Members of The Lawyers Guild of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland attended the 5:10 p.m. Mass on April 10 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist then headed over to the cathedral rectory parlor for their annual Lenten reflection and an opportunity to visit with Bishop Nelson Perez.
The bishop celebrated Mass and mentioned in his homily how tension began ratcheting up between Jesus and community leaders as his Passion and death neared. He said Jesus often mentioned that it wasn’t time yet, but he knew as Holy Week approached that his hour was approaching quickly.
Resolve is a word that describes Jesus in the days leading to his Passion and death, Bishop Perez said. He talked about Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, “But he knows what awaits him. He is resolved to do the work of his father.”
The bishop said that same resolve is at the heart of the holy martyrs of the Church. He gestured to the cathedral’s Resurrection Chapel, where the bones of St. Christine are located. She was a martyr whose bones were gifted to the diocese many years ago. Bishop Perez said she refused to denounce Christ, preferring to die. He said she and the other martyrs showed us what resolve is.
“We may have a quest for power, success and other forces that try to take us in the wrong direction – a direction other that what Jesus says. Our response should be holy resolve,” he said.
After Mass, the bishop welcomed about 50 Lawyers Guild members and guests to the rectory parlor, which is in his home. He and five other priests live in the cathedral rectory.
The bishop shared some thoughts about Lent with the group, telling them that the sacred triduum and the story of Jesus, his Passion, death and resurrection do not change. “What changes is us, where we find ourselves during this time of Lent.”
This is his 57th Lent and Bishop Perez explained that he has been through many changes during his life. As an infant, he said he couldn’t process what Lent was but as a child, he developed images of Christ after seeing movies like “King of Kings” and “Jesus of Nazareth.”
He told the group that he was able to process the story as it came to him, illustrating how he changed through the years yet the story remained constant. We should reflect on the story and what it means to us – no matter how many times we hear it, the bishop said.
The Church is dealing with some difficult issues, but regardless of how we spin things, he said the Spirit is telling the Church and us that there still is work to be done. The clergy abuse crisis, new laws regarding late-term abortions that were passed recently in Virginia and New York and possible expansion of assisted suicide are troubling things he said.
The bishop also mentioned immigration as another difficult issue today. He spoke about his recent trip to the diocesan mission in El Salvador and how deep the people’s faith is.
He said Jesus reminded the disciples – and us – that we need to find a way to peacefully coexist with those whose beliefs are different than ours or whose values conflict with ours. Jesus told the disciples these things will be taken care of at the end of time, he added.
“There is a mixed bag of highs and lows facing us, like Jesus’ triumphant Palm Sunday and the tragic times that followed. My hope is that the story doesn’t end there,” he said.
The bishop recalled an event where an audience member asked him if he had hope despite all the terrible things happening in the world. “I reminded him that I gave my life to a religion that believes that a dead man came back to life, so yes, I have hope. There is despair, but Christ always finds hope. This is not the end of the story.”
He spent about a half hour fielding questions from the group and discussing a variety of topics including how to tune out the chaos of the world and his relationship with other faith leaders in the area.
As far as tuning out chaos, the bishop had a simple answer: prayer. “Prayer keeps us honest,” he said, reminding the group that St. Francis said if you go to pray and can’t, “Stay a while and be seen.” Bishop Perez said he likes to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, calling it a powerful experience.
He told the group the diocese has an office devoted to building interfaith relationships and he is committed to meeting quarterly with other faith leaders.
There are about 700,000 Catholics in the diocese, but Bishop Perez said he thinks that estimate is low because many people do not register with a parish. Immigrants and younger people in particular tend not to register. He said parish registration is something common only in the United States.
The conversation also touched on religious freedom, with the bishop again reminding the group that we need to learn to respect others’ beliefs and values and to coexist. “Christianity has always been countercultural. There is a tension between Christianity and the rest of the world. In the first few centuries, there was a lot of tension and much persecution with many martyrs,” he said. During the era of Constantine, the bishop said the Church and state were so entwined it was difficult to distinguish between them, which led to scandal. In the early 20thcentury, the values of the Church and society were fairly synchronized but by the 1960s, things got rocky. Now, he said, things are starting to move back to where they used to be.
“The Catholic Church doesn’t function on votes,” he said, noting our values remain constant unlike some religions that take a vote and change their values. The sanctity of life and the fact that marriage is between a man and a woman are two examples of constant values in the Catholic faith. “We can’t violate what we believe because of a social trend. I believe that every era has its heresy and in 500 years, ours will be radical subjectivism – ‘I decide everything.’ But some things are not for us to decide,” he added.
When asked if his pastoral style has changed since coming to Cleveland a year and a half ago, the bishop said no, that things really aren’t much different here than on the East Coast. However, there is a difference between fast-paced New York area and Cleveland. Life is slower here and he said there is “an incredible human warmth.”
One attorney thanked the bishop for bringing the group together, noting that during the day attorneys may be at odds as they try to represent their clients. Lawyers encounter people daily and need to think about how they treat them.
“You may feel good about the case, but not yourselves,” he said. “There is a nobility to the legal profession; hang on to that.”
Before disbanding, the group recited the prayer of St. Thomas More, patron saint of attorneys.
The Lawyers Guild fosters spiritual growth and fellowship within the legal community, encourages observance of high ethical standards and calls attention to legal and societal issues that affect morality, justice and faith.
For information regarding membership in the Lawyers Guild, the Red Mass or the St. Thomas More Award and/or luncheon, contact Colleen Rigo at 216-696-6525, ext. 4080.