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Bishop Fisher Catholic Life Features

Judge at Red Mass offers warning: Don’t let prejudice guide you

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Area lawyers, judges and public officials of all faiths were welcomed at St. Joseph Cathedral for the diocesan Red Mass, sponsored by the St. Thomas More Guild of Western New York, an association of Catholic lawyers. The annual liturgy recognizes those who work in the legal profession.

Bishop Michael W. Fisher, followed by Deacon Michael Ficorilli, process down the center aisle of St. Joseph Cathedral at the opening of the annual Red Mass, held Oct. 5. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

The May 5 Mass included remarks from New York State Supreme Court Justice, Judge Mary L. Slisz, JSC.

Slisz, who earned degrees from Canisius College in Buffalo and the University of Dayton School of Law, described how two years of isolation due to the Covid pandemic has brought out the worst in some people. With social media added into the mix, hate groups have been allowed to form. Buffalo experienced the result of that hate when a racially motived shooting took place this past spring.   

“Our basic command towards others was being challenged, and our major technology – social media – exploded with this intolerance of other people and provided the platforms to espouse the evils of hatred, racism, prejudice and biases. Our society became a community and nation divided,” she said. “On May 14 of this year, our community experienced an unspeakable tragedy.”

She quoted a Wikipedia entry about the shooting at a Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue, pointing out that it does not say is that it is a tragedy based in the “seeds of hate, racism, divisive biases and prejudices.”

“For centuries people had perpetrated such evils against other human beings. One would hope and pray that by 2022 we would have removed this evil and intolerance from society.

“We have not.”

St. Thomas More said in order to have justice we must make visible what is hidden.

“If we are going to get rid of the seeds of hatred, racism, divisiveness, biases and prejudice, each of us must be accountable and do our part,” Slisz said. “As judges and lawyers, we are leaders in the community. Unfortunately, we’re often put on a pedestal where we’re labeled as infallible and perfection is the expectation. We are fallible. We are not perfect. We are human. We bring our convictions, education, training, and life experience to our profession, but we continue to abet the challenges of our existence during life in law school. We recognize that as part of the process. Our minds were reprogrammed and retrained to act as lawyers. What biases and prejudices did we obtain as part of our life experience, education and training? Are the judgments we make every day really prejudices or prejudgments? Unfortunately, history is the witness that small cause can affect over time and across populations to create large societal impacts.”

While the biases, attitudes or stereotypes we have formed consciously or unconsciously are not easily subject to direct introspection, Slisz called on her fellow court officers to engage in the process of looking inward to sort out personal prejudices.

“Don’t fret over external motivations for political correctness. Instead, cultivate your internal motivation to continuously improve both individually and professionally,” she said. “Be patient. The one thing I ask for daily is patience. My prayer usually followed by, ‘I need it now.’ Be kind. Be understanding. Be fair. Be impartial. Be compassionate. Be respectful. Refuse to pigeonhole people or reduce people to prepackaged ideas. The blindfold on lady justice is said to depict impartiality and serves as a reminder of our mission to provide access to justice in all courts, for people of all backgrounds, incomes and abilities. Does blinding ourselves eliminate our biases and prejudices, or does it allow them to pass through unchecked? Perhaps it’s necessary to remove our blindfold to properly see and understand the person and story of the individuals who appear before us as lawyers and judges.”

Bishop Michael W. Fisher, who served as main celebrant of the Mass, offered his own analysis of the legal profession.  

Judge Mary Slisz offers her remarks on the pandemic, hate and personal prejudices following the Red Mass. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

“Yours is mostly certain a noble profession, but also, dare I say, a vocation, one that requires balancing justice and mercy, and considering many sides of an issue or conflict. And of course, it is about achieving harmony in the greater good of society by assuring the least among us are granted the same rights and privileges as the powerful,” he said during his homily.

“I’m sure you recognize there is an essential role for both the law and faith to work hand in hand. The law gives structure to our faith and essential beliefs, and faith tempers the law with mercy and love, as well as the larger perspective that the final verdict of our lives is determined by our creator.”

The St. Thomas More Guild of Western New York is an association of Catholic lawyers officially recognized by the Diocese of Buffalo. The guild supports lawyers in applying their faith to the challenges of professional and personal life. The St. Thomas More Guild invites all judges, lawyers, paralegals, law students, and all others associated with the administration of justice in the Diocese to join in its activities. The guild has given scholarships to Catholic grammar, high school, college, and law school students.

This year’s scholarships went to Levi Sisto of  St. Amelia School in Tonawanda, Shannon Kersten of Chesterton Academy of Buffalo, and William P. Christ of University at Buffalo School of Law.

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