Friday, October 30, 2015

Pastoral Law

As a canon lawyer, if you want to make me crazy say something like, "You need to be pastoral not legal", as if they are two different things.  When St. John Paul II revised the Code of Canon Law in 1983, a part of the goal was to translate into legal language, the theology of the Second Vatican Council.  The problem is not in the law itself but in the misuse of the law.

In today's gospel Jesus deals with the problem when he puts the question to the scribes and the Pharisees, "Is is permitted to cure on the sabbath?"  The gospel tells us that they kept silent.  They kept silent because they knew there were two responses. If one reads the sabbath law alone, without the context of the entire law of God, one might say that it is work and therefore forbidden.  However Jesus knows that this is a straw man argument.  He calls them out by asking them another question,

"Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?

He knows that anyone of them would save the ox.

The present Code of Canon law ends with the words, "the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes."

In his concluding address to the synod the Pope reminded us of this, "The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord (cf. Jn 12:44-50)."

Anyone can take a single rule out of context and wield it like a club. But this is always an abuse of the law.  This is not the law but legalism, the legalism for which the pharisees were so often condemned.

In the Church, all law, is grounded in God's law, and ultimately the law of love The legal answer is the pastoral answer.