among the 56 signatures on the Declaration of Independence in 1776. There were no Jews who signed that document, no Baptists, no Muslims and perhaps most surprisingly – certainly by today’s standards – no women or persons of color who signed that fundamental document of our nationhood. Yet in the intervening two plus centuries, we have all progressed a long way to become the proud nation that we are today – a nation that clearly was only in its embryonic stage in 1776. And may I suggest we are a much better community of peoples with the embellishments to our religious, cultural, racial, ethnic, and gender identity that have occurred.
The inspiring story of our nation has constantly been one of increased inclusion, building upon what may well now be viewed as the inadequate representational breadth of those first signers of a document that dared to suggest that we could become a people who held firmly to our individual religious convictions without imposing those convictions upon others. We would be a people who could advance and would celebrate our religious traditions while pursuing the unifying concerns and the collective desires of a single nation comprised of people of many and varied faiths, races, and ethnic communities and even those who might choose to confess no religious faith whatsoever.
Because religion remains an important concern for the great majority of people in this vast nation of ours, its manifold expressions also require a delicate balance that we must observe to ensure that individual religious beliefs are respected while the common good is pursued.
The judiciary which is so extensively and illustriously represented at this Mass plays an indispensable role in safe-guarding that balance which allows and indeed encourages religious freedom while inviting people of Faith to full and active participation in the making and the promotion of public policy. That is why it is both prudent and necessary for people of all religious traditions to pray for the servants of our nation’s judicial system. Muslims, Jews, Christians should all pray that wisdom and insight, courage and prudence, honesty and intelligence be granted to all those who serve in the judiciary both here in Georgia and throughout the expanse of this great nation of ours.
Would that all of our judicial servants could arouse such amazement because of the authority and wonderment of their words, actions, and teaching as the Gospel passage we just heard that Jesus provoked – people who speak and teach with authority. The wonder and confidence that surrounded Jesus in His own time was not merely because He made clear judgments, but because of the inner conviction that His teaching sparked in accord with the highest principles of truth. Authority in the Gospels is not about power as much as it is about integrity and inner-conviction. We pray for all those engaged in the judiciary for those same gifts and virtues.
Jesus’ teaching brought amazement because He dared to give new meaning and insight into moral and religious matters that people often thought were beyond their ability to fully comprehend or to understand. Greatness in teaching comes to those who dare to tackle the truly difficult issues in life – greatness belongs to those who dare to explain and clarify the complex issues in life. May all of the members of the judiciary be granted the courage to attain such greatness as you consider the truly challenging issues that still confront this cherished nation of ours – issues of justice for the marginalized, the neglected, and the vulnerable. May all the members of our judiciary administer, apply, and interpret the laws of this wondrous nation in such an insightful way that we all feel secure trusting in your wisdom, integrity, and prudence.
Our nation has continued to grow strong in spite of the many religious and political differences that distinguish our people. We represent a great experiment in freedom as has been suggested before by many prominent commentators on our republic. Our security and development as a free people in no small degree depend upon the wise and faithful interpretation of those documents that guarantee our independence and foster our unity on the part of the members of our judiciary. It behooves all of us to have ever wiser and dare I suggest even holy members of the judiciary who will use all of your talents and gifts to explain and to explore the meaning of our documents of democracy.
It is for that reason that we gather at this Red Mass to pray for all of you, no matter what your own religious heritage might be, it behooves all of us to have wise and righteous members of the judiciary to protect the precious heritage of freedom that we all share as a common treasure of this great nation. For that reason, we invite not just the Catholic members of the judiciary, or even only the Christian members of the judiciary, but all members of those venerable bodies of our nation to assemble here today so that together we might pray for you and for your advancement and the increase of your prudence during this new judicial term. I particularly welcome all the members of the clergy from other denominations who also join us this morning. Your own prayers and presence give further testimony to the importance that you place on having a wise and virtuous judiciary. The blessing of the members of the legal world is a worthy task that only benefits from the good will and from the prayers of all those men and women of faith who call this region our common home. May the union of all our prayers and blessings come upon each member of the judiciary throughout this new judicial calendar year and beyond. May your decisions bring security and justice; may they bring life, liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness to all of the members of our community and nation, no matter what faith they profess or political opinions they hold making us ever more a nation of truly wise leaders and very fortunate citizens. Amen!