Monday, 28 October 2013

Canon law diploma... now what?

As I posted on Twitter and Facebook a few days ago, I recently received word that the University of Strasbourg accepted the results of my final exams and awarded me a Licence in Canon Law. This is the civil version of the Licence -- the canonical version will require more work. Yes, yes, I know it is ironic that I've got a civil degree in canon law, but that's part of the unique features of studying an uber-Catholic subject at a state university in France that operates under a concordat negotiated at the time of Napoleon. Even if it isn't a final result, this diploma is a step in the right direction.

Except... now I need to decide if I continue or not. It is a lot of work, and work is not something I am short of at the moment.

I've discussed this with people whose advice I trust, and we've turned over the problem quite a bit, looking at all the angles. In the end, though, for me the question really comes down to this: "What does the Holy Spirit want?"

I've actually benefitted quite a bit from this canon law experience. I don't just mean the technical knowledge, although that is helpful. More important than that, however, is the fact that I feel I've grown in my ability to think with the mind of the Church (sentire cum ecclesia).

I've often met people who've thought that their specific discipline was the real core of the "mind of the Church" -- liturgists who think that it's liturgy (with the rest being secondary), social justice types who think that it is social thought (with the rest being secondary), ecclesiologists who think that it is ecclesiology (with the rest being secondary), and yes, canonists who think that canon law is the best expression of the "mind of the Church", with (you guessed it), the rest being secondary. Now I don't agree with any of these kinds of people, because I believe that to think with the mind of the Church means integrating the insights of all these disciplines (and more!). Still, I definitely see that canon law has its place, and now that my own understanding of it has grown I feel that my own ability to live that sentire cum ecclesia has grown as well.

I see canon law as a form of practical pastoral theology. It does not exhaust all forms of practical action that the Church undertakes, but it does permit a disciplined reflection on the question of justice within the Church, and thus make sure that practical action is coordinated for the sake of the common good. This is not negligible. It is far to easy to ignore the demands of justice when there is a pressing need of some sort. Of course, that turns into "doing evil for the sake of a good end", which is never acceptable, but gosh it can be so tempting when faced with a great need and a (seemingly) minor evil. For me, canon law is about asking ourselves the question, "what would the Church look like as a just society?" As someone now charged with helping to govern that Church, this question reaches to the core of my vocation.

So I am grateful for the studies I have been able to experience, and to my professors in Strasbourg who have guided those studies. I'm still not sure if I will continue, given the other demands on my time (some of the social challenges we are facing here in Quebec, for example, desperately need the light of the Gospel). But we will see. Please pray for me as I continue to discern.