Cardinal addresses Worcester Red Mass gathering

WORCESTER -- A tidal wave was approaching.

The people on the beach didn’t see it, but a man who lived on a mountain did.

To get their attention, he set his beautiful home on fire. When the beach-goers saw the fire, some of them hurried to help their neighbor save his house. Others said the climb was too difficult and they were having too much fun down below.

The ones who went to help their neighbor saved their own lives.

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston told this story in his keynote address at the brunch following the Worcester Diocese’s 50th annual Red Mass Nov. 18.

“Sometimes when we perform works of mercy we think we’re doing God a favor,” he said. “In reality, we’re doing ourselves a favor.”

The St. Thomas More Society of Worcester County, founded on personal qualities of this former chancellor of England, honored a judge, two attorneys and a paralegal during the Red Mass, which is named for the color of vestments the presiding clergy wear and for the scarlet robes worn by judges attending the King’s bench in Westminster, England.

Bishop McManus was the main celebrant at the Mass for members of the legal profession at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Cardinal O’Malley concelebrated, as well as Msgr. F. Stephen Pedone, judicial vicar/vicar for canonical affairs for the Diocese of Worcester, who was the homilist.

In his homily Msgr. Pedone spoke of Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, who was asked in an interview about God allowing suffering. She replied that people have been telling God to get out of their schools, etc., and God, the gentleman, has backed out.

God wants a “personal relationship with us,” he said. “He wants each of us for eternity.”

Msgr. Pedone noted that human beings are made in God’s image and likeness and said the United States was founded on the conviction that it should be “a city set on a hill,” demonstrating respect for human beings. How differently people would treat the unborn, the elderly and others “if we viewed ourselves as vessels of the divine,” he said.

At the brunch, held at the Beechwood Hotel, Cardinal O’Malley spoke on a similar theme of Catholic morality -- from love for the poor, to abortion, to marriage.

He mentioned this description of early Christians: “They do not destroy their offspring; they have a common table, but not a common bed.” The cardinal wondered whether someone will someday write that today’s Christians oppose abortion and support marriage. Church restrictions are seen as cruel, but are like the restrictions of a loving parent, he said.

“Only in discovering God do we discover who we are,” he said, adding that Europe has made a concerted effort to forget about God. The Economist magazine wrote about the population in Europe declining, but said America is different because America is more devout; if people have hope for the future, they are more likely to have children, he said.

“They even quoted Hillary [Clinton]: ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” and someone who said the village is the Church, he added.

He indicated the violence of the 20th century can be attributed in great part to atheistic ideologies of Nazism and Marxism that proposed a utopia without God.

Now people face terrorism, he said, but the tragedy of the Sept. 11 attacks revealed many heroic people.

Noting that many of his listeners were attorneys, the cardinal mentioned the Ten Commandments and said someone has said the only commandment left in the United States is, “Thou shalt not smoke.” He spoke of Jesus’ commandments to love God above all, love one’s neighbor as oneself, and for his disciples to love one another as he had loved them.

“How does Jesus love us?” he asked. “He loved us first when we were still in sin...laying down his life for us. ... Jesus identifies with the sick and the suffering. That homeless schizophrenic off his meds is Jesus Christ -- in the distressing disguise.”

The cardinal spoke of “the little ones who are the protagonists of the Gospel,” and of achieving by giving of self.

Nine-year-old Max Erskine was eager to honor a particular human being -- his mother, one of the award recipients.

“I’m just wicked happy for her,” he said. “And I hope she can be the best judge she can be.”

His mother, Honorable Carol A. Erskine, received the Distinguished Jurist Award. She is first justice, Juvenile Court Department, Worcester Division, Trial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The other award recipients were: Aldo B. Consigli Jr., Consigli & Brucato, PC, who received the Distinguished Attorney Award; Erwin H. “Dusty” Miller, Bowditch & Dewey, LLP, who received the Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan Ecumenical Award, and Candace M. Jaegle, paralegal, Massachusetts Justice Project, Worcester, who received the Catholic Layperson Award.

Kimberly Fischer of Win-chendon is receiving the law school scholarship named after the late Bishop Timothy Harrington. Each year the St. Thomas More Society of Worcester County awards a law school scholarship to a student who has distinguished him or herself in the academic arena and has been committed to his or her church or diocese.