Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Feast of Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Raphael

Red Mass for the Diocese of Fort Worth

September 29, 2022
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, TX

1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 138:1-2ab, 2cde-3, 4-5
Revelation 12:7-12b
John 1:47-51

This evening God calls us together to worship Him and to seek the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit on all judges, civic officials, magistrates, and lawyers who are to be engaged in the authentic ministry of justice and law directed to human flourishing and the common good of our society. Divine Providence has designed that we should come together for this sacred mystery on the Feast of the Archangels, Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Raphael — who each administer, respectively, God’s power, God’s strength, and God’s remedy, three things that are very much needed today in our society and especially in the lives and work of those committed to the service of law and justice.

The readings that we have just proclaimed offer us two paths that lay before us for our consideration. One path is that of the listening and discerning heart in light of God’s wisdom and truth. The second path is that of the duplicitous heart that misappropriates the truth revealed by God through faith and reason and corrupts wisdom and prudence into cunning and power.

The first reading from the First Book of Kings shows us the example of Solomon who requests of the Lord, “Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?” While the Lord lovingly grants Solomon’s request out of His grace, the Scriptures tell us that Solomon will reject this gift of the Lord when he becomes ensnared in the idolatry of the duplicitous and seductive gods of his wives who lie to him about glamor and luxury in place of wisdom and justice. Yet, God never ceases to offer His gift of a listening and discerning heart.

Our Gospel reading offers us the example of Nathanael, known also in tradition as Bartholomew, whom the Lord proclaims to be a true Israelite without duplicity of heart. Nathanael’s lack of duplicity and his pure singleheartedness enable him to recognize the Son of God in Jesus in whom others only see a carpenter but in whom the duplicitous see a threat to their selfish industry and willful gain. Yes, Nathanael will be weak at the Crucifixion along with the other apostles and, like them, he will hide, but his life ends in martyrdom out of faithfulness and love for Christ who is the truth and who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

The story of Saint Michael partially presented in our second reading from the Book of Revelation offers us clear recourse to God in taking the path of a listening and discerning heart instead of the seduction of a duplicitous heart. The name Michael is itself a question: “Who is like God?” It is not a rhetorical question. It is a direct and honest question, not asked of Lucifer but asked of God— the truth itself, the source of wisdom, and beauty, the source of goodness and justice. The power of God that is infinite is the ministry of Saint Michael. He does not outdo the Adversary, the Accuser, Lucifer, in cunning or grandiosity and pomp. He does not overpower the lawless and rebellious will of the Devil with the strength of his own will. The power of Saint Michael is God’s truth, and it outflanks the adversary who is a liar — Lucifer, who misrepresents himself garishly as the light in rebelling against God and rejecting the service of light-bearing that was God’s plan for him.

As Saint Gregory the Great so beautifully articulated, “Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power. So also, our ancient foe desired in his pride to be like God, saying: I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven; I will be like the Most High.

Is that not the crux of our contemporary individual and social misery for which we need God’s power, God’s strength, and God’s remedy? There is a contemporary ideological movement to replace reason and law with historicism and willfulness. It presents history as a type of willful force that controls human beings in the present, so this seductive ideology demands that we change the present by willfully changing the narrative of history through the dishonest manipulation of facts, dates, and the integrity of our human nature. This is frequently manifested in attacks upon our institutions and laws including violent actions and threats of harm upon Supreme Court justices, legislators, and agents of law enforcement in an attempt to replace law with willfulness.

This ideology demands that we change our story about our human nature but not change our moral character through conversion from duplicity of heart to embracing the Lord’s gift of a listening and discerning heart. It eradicates the self-evident distinctions between human beings and animals, between men and women, between human beings and God, to the point that people of great responsibility are unwilling to acknowledge these and other distinctions evident and discoverable through right reason and authentic science. This ideology imposes the chaos of self-will and attempts to seduce us into outdoing the cunning with partisan narratives of partial truths intended to achieve the exaltation of the thrones of the self-proclaimed elite; an exaltation that is measured only by material wealth and social power and requires the impoverishment of the vulnerable. This ideology hobbles human beings in their capacity to love, to enjoy friendship or social harmony.

Without grace and a disposition open to God’s grace (which is itself a grace), we are doomed to grasp at playing God and to destroy our human nature, whereby morality becomes not about the good but about whatever we will to make it; and whereby we soon replace reason and science with power and willfulness, becoming drunk on pleasure and appetite with indifference to our neighbor in need. In short, if we refuse God’s grace and prefer the duplicitous heart, we make our own hell, that is, the domination of rage, resentment, and appetite with the complete absence of empathy.

The vocation of a Catholic lawyer, judge, legislator, or civic official entrusted with the ministry of authority is the cultivation of a discerning and listening heart that brings about conversion to the truth and guides society towards justice through the rule of law. Law is an ordinance of reason. It is not the imposition by narrative of the more powerful will of the elite over the less powerful will of the vulnerable. It is law that is anchored in the truth of God and imbued by Him in the design of our human nature that brings reason and not willfulness into human situations. God designs law to humanize us through the measurement of duties in accord with God’s truth and love. It is the vocation of a Catholic lawyer or civic official to stand with Saint Michael and to ask humbly of the Truth with the discerning heart sought by Solomon but displayed by Nathanael, in asking and knowing “Who is like God?” It is the vocation of a Catholic lawyer or civic official to outflank the cunning lawlessness of evil not by clever sophism but by an authentic desire for justice whereby each person and society are apportioned their measure due in accord with nature and grace, understood by reason, and thereby enriched in their humanity.

Each of us has received this discerning and listening heart with the gifts of the Holy Spirit at our Baptism and again at Confirmation. We ask the same Holy Spirit tonight to clarify our vision, to refine our hearing, to hearten our will, to renew our listening and discerning heart as we worship God in this Mass. We ask Him to save us from the duplicity of evil and the malice of hate and indifference. We seek from God the grace of His power, of His strength, and of His remedy. All of which He has given us and washed us clean in conquering the enemy through the shedding of the Blood of the Lamb, His Son Jesus Christ, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived and Whose Body and Blood we receive with gratitude.

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