A Catholic bishop warned against the divisive arguing and selfish behavior that's grown prevalent on Capitol Hill, during Sunday's annual Red Mass dedicated to the U.S. Supreme Court and the nation's elected officials.
"Petty partisanship and ever-politicizing rhetoric should have no place at all when men and women of good will come together to serve the common good," said Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, the bishop of Dallas.
"E pluribus unum means just that," he said, referencing the Latin phrase "Out of many, one" that is on the Seal of the United States. "It does not mean one size fits all. And it does not mean 'I Did It My Way' has replaced the national anthem."
Bishop Farrell's plea for unity came as the federal government shutdown moves into its second week, the result of Congress being unable to agree on a spending plan. The shutdown has prompted the furlough of hundreds of thousands of government employees, the closure of national parks and shuttering of museums.
Among the standing-room-only crowd at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle were Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr., and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Elena Kagan, and Stephen G. Breyer.
The Red Mass traditionally is held the Sunday before the first Monday in October, which marks the opening of the Supreme Court's annual term. Its purpose is to invoke God's blessings on those responsible for the administration of justice as well as on all public officials.
The justices begin their 2013-14 term Monday, and the court schedule includes hot-button issues of campaign contributions, religious freedom, abortion and housing discrimination.
The cathedral has celebrated the Red Mass every year since 1953. The Mass gets its name from the red vestments worn by the clergy, which symbolize the "tongues of fire" of the Holy Spirit, which allowed people of different languages to understand one another.
Bishop Farrell, who formerly served as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, drew a comparison between the battles being fought across the political aisle and the biblical stories of Pentecost and the tower of Babel, a structure built out of pride.
When God finds out about the tower, Bishop Farrell recounted, he rearranged their language so that no one could understand each other.
"Today we are more like Babel than Pentecost, we are more about confusion than wisdom, more separate in and by rhetoric than united," Bishop Farrell added. "We may disagree. But there can be no place for derision or smugness. When we respect differences of opinion in dialogue, we respect and revere the differences that provide variety and give texture to this great country of ours."
The Mass is celebrated with the help of the John Carroll Society, an organization of Catholic professionals.
Elizabeth Meers, the society's president, said she enjoyed the homily because "it spoke very much to the issues of today.
"It spoke to the division of the country and how the Holy Spirit can help that process," she added.
D.C. resident Sheremee Griffin said she appreciated the advice and support for government leaders, especially the justices.
"What they do on an everyday basis, what they have to make decisions about — God help them," she said.
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