One of Christ’s most radical declarations was that he had come into this world not to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill them. He gives us the full intent of the law, and does not treat the “letter of the law” as though that were the full portent of what law is about. Some of his fiercest adversaries were lawyers who were like painters but not real artists. For even with the best of intentions, painting by numbers and not by inspiration does not amount to true art.

For more than 27 years I have had the privilege of being spiritual director to Catholic lawyers in our archdiocese, and I have been edified by those who understand the majesty of law not just as a profession, but as a noble vocation. I am sure that when they encounter those who trivialize the law, such as those “ambulance chasers” who advertise for clients on television wearing loud suits and cowboy hats, they must react to them as I do to the more vulgar evangelists who make fortunes duping crowds with panaceas instead of the Gospel.

Since about 1960, the number of lawyers in our nation has increased at five times the rate of growth of the population as a whole. There are various reasons for this, but it is certain that elements of our legal system have lost perspective. Without respect for God as the author of justice, justice itself suffers. G.K. Chesterton said, “When you break the big laws, you do not get freedom; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws.”

There are those in our society who have come to think that all laws are little, and that the courts can change the big laws by human will. So we have activist courts even attempting to abolish the basic natural laws of life as ordained by God. Christ reminded Pontius Pilate that governors are responsible to heaven. A characteristic of tyrants is that they subvert the law. During the terrible years of National Socialism, Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich risked his own life when he preached: “The State, as an institution built by God, can establish its laws, and its subjects are under the obligation to obey them, for the sake of their conscience. The State has the right to levy taxes and to demand sacrifices of property and life in the defense of the Fatherland. The State, however, has no right to make laws which are incompatible with Divine Law and the Natural Law.”

St. Augustine said, “Love God and do whatever you please.” But that does not mean lawlessness. God “never commanded anyone to be godless. He has given no one permission to sin” (Ecclesiastes 15:20). Many who quote Augustine omit the rest of his sentence: “. . . for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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