Bishop urges legal profession to give ‘zealous witness’

By Joe Pisani

BRIDGEPORT — Bishop Frank J. Caggiano told more than 100 members of the legal profession at the annual Red Mass that it is “not enough to administer and protect the law, but you must also embrace the values upon which divine law and civil law were created and live them every day of your lives.”

In his homily at the November 5 Mass at St. Augustine Cathedral, he urged them to adhere to both the spirit and the letter of the law and said, “If you cannot legislate the spirit, what you and I can do is witness to it and 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. We must 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 to strive for greatness.”

Bishop Caggiano said we live in an age where “the Church and civil society are fracturing before our eyes, and we cannot even begin to agree on the values upon which the law was created in the first place … 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 men and women who live the spirit of the law.”

He told the legal professionals he was pleased they could gather and celebrate their vocation, saying, “I believe God has given it to you and that we must pray for you in this very frenetic time we are living in.”

The Red Mass was followed by a talk at Brooklawn Country Club by Dr. Amy Uelmen, Director of Mission & Ministry at Georgetown Law School.

The family of the late Robert N. Talarico Esq. gathered to celebrate his recognition at the brunch following the Red Mass. Mr. Talarico was posthumously awarded the St. Thomas More Society Award for his service. His wife Barbara accepted the honor, and longtime friend Deacon Bill Murphy gave a tribute to him.

She urged those in law to connect their faith and professional lives, and gave personal examples of how she has tried “to keep my heart in and connected to my work as a lawyer” and how “having an awareness of the presence of Christ in each neighbor can permeate a professional life.”

Dr. Uelmen said that during her career, she has relied on the “transformative power of Scripture” to strengthen her and stay focused on Christ.

“I realized early on that this can go a very, very long way in shoring up my heart from letting work, or the chase after success, or simply wanting to be liked by others, sneak into my heart as an idol,” she said.

She said a focus on the presence of Christ can be maintained by relying on words from Scripture, such as “Your Word, O Lord, is a light for my path,” “Perfect love casts out fear,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Dr. Uelmen also talked about the particular challenges young adults confront who are pursuing a career in law and have to deal with pressures that arise from different sources, including dependence on social media.

“As adult professionals, what does it mean to model for our youth — children, teenagers and young adults — relationships that can be transformed by the power of recognizing the presence of Christ in each person?” she asked.

The annual Red Mass is celebrated for everyone in the legal profession. The Catholic tradition dates back to the 13th century. It was named “Red Mass,” reminiscent of the scarlet robes worn by the English Supreme Court. There is also a theological association with the Holy Spirit and tongues of fire on Pentecost. At the Mass, the Spirit is invoked to bestow his gifts upon those practicing law. In addition, St. Thomas More, who was executed by King Henry VIII, is the patron of lawyers, and red signifies martyrdom.

Bishop Caggiano said that even though legal professionals practice the law in their daily lives, they “can’t legislate somebody’s heart” so he urged them to give “zealous witness.”

“Whether we are in the courtroom, whether we are in the supermarket, whether we are in the sacred space of our churches, heroic and zealous witness is far more persuasive than any homily, any legal brief, any talk that can be given,” he said. “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 us to personally commit ourselves to be a mirror, a shining example by living a life of integrity that takes the very values we believe in and the values that our society is built on and live them ever more perfectly.”

He told the group that the whole church would pray for them “because your vocation is noble and is being lived in very difficult circumstances.”

Bishop Caggiano also reminded them to ensure the law is administered justly “to allow for the right ordering of society, the protection of the common good and the protection of individual rights so society can enshrine its values and live by them, and so all God’s children can live in justice, equality and peace.”

At breakfast following the Red Mass, the late Robert N. Talarico Esq. was posthumously awarded the St. Thomas More Society Award for his service. His wife Barbara accepted the honor, and longtime friend Deacon Bill Murphy gave a tribute to him.

Anne McCrory, Chief Legal and Real Estate Officer of the Diocese, read comments from Father Greg Mecca, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Danbury, who remembered Mr. Talarico as a man whose “priorities were family, friends, the Church and the law,” adding that “Bob was a kind, fair, loyal, humble, decent and empathetic man — a true gentleman.”

Robert Talarico practiced with the firm Talarico, Frizzell and Olivo and was a lector and trustee at St. Peter’s.

Bishop Caggiano praised Mr. Talarico and said: When I came to the diocese, Bob was one of the first people I met … and from that moment, he was always a man I knew I could trust, that I could be totally confidential with, and who was always watching my back. So when I preached at the cathedral about the person who doesn’t just follow the law but lives the Spirit of the law, if there was a poster child for that, it is Bob Talarico.”

Anne McCrory, who organized the event, said she was pleased to be able to host the first Red Mass since 2019, when they stopped because of the cornavirus pandemic.

“Many of our legal community were with us at the cathedral for a beautiful Mass with Bishop Caggiano,” she said. “We were also so fortunate to hear from Dr. Amy Uelmen, who was truly inspiring. She spoke with such faith and confidence regarding the ways we can infuse faith into our legal work.”