The following is Bishop Caggiano’s homily given at the Annual Red Mass February 5, 2023
My dear sisters and brothers in the Lord. One of the very first tasks I was asked to attend to after I received word that I was going to be named the auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn was to create a coat of arms. And I had absolutely no idea how to do that. I always thought coats of arms were like mystic houses of monarchs and kings. And I said, do I need one?
And they said, oh, no, absolutely, you need one. So after a few days of trying to struggle as to how you do this, a kind, gentle, older priest said, Frank, you highlight the people, the saints, the ones in your life that truly matter. The Lord, our lady and St. Michael.
Now, it’s interesting. There are two symbols that represent St. Michael’s, and so I chose one. One that all of you who are here as part of the legal profession know very well. It is the symbol of the scales. And the reason for that is St. Michael is the guardian of the Divine Law. He is the keeper of the Gates of Heaven, and he is the one to ensure that those who enter into glory are the ones who have followed the Divine Law.
Those of us here in the legal profession, Lady Justice blindfolded holding the scale, is a reminder that entrusted to you, who are the administrators and the guardians of the law, your noble profession and vocation is to ensure that the law is administered equally justly, one could say blindly, so that the law can fulfill its basic purpose. In short, to allow for the right ordering of society, the protection of the common good, the protection of individual rights within that common good, so that society can enshrine its values and live by them. And if I may put it in religious terms, that all God’s children can live in justice, equality and peace. And that is why you’re here today, so that the whole church can pray for you, because your vocation is noble and is being lived in very difficult circumstances. And to add to the difficulty is the Lord Himself, because in His great kindness, He offers to all of us whether we are the guardians of the divine law or the guardians of our civil law.
A great challenge today, and He wastes no time in spelling out exactly what it was, is, and presumably will always be.
He challenges the scribes who are the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, who valued themselves as the perfect practitioners of the law and reminded them that there is a duty more than just following the letter of the law.
Many times, my friends, we follow the law because we fear the consequences of breaking it. And that is a motivating factor. But the law exists for more than that. It enshrines values, goods that, whether the law existed or not, should in fact mark our common life and my life and yours in our journey of discipleship. We speak of the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.
And the Lord is reminding us that it is not enough to administer and protect the law. But it is also for you and I, in His Divine Law and our civil law to embrace the values upon which those laws were created and to live them every day of our lives.
The difficulty is, for those of you who practice the law day in and day out and day out you can’t legislate somebody’s heart.
And that is true even in the realm in which we now sit. For we can easily fall into the temptation to follow the laws of the Church and not have them touch our lives.
So what are we to do? Particularly in a world where in the church and in civil society the common good is fracturing before our very eyes and that we cannot even begin to agree on the values upon which the law was created in the first place? Where do we go from here? How do we follow the Lord’s mandate to live the Spirit and the letter both? My friends, you will have to turn to a much smarter preacher than me to have the answer to that question.
But this much I can offer as advice, for it haunts me now. I wish it will haunt you as well.
If you cannot legislate the Spirit, what you and I can do is witness to it is to order our lives in such a way that we need not ever fear breaking the law because we are living the spirit of the law ever more deeply and perfectly in our life. To persuade society to find its way back to unity and peace to persuade our sisters and brothers that the greater value is not to avoid punishment, but it is to strive for greatness. If you and I, who administer and are the guardians of the law are given this noble task to allow our society to find what it seeks that every human heart may find the peace it deeply desires then perhaps the best way forward is for you and I personally, to commit ourselves to be a mirror, a shining example, a life of integrity that takes the very values that you and I believe in and the values that our society are built on and to live them ever more perfectly in our life. Whether we are in the courtroom, whether we are in the supermarket, whether we are in the sacred space of our churches that heroic, zealous witness is far more persuasive than any homily, any law brief, any talk that can ever be given.
And it seems to me the Lord, in his great kindness is reminding us that we can find a way forward not simply by protecting the letter of the law, but to be women and men who live the spirit of the law.
And to do it to the best of our ability in grace.
My dear friends, I mentioned the fact that there are two symbols for St. Michael. There is another symbol. And when I came to Bridgeport, I was asked to change it, so I did.
I’m very obedient. It’s fine. Let’s change it. And the symbol now, for St. Michael the second symbol is the fiery sword because it is to Michael to administer injustice whatever punishment is meted out to those who do not follow God’s commands.
We are not given a fiery sword, but what we are given the task to walk together as sisters and brothers to lead those of goodwill with us to embrace the values that will allow all of us never to have to face the fiery sword of God.