By Melbourne Auxiliary Bishop Peter Elliott
This is the Year of Faith for the whole Church, called by Pope Benedict XVI to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. The theme of the year is set out in the Holy Father’s magnificent letter, Porta Fidei, ‘The Door of Faith’.
The first words of the original Latin text are taken from Acts 14:27.
Paul and Barnabas returned from mission work to the Christian base in Antioch and St Luke tells us that they “gathered the Church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” The Holy Father adds: “To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime …”
Faith is presented as a journey, a life pilgrimage that is both personal and communal: personal, because faith involves trust in God who cannot deceive or be deceived; communal, because “my faith” is part of our shared faith.
This is underlined in the new and more accurate translation of the creed, “I believe”, “credo”. On Sundays, we recite this creed together, with one voice, as one People of God, so my faith is our faith, the Faith of the Church.
The Holy Father writes to us in light of the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the Church: that we are all members of the Church, the People of God, a people of faith, a pilgrim people on a journey.
Behind this evocative imagery is the Christian understanding of what human beings are. Our history on the broad world plane, and the story of each of our lives within our families, has meaning, direction, plan and purpose.
The true God revealed in Jesus the Christ is a personal God relating to persons, men and women created in his image and likeness, given the gift of faith in Baptism.
The personal dimension of our journey of faith is meant to be balanced with the communal dimension, and that is the genius of Catholicism. Therefore, none of us should ever reduce faith to the level of tribal Catholicism, a kind of club loyalty.
Then Christian faith may easily shrivel up into last century’s deadly substitute for faith, human ideology, or faith may slide down into an intolerant ethnic sectarianism.
At the same time, none of us should cultivate a privatised faith, that is, my own set of feelings or hunches that conveniently airbrushes out the tough elements of our religion.
The Catholic Faith is not a range of goods on offer at the religious supermarket, where you pick and choose according to some subjective notion of conscience.
The accurate interpretation of the Second Vatican Council will have none of that.
Promoted by Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI, this interpretation is known as the hermeneutic of continuity, that is, understanding Vatican II in the light of all preceding Councils and papal teachings.
That term “continuity” should resonate among men and women who serve the law. This is a quality of life and tradition that you appreciate and understand well. Through the law you experience continuity every day.
Therefore, as we commence a new legal year, I invite you to reflect on your own faith, your journey of faith, as men and women who serve the law.
How well you can appreciate that human basis of faith, trust, fiducia. In our families, we see the trust of little children.
In marriage, we expect the mutual trust of husband and wife. In your work, you enter various relationships of trust. Yet the faith of little children has its limits.
We are called to an adult faith, not some childish jumble of pious bits and pieces or sentimental feelings, lingering since primary school years.
This is where the objective content we call “The Faith” becomes important. Our Catholic Faith has content, substance, form, set out in the adult Catechism of the Catholic Church. But do you own and read this masterly work?
Does your own reading include reflection on the faith at an adult level? Does this lead to prayer?
We make the journey of faith as adult Christians, even as Christ calls us to a childlike trust in him, our only Lord and personal Saviour. He is the One we will offer and receive in this divine Sacrifice today in this, our cathedral.
The balance between faith and adult life also calls for an integration between how we believe and how we live. Your vocation in the law is meant to be informed by your Catholic faith. Here, we should reject an illusion that your profession is purely secular.
Of course, in one sense, it is secular, insofar as you are not clergy and religious, nor do most of you delve into the subtleties of the Code of Canon Law.
But what you do, how you serve people through the law each day, is the work of God.
Once you see your work as part of our journey of faith, then any narrow secular interpretation of your professions fades.
Preparing a brief, pleading a cause, hearing a case, adjudicating and reconciling, apportioning justice, determining penalties, arbitrating, seeking equity, protecting a trust, drafting documents, maintaining public order, protecting the vulnerable, helping the poor, keeping the peace: this is your daily work in a variety of professions that serve people through the law.
The substance of your noble calling is at the same time the work of God, the God who is supremely and perfectly just.
Each moment in your working day should be another step towards that Kingdom of Heaven where Christ will reign. In the words of the preface of Christ the King, his is “An eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace”.
This reign of Christ is embodied in your concrete acts of service inspired by the social doctrine of the Church, itself derived from the Gospel.
The integration of faith and the practice of the law brings to mind a glorious model, St Thomas More, your patron.
He worked with integrity as he served the common good, just as he tried to serve a fickle king, a heretical and schismatic tyrant. Thanks to a perfidious lawyer, Thomas Cromwell, that king became the forerunner of the modern totalitarian state.
Did St Thomas More die for his conscience? That is only a part of the story, perhaps over-emphasised in Bolt’s Man for All Seasons.
The lawyer saint died for the Catholic Faith. He gave himself in personal faith for the Faith of God’s People, our faith. He refused to deny the authority that Jesus Christ conferred for all time on the Successors of St Peter in Rome.
Brothers and sisters, as you strive to maintain St Thomas More’s Catholic vision of right in society and a love of the Church, I thank you. May you continue to strive to ensure that the Common Law is always informed by the Natural Law.
That could be taken for granted once, not so today. Yet, in the choices and decisions that you make, the ethical dimension is essential, unavoidable.
This touches on a problem we all face, the radical separation of sacred and secular. For Christians, rising secularism and a crude atheism represent a misleading dualism, separating the material world from God.
This rupture between matter and spirit ignores the central Christian affirmation, that in the Incarnation the Son of God took our flesh, entered our lives, changed our world, so that henceforth whatever the baptised men and women do is God’s work.
That false separation between God and the world is evident in a forced interpretation of the United States Constitution, the so-called “separation of Church and State”.
Some secularists are trying to import this constitutional cane toad into Australia. These secularists are running aggressive campaigns to eliminate religion from the public forum, under the guise of toleration, always invoking a cloying political correctness.
I recently returned from some weeks in the United Kingdom where petty cases revolving around Christians wearing little crosses have gone up to the ultimate European tribunals.
But these small issues have big stakes, the very freedom of religion, which in many ways is the conscience base of all our human rights. May you defend that freedom.
The last dimension of your faith and mine I wish to underline can be appreciated by those who serve the law, the relationship between faith and reason.
In this Year of Faith we need to reflect on what has already been outlined by Blessed John Paul II in his encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio, ‘Faith and Reason’. He also addressed that dated lie that there is a conflict between science and religion.
The Law is meant to be a bastion of reason. That is not derived from the Enlightenment, rather from earlier traditions grounded in the interaction of working systems of ecclesiastical and civil law in mediaeval Europe.
Reason flourished in a Catholic culture, which drew on all that is best in the classical heritage of ancient Rome and Greece and the customs and precedents of the peoples of Northern Europe.
Those who serve the law respect reason. One of the best books on the Resurrection was written under the name of Frank Morrison, Who Moved the Stone? I believe he speaks to lawyers because he provides a forensic approach to the foundational event of Christianity, the physical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
This work of apologetics integrates reason and faith, calmly demonstrating the reasonableness of Christian faith, concretely grounded in what happened to people in a particular time and place, in an ordered universe where there are laws – and also miracles. So we go forward on our journey, trying to live the vocation of Baptism, that is, trying to live out the gift of faith sown in us in the transforming waters of the Spirit. Yet, as sinners we need to refresh the justifying grace of Baptism.
In our frailty and weakness, we need to recover grace because we stumble and fall on our journey. Here, we can all come to the tribunal of mercy and peace, offered to us in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
Lent is drawing near. In this year of Faith, may Lent be a time of inner conversion, a distinct step forward in our journey of faith as individuals and as a people of faith.
But first we must open that door of faith, perhaps by stepping once more through the door of the confessional, then accepting a deeper adult study of our faith, surely by more personal prayer and by acts of love to those around us, above all by acts of charity to the poor.
And always we should keep before us the words of a wise and learned Pope, “To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime …”