I am currently in diaconate formation. I continue to pray that I will be ordained as a deacon next year. Your prayers of support and strength would be most appreciated, as well.
While prayer is a huge part of formation, there is also a fair amount of classroom work involved, too. The courses have been very interesting, and I am learning so much about this beautiful Church and our mission to know, show and grow Jesus’s message of love every day of our lives.
A couple of months ago I was talking to a friend and she asked what classes I was going to take this summer. When I told her that canon law was next, she got a look on her face like I had just told her that I don’t like cheese curds. It was a cross between sadness and pity with a bit of disgust sprinkled in. Apparently, I was crossing over to the “dark side.” To be honest, I didn’t walk in to class the first night with a completely open mind. After all, it did seem to me that the only things I knew about canon law were the various ways of saying “no” that I have heard over the years.
Perhaps it would be prudent to explain what canon law is. On a very simple level, canon law is a system of laws, principles and regulations assembled and released in 1917. Before that, canon law existed in a variety of different places, including papal decretals and decrees, church documents, and many other sources dating back to the Roman Empire. The canons (laws) are intended to organize the operation of the church and to guide the members of the church toward a more loving and righteous life, while protecting the faith and theology of the Catholic Church.
As the class progressed, a few things began to become clearer to me. Firstly, I am now not so convinced that canons of the church are in place to make life harder and less enjoyable. The more I study, the more I am finding that one of the major guiding principles of canon law is to say “yes” as often as possible. Generally, canon lawyers and judges are constantly looking for details in situations which support the people involved. While “no” is sometimes the just answer, if there is a path to a “yes,” by default, it is the path most pursued.
Another very important point that became apparent to me is the difference between “should” and “must” in the way that we conduct our lives, sacraments, etc. In canon law terms, this roughly translates to “licit” and “valid”. Throughout canon law, there are relatively few instances of “must do’s” with severe consequences for failure to do so. In the vast majority of cases, the canons provide us with guidance toward the best way to live. Again, the purpose of the structure is to help us all live with salvation and eternal communion with God as our aim. Through scripture, tradition and divine inspiration the Church believes that we have been graced with the knowledge and wisdom to understand God’s message and to apply Jesus’s life and teachings to our lives, even today.
Perhaps, an analogy may apply here. Let’s consider taking a drive in our car. As we get into our car and start down the road, we are faced with many choices. We can abide by the speed limits or we can ignore them. We can try to get through the flooded intersection, or we can find another route. We can get behind the wheel after the party or we can hand off the keys. We can even try to beat that train through the crossing. Like the rules of the road, the canons are ours to observe and to act upon. We have the freedom of choice, but we do not have the freedom from consequences. We may be fine, we may get a small ticket or we may end up in a tragic accident. The law exists to guide us to happier, healthier lives in the hope that we will arrive home safely.
Bill Gerl, SEAS Parishioner in Diaconal Formation