VANCOUVER (CCN) — The law profession needs people who understand the dignity and sacredness of human beings, says Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle.
“We never know, when we encounter people day to day, what’s going on in their hearts, their minds, and their families,” he told about 100 lawyers, judges, and guests at a reception at the Terminal City Club in Vancouver Feb. 16.
“Nor can we assume something that for us is routine and not very difficult and have worked through for years and years, is easy for someone else.”
Seemingly routine moments demand for respect, honesty, and a smile, said Sartain. Leave the sarcasm and prejudice at home.
“Everyone here has a daily routine. But (for) the people who come to us, often the step they’re about to take in our presence, or the matter they’re about to discuss with us, is the most important thing on their plate right now. This day is not even close to routine for them,” he continued.
“Each of them is the most important person in the world to us at that moment and each deserves the respect afforded to anyone going through the most important moment in his or her life.”
That principle applies to priests, elected officials, and other professionals, too. Sartain said he learned this valuable lesson after he received an email from a man he hadn’t seen in 25 years.
“Today is probably a normal day for you, filled with lots of important things to do,” the man had written.
“I’m sure you don’t remember that today is the day you married my wife and me 25 years ago. That was a normal day for you, way back then, too, but I want you to know that it was the most important day in our lives, and we will never forget it.”
Sartain was deeply moved. “I’ve celebrated hundreds of weddings, probably thousands of baptisms, and tens of thousands of confirmations. I’ve heard thousands and thousands of confessions in the past 40 years,” he said.
“Each of those took place on a day that was a normal day for me, filled with typical routine as a parish priest or a bishop. But each of those days may very well have been, for those that I served, the most important day of their life.”
Chance encounters in airports have also taught him about such moments. Sartain has talked to a homesick, fallen-away Catholic who cried at the sight of his Roman collar, and prayed the Psalms with a Jewish woman whose husband had just committed suicide.
“Having been in this business for the last 40 years, I’m convinced that what the world needs now, more than anything else, are people like you and I who strive our very best to be class acts,” he said.
Lawyers, priests, and all Christians should recognize the inherent value of each person they meet and serve, listening and encouraging every person, no matter the routine circumstances they find themselves in.
“A class act is someone for whom the highest value is the soul in front of me, created and deeply loved by God, filled with potential for virtue and greatness, a father, a mother, a son, a sister, or a brother, who to someone else means the world and to someone at home might very well be a hero.”
Sartain, in Vancouver for the first time, was the keynote speaker at the sixth annual Red Mass, an event organized by the St. Thomas More Catholic Lawyers’ Guild. The mass and reception bring together law professionals for an evening of prayer and socializing once a year.
Before he spoke at the dinner, Sartain joined Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, and several priests at the altar to celebrate mass at Holy Rosary Cathedral.
“What you must strive for in your professional lives as servants of the law is to think and act as the Lord himself would have you do,” Miller said during his homily.
“This is no easy task. Many people hold that distinctively Christian values are all very fine as long as they remain in the realm of high-sounding rhetoric and private devotion. But when it comes to attitudes and norms that might influence the common good and the execution of justice, they would exile Christianity from the public life of our democratic, pluralist society.”