Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Today the Universal Church celebrates the optional feast of Saint Robert Bellarmine—a Catholic intellectual, a faithful priest, and prudent but courageous member of the Society of Jesus. He understood well Father Ignatius’s declaration that the purpose of the Least Society is to strive to defend and propagate the faith and to assist souls in Christian life and doctrine. But, really, is this not the calling of everyone who claims to follow Christ knowing that he or she is a citizen of two cities—the City of God and the City of Man? I hold and profess the view that all Christians, including those who advance Catholic legal theory, are, in one fashion or another, called to similar purpose as was Robert Bellarmine, who was trained in both theology and juridical science (like your humble correspondent). One other important element of Christian life needs to be recounted here as we consider today’s feast observing the life and death of Bellarmine: the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross which we celebrated this past Sunday. As I was celebrating the Eucharist, I prayed very slowly the words of the Collect: “O God, who willed that your Only Begotten Son should undergo the Cross to save the human race, grant, we pray, that we, who have known his mystery on earth, may merit the grace of redemption in heaven…” This prayer is intensified by the Gospel reading for the feast from Saint John that includes the oft-prayed passage of John 3:16. I am certain these principles of the Catholic faith were an ever-present guiding star of Robert Bellarmine in all that he accomplished and all that he tried to achieve in Christ’s name.
While Bellarmine was a learned man, a bishop, and a cardinal, he was first and last a humble servant of his and our Church who followed Christ in simplicity. Like our current Holy Father, Francis, he was attracted to the plainness of life lived by Saint Francis of Assisi. For us Jesuits, we are reminded how Father Ignatius states in his autobiography how he would like to be as Dominic or as Francis (of Assisi). But Father Ignatius’s exhortation is not limited to Jesuits; I am convinced it applies to all who follow Christ or claim to do so.
Returning to the nexus between the life, discipleship, and the work of Robert Bellarmine, I am certain that he continues to show those of us who dedicate our lives to Catholic legal theory how to seek in our apostolic service the pressing need to meet the grave challenges of our present age with prudence, courage, and fidelity. We cannot take for granted that all we meet and with whom we may labor are practitioners of the same virtues. One essential tool of which I have spoken often in the past, given the vineyards in which we work, is the need for the Catholic Christian to be mindful of the gifts of objective intelligence given to us by the Creator to comprehend the intelligible reality of the world and of the universe. Using these gifts wisely and without reservation should enable those of us who teach human law, as it is intersected by God’s law (we can never get away from our dual citizenship, now, can we?), to do so in a fashion the replicates the way of proceeding utilized by Robert Bellarmine throughout his life. He, too, lived in an age of skeptics fueled by a world of corruption, vainglory, and power-over-right, but he was not deterred from seeking out and collaborating with his fellow disciples and people of good will in his striving for the defense and propagation of the faith and assisting souls in Christian life and doctrine.
May we profit from his example not only on this day but for all the days of our lives.
Saint Robert Bellarmine, pray for us! Amen.