17 May 2007

Family Law

My previous post "The Art of Planning" has led to further discussions with friends and a lot of reflection. I think there is a fundamental disconnection between the way we (heirs to the English legal system in Australia, America and the UK) view law and the way the Church views laws.
Jimmy Akin discussed this difference in two posts suggesting it is a difference between "High" and "Low" context cultures. His theory is that some cultures - including that of the Church - do not have laws and rules that are cut and dried but need a deeper understanding to understand the nuances. Whereas the culture we live in is a Low context culture in that an immigrant can arrive on our shores and quickly assimilate and do well as the rules are pretty easy to follow. Jimmy suggests that this is why we have such difficulties with Church law. With our laws our mindset is to work out how to get away with minimum compliance and expect full enforcement if anyone transgresses those laws.
Upon further consideration I think the Church laws have to be seen in context of how the Church sees herself in relation to us and God. Everything the Church does is in the context of Family. Even the Trinity is a form of family, whereby the love betwween Father and Son is so deep that it becomes another person.
Also, Jesus came into the world as part of a family. The prophets saw Israel as the spouse of God and treated unfaithfulness like adultery.
The Church is considered to be the bride of Christ and we are the children of the Church. So when the Church makes laws and enforces discipline it needs to be viewed in the same way as parents enforce laws in a family. Also, those following the laws need to understand those laws as not just restrictions but rather directions for better living. When we lay down laws for our family, our ultimate purpose is in mind - God's Will and the gaining of heaven.
When the children transgress the rules we have to decide the best way to enforce the compliance. Parents should not inflict "blind justice" as that leads to far too many injustices. Just examine some of the weird inconsistent punishments passed down by the courts or the ludicrous Zero Tolerance enforcements.
Although I am often critical of the lack of zeal in upholding Church laws I understand some of the reluctance. However it does appear as if many bishops and priests suffer from the fallacies of soft parenting and seem to forget that no enforcement means the laws will be ignored.
When the Church has a law we are to understand that it is issued in order for us to achieve our ultimate aim. So avoiding the law using a legal mindset applying every possible exception defeats the purpose and instead of gaining an advantage we only hurt ourselves.
For example, the Church tells us we must attend Church every Sunday or we commit a mortal sin. The reasons are many and Pope John Paul II even dedicated an Encyclical to the topic of Sunday as the Lord's day. However, as this is Church law there are lots of valid reasons to miss Mass and not commit a mortal sin, such as sickness and caring for others. The key is to do our very best to get to Church and if the reason for not attending is beyond our control, you are not guilty of the mortal sin. But knowing that you must attend means that you will then endeavour to do whatever is necessary to keep the Lord's day holy and arrange affairs so that missing Mass doesn't become habitual.
So the best way to understand Church law and our manner of compliance is to:
1. Learn what the law actually is,
2. Study and reflect on the reasons for the law, and
3. With faith and fortitude follow the law to the best of your ability.

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