The following homily was given by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli at the Red Mass for the Opening of the Legal Year, a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit that is celebrated annually to seek the Holy Spirit's guidance for all participate in our legal and justice systems.
Of the three things that will last—faith, hope and love—hope is the characteristic by which we might best look to the future. Not faith, which anchors us to a life well envisioned, and not love, which anchors us to a life well lived, but as the saying goes, it is hope that springs eternal; it is hope which allows for us, in the living of our lives, to strive forward.
Hope—or, more specifically, God’s hope for his beloved—resides at the heart of the readings we have just listened to. Firstly, we heard from the Prophet Isaiah that God would endow his faithful and suffering servant with his Spirit, ‘that he may bring true justice to the nations’ (Isaiah 42.2). We heard how this sense of ‘true justice’ reveals itself in actions that are not raucously imposed but instead are mercifully given—the reed of a person’s dignity is not to be crushed, the flame of their life not to be extinguished; a justice that strives to be true for the good of God’s children.
Then, in the Gospel, at the beginning of Jesus’ own mission, we hear him say to his family and neighbours in Nazareth, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen’ (Luke 4.21). Good news was now being brought to the poor and broken and needy and imprisoned, in and through his own person; a gift to be received, and by which to be transformed.
Note that both the promise of God through Isaiah, and the fulfilment of that promise in Jesus Christ, make hope a performative reality. Hope is not something of which we in need of it are simply informed. Hope, in other words, is not just a concept that gives information about our nature as human beings; more to the point, it is performative for the living of a human life. Hoping makes a difference for us creatures created to hope.
Pope Benedict put this with revealing precision in his encyclical letter on Christian hope, saying, ‘The Christian message was not only “informative” but “performative”. That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing … The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life’ (Spe Salvi, §2).
True justice is a gift of the Lord, and we are blessed to live in a land that respects the law and invites us to contribute to its refinement and improvement. But the work of allowing justice to breathe through good law and its application is an ongoing project that is never finished; it is a work of hope, or at least should be, and it requires God’s grace to succeed. For you, therefore, servants of the law, a faith that brings hope is a gift for society, especially the least of God’s children.
Allow me to conclude with some further words of Pope Benedict, who’s month anniversary of death we commemorate today. May they be words to take to your heart, in hope:
There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatise it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty. Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister … Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility. Do not be afraid to take up this service to your brothers and sisters (Pope Benedict, Mass in Glasgow, Scotland, 16 September 2010).