Throughout his legal career — first as a city attorney now as a private practitioner — Deacon Jim Stokes (pictured center) of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Palm Bay, has modeled his life’s work after St. Thomas More, a 16th century lawyer who refused to support King Henry VIII as head of the English Church against the Roman Catholic Church and was ultimately beheaded for his beliefs.
“I feel that ethics in government is so vitally important and maintaining your moral compass is crucial,” Deacon Stokes said. “Thomas Moore was pressured to look the other way and do the wrong thing. Still, he had a choice. He could either stand for his faith or he could give in to save himself. He chose the former and paid the ultimate price. As a government attorney, I always emulated him, remembering that we are public servants, and we are here for the good of society, not for own personal gain.”
Deacon Stokes was among the nearly 500 people who participated in the celebration of the Red Mass with Bishop John Noonan, June 24, at St. James Cathedral in Orlando. The faithful of the Diocese of Orlando, as well as judges, lawyers and other law professionals from various religious denominations, gathered to pray for God’s blessings and wisdom upon those who serve in the institutions of courts and the law. The judges and lawyers also recited their oath of admission to the Florida Bar.
“We come to pray for all who have dedicated their lives to the promotion of the common good of society and the protection of human dignity of each person,” Bishop Noonan said during his homily. “We come to pray to seek not just the wisdom of the law but also the Creator of Wisdom and the Law. St. Thomas More’s last words, ‘I die the King’s good servant but God’s first,’ remain an inspiration for all those who dedicate their lives to the service of common good.”
The Red Mass has a rich history in the Catholic Church, dating back to 13th century Europe. It is so-named for the red vestments typically worn by the celebrants and judges of the High Court of the era as a symbol of their willingness to shed their blood to defend the truth inspired by the Holy Spirit. However, because this year’s celebration coincided with the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Bishop Noonan and the other celebrants wore liturgical white.
Frank Schaivo, an associate professor of Law at Barry Law School in Orlando, has been participating in the celebration of Red Masses since his days as a law student.
“It is such a comforting feeling to be at a Mass, praying and asking for God’s blessings with other lawyers and the judiciary,” the St. Margaret Mary parishioner said. “It is a part of my life.”
A luncheon and awards ceremony honoring the recipients of the St. Thomas More and St. Martin de Porres awards at the Cathedral Social Hall followed the Mass.