Canon Law certainly can be complicated. After only one week of class, my old cranium was pretty sore, to say the least. We dove right into the different processes of the church and as interesting as it is, its very confusing and there are a lot of details to keep in mind. Oh, and doing it in italian doesn’t really make it that much easier, just in case you were going to ask. Also, it seems like I’m surrounded by students who all have surpassed the most basic concepts that still seem to make me stumble.
Further, carrying the hardship of the hurricanes, the victims of Vegas, fires in California, and all the new challenges that seem to be facing the church, it really can bear on all of us, both in our hearts and minds. Our internal compasses can be off set in the midst of hardship and difficult, even depressing, times in our lives. We can question what is good anymore. What are we to do? Our emotions can pull us in all sorts of directions of what is ‘right’ and what we should do. We want justice but does that mean we can wage war on one another for revenge? When we see people loss their homes to fires and hurricanes, do we just scream to make it stop? And truth, ‘what is truth’ as Pontius Pilate asked. I too, in my weakness, can find myself lost at times.
My predicament lead me to the near-by church called “Dodici Apostoli” the “12 apostles” that has the bodies of Ss. James and Philip. A few months ago the outer narthex became filled with
several tents, sleeping bags, banner and most saddening of all, homeless people. After several
days of watching and observing, I decided to go in and talk to some of them. It turns out they are refugees from all over. On the feast of St. Francis, I decided to get some fellow priests and bring food to them. They were very thankful. In the midst, I met with a married couple pregnant with twins, several children playing around the church and several people with whom we shared no common languages except a very grateful handshake.
On the first day of class, as I was running the course of my day and almost collapsing under the almost chaotic schedule, I was invited to go with a sister of the Servants of the Lord and visit one of the hospitals. After hearing one of the patient’s confessions and begining to anoint an old Carmelite sister who was in the bed, another poor shaky lady in the corner of the room gestured for me to come and pray over her and give her the sacrament. With tears in her eyes she gave the sister I was with a big hug and told us her name: “Santa”, which means “Saint”.
Wednesday was a particularly weary day where I felt that I had been totally lost in class. After leaving and asking God to help make sense of it all, He gave me an answer. On the walk home, a woman had been knocked down to the ground by some kids playing and broke her hip. As I came near, I found out she was an American. She was Catholic and right there on the black cobblestone ground, with people gathered around her, I prayed with her and her husband and gave her the anointing of the sick. I stayed with her for the next hour as we waited for the ambulance to come. A few days later, I payed her a visit and gave her and her husband communion. As I was about to leave the hospital, another woman grabbed me and asked if I would go to her mother and pray with them.
Finally, I had received clarity. In all the talk about law, investigation, process and justice, I found the missing link: love.
Love is not a lacking. Mercy is not a mere emotion. Mercy, is the fullness of justice. Justice, rather than meaning punishment and revenge, is a virtue to give to each what they deserve, what they have a right to, to respect and resolve situations so all have what is theirs. Mercy, goes beyond that. Rather than just giving what belongs to someone else, mercy means giving to someone else what belongs to me. Essentially, its giving not what they deserve but to give from the fullness of what we have. Love normally hurts, as some saints say, because true love means making this sacrifice of my time, presence or whatever, to give to another. It is only by first fulfilling what is just, giving what they are in debt for, that we can be truly merciful since it means going beyond. To attempt to have mercy without justice ends only in sentimentalism and can actually cause more harm since they are not given what they have a right too. However, it really is only when we are merciful that we can fulfill justice because it means that we have given not from a deficiency, which many people think love is, but from an abundance.
One final guest trods this journey to give reslove, and his name is Truth. Truth is the inseparable companion of Justice and Mercy. Truth guarantees that justice does not become revenge and promises that its pronouncement will be rich in forgiveness. Truth is tied with what is real, good, and reliable. However, to find truth we must find justice. To find justice, we must find mercy. They all go together. So this is the road that I take when things get rough. I seek love, a love that is informed by the truth and supported by justice.
In our society, these three virtues have been thrown to the side and replaced with false realities: love has become a very personal, emotional experience that can lead to a very sentimental resolution that just wants to ignore pain. Justice becomes the permission for vengeance, hatred and anger. Truth is somethin
g relative to each person and has no real impact on the decisions and life of another. With all the hardships we go through, we can enter that haze of what to do how to go own. People become angry and want revenge when the see evils like the Las Vegas shooting. They become swept away by sentiments that steal their right thinking and submerge them in pity. People confuse revenge with justice, opinion with truth, emotion with love and they have no union with them all.
The church sees the three sentinels not only as virtues but as united together. For us to be truly merciful, we must seek a truly just solution that is accompanied
by truth, truth in the goodness of the person and the rights that are theirs. Canon Law says “the supreme law of the church is ‘Salus Animarum’, the Salvation of Souls”. It is in this union that we can have refuge in love, that we can secure because where there is true love, there is truth and justice as well. Above all, “God is love, whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God in him”.