TUESDAY OF THE 19TH WEEK OF THE YEAR
CANON LAW SOCIETY OF SOUTHERN AFRICA
CHAPEL, UKUPHILA RETREAT HOUSE
Ez 2, 8 – 3, 4
Mt 18, 1-5. 10. 12-14
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and for ever. Amen.
The reading from the Prophet Ezekiel underlines the importance of study of the Word of God, if it is to be understood and proclaimed to others. The required depth of study and understanding is illustrated through the image of eating the scroll. In other words, the Word of God must enter into the depth of our being, if we are to give effective witness to the world. The Lord commands the prophet: “O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” In his Homilies on Ezekiel, Saint Gregory the Great comments on the image:
What are the bowels of the belly if not the interior of the mind, right intention, holy desire, a will humble before God and conscientious to its neighbor.
The image of eating the scroll is, in fact, the image of the obedience which must mark the life of the teacher of the Word of God. Otherwise, as the inspired text reminds us, the teacher risks falling into the rebellion against God and His Word which his teaching is meant to dispel.
In the Gospel, the obedience of the disciple is described as spiritual childhood. The disciple is to imitate the humility and confidence of the child, recognizing that he lives by God’s word alone and trusting that God is always faithful to His word which is for our eternal salvation. Only through childlike humility can the disciple “enter the kingdom of heaven.” Our Lord, in fact, assures us that the angels of the humble “continually see the face of [the] Father in heaven.” To underline the immeasurable and unceasing love of God for us, Our Lord tells the Parable of the Lost Sheep, concluding the parable with the words: “So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” Those who humbly recognize their complete dependence upon God can, at the same time, be confident that God will never fail to show them His mercy and love.
The humility and confidence of spiritual childhood are inherent to our service as canonists. Canonical discipline, in fact, provides a humble and yet irreplaceable service to the life of grace in the Church. The law disciplines persons and situations, in order to dispose them for the action of divine grace, in order to open hearts to receive from the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Study of the law and obedience to it dispose us to receive ever more deeply into our being the life-giving Word of God. Without respect and obedience before the law, we become rebellious before God and His Church. Using the image from the Parable of the Vine and the Branches, the law is the pruning which permits us as branches to remain ever more securely and fruitfully united to the Vine Who is Christ. Our Lord assured the disciples that the Father, the Vine Grower, prunes us, the branches who are bearing fruit, so that we may bear more fruit. Our Lord assures us: “You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.” Obedience to the word of Christ which comes to us in His holy Church, His Mystical Body, purifies us to receive the gift of His life, the gift of the Holy Spirit Who teaches us and leads us to live for Christ, to live in the faithful and enduring love of God and of our neighbor. We respect and embrace the discipline of the law, because we trust Our Lord’s words to us: “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”
Canon law is not in contrast with the many works of divine grace in the Church. Canonical discipline is not opposed to good pastoral practice. Canon law rather assures that the work of divine grace will find souls which are well disposed. The Church’s discipline assures that her pastoral practice will be in accord with the mind and heart of Christ. One thinks, for instance, of the coherence between the unmistakably strong word of Christ in the Gospel on the indissolubility of marriage and the norm of can. 1141: “A marriage that is ratum et consummatum can be dissolved by no human power and by no cause, except death.”
I recall the words of Pope Saint John Paul II in the Apostolic Constitution SacraeDisciplinaeLeges by which he promulgated the 1983 Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church. He articulated the purpose of canon law, that is, the service of the faith and grace, and of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and charity. He noted that, far from hindering the living of our life in Christ, canonical discipline safeguards and fosters our Christian life. He declared:
[I]ts purpose is rather to create such an order in the ecclesial society that, while assigning the primacy to love, grace and charisms, it at the same time renders their organic development easier in the life of both the ecclesial society and the individual persons who belong to it.
As such, canon law can never be in conflict with the Church’s doctrine but is, in the words of the saintly Pontiff, “extremely necessary for the Church.” Because of the essential service of canon law to the life of the Church, Pope John Paul II reminded the Church that “by their very nature canonical laws are to be observed,” and, to that end, “the wording of the norms should be accurate” and “based on solid juridical, canonical and theological foundations.”
Those of us who are ministers of justice in the Church or, in some way, work to make the Church’s discipline carefully known and observedface difficult challenges in a culture which is radically individualistic and relativistic and, therefore, is either totally hostile to the law or sees the law only as a means to accomplish a personal or group agenda. In many civil jurisdictions, positive law has been completely divorced from its necessary foundation in the natural law written by God on every human heart. The antinomian culture easily has its detrimental influence in the Church, if we are not attentive to its incursions and if we do not cultivate respect for the law and obedience to it. We do not study and respect the law for its own sake but for the sake of the sacred realities which it safeguards and fosters. Obedience to the law is a fundamental and irreplaceable expression of humility and gratitude before the great gift of our life in the Church and the many supernatural gifts with which Our Lord showers us in the Church.
As cultivators of the sacred canons, we must always be greatly encouraged and inspired in our service by the word of Christ. Like the law itself, our service is humble and yet altogether necessary. It secures the justice which is the minimal but irreplaceable requirement of divine love. We must be realistic about the daily challenges we face and, at the same time, we must arm ourselves to face the challenges with faith, intelligence and courage. In all, we should be models of humility and confidence, trusting always in the unfailing assistance of the Holy Spirit indwelling the Church.
Let us now lift up our hearts, one with the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus opened for us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Let us lift up to the Heart of Jesus all of the intentions which we carry in our hearts. In the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, our hearts will be healed of the forgetfulness of God and of the rebellion against His law. They will be inflamed with Divine Love, so that, from our hearts, will flow “rivers of living water,” the abundance of pure and selfless love of God and of our neighbor.
Heart of Jesus, abode of justice and love, have mercy on us!
Mary Immaculate, Mirror of Justice, pray for us!
Raymond Leo Cardinal BURKE