Mass celebrates legal professionals

Barb Arland-Fye
Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula, a graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law, speaks after a Red Mass for legal professionals Oct. 1 at Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City. Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, second from right, also spoke.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — Newman Catholic Student Center chose a lawyer-turned-bishop to preside at its first Red Mass Oct. 1 to celebrate legal professionals. Archbishop-elect Thomas Zinkula returned to familiar territory for the Mass, having earned his law degree at the University of Iowa College of Law in 1983.

During the Red Mass, “We petition the Spirit of God to bless members of the legal profession with the guidance, wisdom and understanding of justice and mercy that Christ promises to his disciples through his continuing Spirit in the world,” Archbishop-elect Zinkula told the gathering.

Mercy was the centerpiece of his homily, drawing from the Sunday Gospels of Sept. 24 and Oct. 1. In the first parable, workers in the vineyard protest the fairness of wages they receive. In the second parable, a father asks each of two sons to work in the vineyard. The first one says he will not, but has a conversion of heart.


“Each of these parables is about mercy. Jesus’ message of mercy is at the heart of the Gospel,” Archbishop-elect Zinkula said. “Pope Francis is all over mercy. Early on in his pontificate, he called for a Year of Mercy (2016). He tells us to go to the peripheries, the margins, and asks, ‘Who am I to judge?’”

“May we strive to be not only just, but even better, be merciful,” the archbishop-elect said. “Fairness is one thing, mercy is another. There is this world and there is God’s world. Let’s do our best to embrace God’s world.”

Archbishop-elect Zinkula blessed members of the legal profession during the Mass, which also drew students, families and individuals who are in other occupations, studies or activities. Among them was Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC), the public policy voice for Iowa’s bishops. He joined Archbishop-elect Zinkula in a talk afterwards.

“I get to talk about religion and politics every day,” said Chapman, referring to the ICC, which advocates for policies that respect the life and dignity of the human person and apply Catholic social teaching principles to the critical issues of the day. “The Church very much encourages your participation in public life … We have a responsibility in the world to protect the government and the common good.”

The ICC provides guidance on important issues, including in a document titled “Faithful Citizenship for Iowa Catholics,” but does not give advice on how to vote. People of faith need to make their decisions based on a well-formed conscience, in light of Church teaching, Chapman said. “I don’t think we should be afraid to talk with other Catholics (with whom we disagree). We’re all members of the body of Christ.”

“Tom is a real asset for the Church,” Archbishop-elect Zinkula said, explaining how Chapman and his staff of four (including himself) keep the bishops — and the faithful — abreast of issues and legislation.

In his remarks to the gathering, the archbishop-elect applied his lawyering and teaching skills, with an emphasis on the role and responsibilities of a Catholic lawyer. “For a Catholic lawyer, the law isn’t simply about administering justice; it is also about how it is administered.”

He presented three case studies to make his own case. Each one involved ethical choices — whether to tear apart a hostile witness during cross-examination, whether to make as much money as possible for a client at any cost and whether to accept a pro bono case when you have a full load of paying clients. “If you’re a Christian, these are things you should struggle with in the practice of law.” He also believes Catholic lawyers should accept pro bono cases.

He referenced a speech that Pope Francis gave to lawyers. “Pope Francis spoke of striking a balance between rigor and laxity (justice and mercy): ‘Neither the laxist nor the rigorist bears witness to Jesus Christ, for neither the one nor the other takes care of the person he encounters…’”

The archbishop-elect also shared “A Law Professor’s Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13,” which he found while preparing his talk. Among the “verses:” “Love does not insist on litigating every dispute. It is not hard-nosed or resentful of those who have been more successful. It doesn’t rejoice in winning, but rejoices in doing justice.” 

“The legal system and Catholicism don’t have to be separate,” first-year law student Theresa Eckel, said of her take-away from the talk. “You can live your Catholic faith at the forefront of everything. It is your guide in your ministry to your clients.”

“I was struck by the emphasis on mercy,” first-year law student Henry Dambach said. “We’re called to justice, but to mercy even more.”

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