Archbishop Sartain's 'Red Mass' homily

  • Written by Northwest Catholic
  • Published in Local
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain preaches at the "Red Mass" for members of the legal profession October 6 at St. James Cathedral. Photo: Courtesy Anne Jenkins Archbishop J. Peter Sartain preaches at the "Red Mass" for members of the legal profession October 6 at St. James Cathedral. Photo: Courtesy Anne Jenkins

SEATTLE – Archbishop J. Peter Sartain celebrated a “Red Mass” for members of the legal profession October 6 at St. James Cathedral. Approximately 80 people attended the Mass, including six judges and Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib. The Red Mass is a tradition in the Catholic Church that goes back to the 13th century.

Below is the text of Archbishop Sartain’s homily:


When I bought my first pair of Asics running shoes many years ago, I noticed a familiar Latin maxim on the box — “Anima sana in corpore sano” — and soon realized much to my amazement that the name “Asics” is in fact an acronym for that very maxim. It is a variation on “Mens sana in corpore sano,” usually translated, “A sound mind in a sound body.”

The Roman poet and satirist Juvenalis (A.D. 55–127) is usually credited with the saying, and his point is a good one. People of every age have championed the value of a healthy body, even if notions of health and beauty have varied greatly through the centuries. The body/mind connection is a reminder that we are whole persons, that one aspect of living directly affects the others. Physical, intellectual and psychological health go hand-in-hand. We live more serenely, think more clearly and work more energetically when we take care of our bodies — when we literally put our Asics to use.

It is interesting that Asics chose “anima” over “mens” for its corporate slogan, because while “mens” usually referred to the mind in its intellectual aspects, “anima” referred to the more encompassing “vital principal” of life, the “breath of life,” one’s “heart,” and one’s overall sense of well-being. In fact, “anima” is the word used for “soul” in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, in Church writings and in the liturgy.

Juvenalis was not a Christian, but his famous maxim certainly lends itself to an essential Christian application: “A sound soul in a sound body.” We do well to remember that there is something deep within, something all-encompassing and literally life-giving, the very life-principle that makes the body human, which begs for attention, discipline and nourishment: our soul.

Juvenalis was just a kid as St. Paul was writing to the Ephesians from prison, but Paul was keenly aware of the influence of comparable writers and thinkers in Greco-Roman culture. They shaped in part the environment into which the Lord sent him to preach the Gospel, and it was critical to his mission to be familiar with them. Paul was a master of observation when it came to culture, law, language, philosophy — and yes, athletics — and put to work his highly honed skills when framing the proclamation of the Christian message.

St. Paul exhorted the Christian community at Ephesus to live a life of integrity:

“I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit.” (Ephesians 4:1-4a)

As human persons, we are not fully alive — even if we follow a balanced, healthy lifestyle and nourish ourselves with all that is good and beautiful in culture — unless we live for something beyond ourselves, unless we give ourselves to Someone beyond ourselves. A sound, healthy soul will be truly nourished only by striving to live a life compatible with the presence of the living God. A Christian cannot live a life of integrity or peace when wittingly or unwittingly stuffing oneself with or indifferently absorbing the superficial and the fleeting. Moreover, one cannot hope to be healthy or to do well in one area of life when the rest of life is malnourished. The Desert Father Poemen said, “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.”

Paul desired to use his gifts for others — literally for the good of his people, who were, after all, God’s people — and thus for the purpose for which God gives every one of his gifts. It is love which makes the using of one’s gifts perfect; it is love which makes the gift of oneself beautiful in the eyes of God; it is love which best manifests the presence of God in our personal and public lives. This love is not just altruism. Rather, it is conscious participation in the sacrificial love of Christ, which the Christian disciple realizes he or she is called to communicate and proclaim — in everything.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the perfection and integration which self-forgetfulness, generosity and humility bring to a Christian’s life of service. Why? Because these virtues manifest our desire not just to do well, but to do the good and to deliberately manifest in our lives the One Who Is Good.

In the end, it is in our relationship with the Lord that we find the spiritual health that reveals and makes possible true balance, true integrity. We are speaking here not of a formula, and certainly not of self-improvement: We are speaking instead of lives lived in God, for others. It is God who created us who makes us complete, and it is a life lived in humble union with the Servant-Savior that literally does the most good. And it is God who gives us the Advocate par excellence, the Holy Spirit, who teaches us everything and helps us to be true disciples of Jesus. It is because of Jesus’s gift of the Holy Spirit to each of us that we celebrate a Red Mass every year: to ask that we consciously call upon the Holy Spirit in all things, to make us wise in God’s wisdom; to fill us with wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord, and with God’s own justice.

A sound soul in a sound body makes for a balanced life, a life of integrity. And such sound, integrally healthy lives given to public service lift up and transform society. And consciously committed lives of discipleship reveal the living, saving presence of the humble Savior who gives himself as food to those who are his own. It is his love, his sacrifice which sets the standard for every life of humble service — and thus it is a living relationship with him, guided by the Holy Spirit, that integrates our lives and makes them truly healthy. That is what we call holiness.