by Joe Bollig
TOPEKA — In his homily for the Red Mass on Jan. 13 at the Church of Assumption here, Bishop John B. Brungardt of the Diocese of Dodge City recalled Pope Francis and the jubilee Year of Mercy — and related a true-life parable of the “cat lady” to those gathered at the Mass.
The Topeka Red Mass came three days after the opening of the 2016 Kansas legislative session on Jan. 11, and one day after Gov. Sam Brownback’s State of the State address. It is celebrated specifically for judges, attorneys, law school professors, students and government officials.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas was the main celebrant; it was concelebrated by Bishop Brungardt, Bishop Carl A. Kemme of the Diocese of Wichita, Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of the Diocese of Salina, and Father Christophe, a member of the Community of the Lamb in Kansas City, Kansas.
In his homily, Bishop Brungardt recalled that Pope Francis has called Catholics to make the church a “field hospital . . . a poor church for the poor.”
“[Pope Francis] has called us to follow Jesus in the ways of encounter, invitation, accompaniment, compassion and love, especially with the least of our brothers and sisters,” said Bishop Brungardt.
“[In] this jubilee Year of Mercy, we ask: How do we do this individually, as families, parishes, cities, counties and as the state of Kansas? How do we become a more merciful people of Kansas?”
In his true-life parable of the “cat lady,” Bishop Brungardt related how he found himself in the checkout line of a store behind an elderly lady whose shopping cart was half-full of canned cat food.
Inspired by Psalm 72, to have “pity for the lowly and the poor” and to act in “justice . . . and fullness of peace,” he offered to help her unload her cans.
“No one has ever helped me before,” she told him. “I have seven cats and six kittens.”
“I kind of figured that,” said Bishop Brungardt.
Merciful Jesus calls us to assist the poor, lowly, forgotten, lonely, different or abandoned, he continued. He also warned against the “false mercy” held out by Planned Parenthood and payday loan businesses.
Finally, Bishop Brungardt also asked the legislators, who will soon deal with contentious issues, to “please consider how our merciful Lord is speaking to you this session.”
The Red Mass, celebrated annually by the Catholic bishops of Kansas for the well-being of the state, has its origins in medieval Europe and dates back to at least 1245.
The term “Red Mass” comes from the color of the vestments worn by the celebrant, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, and for the red robes of judges and professors of the law.