Noble professions and renewing the face of the earth have been on my mind. The noble professions relate to the very special Masses that I have celebrated or will soon celebrate with people who have made a priority of their professions in their lives.
The Blue Mass was for first responders — so meaningful this year on the 20th anniversary of the tragic 9/11 — and the Red Mass last week celebrated those dedicated to the law profession.
The White Mass will be held in October to honor our healthcare heroes, especially during these pandemic days, and the Gold Mass will take place in November for scientists.
The Gold Mass is new this year as a fruitful result of about four years of dialogue on faith and science with scientists and those who seek to teach the compatibility of faith and science.
I looked up the words “noble profession,” and Miriam-Webster helped me find that the word “profession,” literally meaning “to own before,” is about making an open or public announcement and “noble profession” is about “having, showing or coming from personal qualities that people admire (such as honesty, generosity, courage, etc.).”
I also found a wise statement that it is the person, not the occupation, that is made noble by public actions to be admired.
The gatherings for the special Masses have several purposes. One, of course, is to allow all of us to express gratitude to those who have chosen a special path of unselfish service. I mentioned this in the Blue Mass homily. We would be a poor society indeed if we did not pause to thank people for their service and thank God for the grace and power of their calling.
This brings me to the second purpose: to allow those of a noble profession to rekindle that spirit of serving, that adventurous energy, that inner calling from God that called forth that initial “yes” to the noble path and to do so together with others of a like-minded commitment.
The psalmist in Psalm 104:30 speaks in praise of our God with these words: “When You send forth your spirit, they are renewed, and You renew the face of the earth.”
Recently I read a canon law dissertation by Father David Carter of the Diocese of Knoxville in which he addressed the deepest participation of baptized lay Catholics. Interestingly, he focused not on the important participation of laity at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist (as essential as that is to the life of the church) but rather on their vocations in the world — their being instruments of God’s renewal of the face of the earth.
In our hearts, we all know that being a Catholic is not simply a one-hour Sunday duty but must include what happens when we go forth from Mass. Those whom we honor in these noble professions are — in the end — engaged in that grand task of God to bring justice and peace to our land and the grace of true renewal.
We also give thanks because those of the noble professions are not “lone rangers” doing heroic acts in isolation but are members of a close-knit body. I believe that is what also attracts individuals to the special Masses — their “membership” with one another. It is not simply a card-carrying membership, but a communion with each other to celebrate and strengthen their important work.
Back in the 1970s, the sociologists Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus coined the phrase “mediating structures” and wrote of the necessity for those institutions standing between the individual’s private life and the large institution of society. While primarily holding up the role of the family, they also spoke of membership in associations as ways to mediate a productive and fruitful life.
Alexis de Tocqueville in his 1830’s travel in the United States raised up that gift of vibrant associations as perhaps the richest aspect of America that he encountered in his journey. About 20 years ago, the sociologist Robert Putnam wrote a seminal work, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” in which he documented the movement away from active membership of American citizens (epitomized in the downfall of the once almost universally popular bowling leagues) and called for new ways for us to come together.
Of course, the private lure of the virtual internet world has competed mightily with such revival. But the popularity of the liturgical gatherings of professionals is a step in the right direction, and it is one that does not turn us inward for simple enjoyment but moves us outward to what the psalmist believed is the working of grace in every age — renewing the face of the earth.
Thank God for all the noble professions and those professionals who together ennoble the work of service as we together renew the face of the earth.