Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Christmas Gift that Keeps Giving…


I apologize for my absence from this site for a bit, but some may find this truancy a blessing, but others may not. Nevertheless, I digress.

Tonight, we Catholics and many other Christians celebrate Christmas Eve. There was a time when Catholics in the United States celebrated this night with many of our fellow Americans and citizens and subjects around the world not only as a holiday but as a feast of the Church. But nowadays, this is less so. Christmas or the Holidays as Christmas is more popularly known these dys (which holidays, I am not sure: Lincoln’s Birthday? Ground Hog Day? Arbor Day? Etc.) seem[s] to be a celebration of something other than God’s gift of Himself for the salvation of humanity—God through His Son giving of Himself even unto death to rescue us from our sins in order that we might be with God forever. I was reminded of this loss after leaving the Dana Farber Cancer Institute yesterday following a long day of treatment and passing by the fashionable Chestnut Hill Mall near Boston where thousands were engaged in the frantic suit of buying gifts for family and friends. Mind you, buying gifts for loved ones is not the issue; but the fundamental reason of why we buy and exchange gifts in the first place is the issue. After all, there is something more to this celebration of Christmas (or the Holidays), is there not? Indeed, there is.

I was reminded of this today as my Jesuit Community buried another brother whose life and apostolic service to the Church and to the world were dedicated to this first principle of our faith and religious heritage just mentioned—remembering the reality of Christ. Yet, for many in the present age, this gift of Christ—God incarnate—is a strange notion or idea. But should it be? If this is a relevant and important question for us Christians, should it not also be, for us who subscribe to a project called Catholic legal theory, to address whether Catholic legal theory is an enterprise imbued with the celebration of Christmas and the gift that it is for not only the hereafter but also for our existence in this world and the universe that surrounds it? How do I answer my own question? Let me begin with this.

The other day I took up our colleague and friend’s, Michael Moreland’s, suggestion/recommendation about Jesse Child’s new book and read God’s Traitors, a remarkable book that deals with Catholicism in Elizabethan (the first of that name) times. After devouring this text, I was led to another book of a related topic, Faith and Treason (dealing with Catholicism in the subsequent reign of James I) published by Lady Antonia Fraser in 1996. As a consequence of reading and reflecting upon both texts, I came to realize how our sisters and brothers in Christ—and my own brothers in the Least Society of Jesus—had to navigate a perilous course in a country that was not only Christian but, at one time in its history, indisputably Catholic. I am not suggesting here that the United States or, for that matter the rest of the world, should be a theocracy or a nation with an established church—the Catholic Church in particular. But what I am arguing is that our present day political, economic, and social cultures have lost something toward which Catholic legal theorists can contribute a remedy for the common good—ah, yes, the common good—of each and every one of God’s creatures. But the contribution is more than an academic enterprise—it is a gift of one’s self to one’s friends whoever they may be. And this is a point that periodically emerges in the Childs and Fraser books.

Childs offers an insight about this when she discusses the anti-Catholic legislation of Elizabeth’s Parliaments and refers to a poem penned by a member of a recusant family that mentions a Ciceronian maxim: Honos alit artes—honor nourishes the arts. What if the law with which we of the Mirror of Justice deal with actually nourished and promoted honor—honor being the virtuous life that understands what is the essence of the human person and the role of public norms in guiding all human persons to embrace the search for the common good rather than the politically expedient or, worse, the political objectives of a self-referential elite whose will is strong but whose objective intellect capable of comprehending the intelligible reality that surrounds us is weak or nonexistent at all? I think this is a major role, a vocation, of the Catholic legal theorist not only for today but for every day. Moreover, it is a gift of self that is intended to be given time and again.

If my assumption has merit, might we of this Mirror of Justice community extend a gift for the rest of our fellow creatures in this season of holiday gift-giving—a gift of self and our intellects and labors, such as they are, that offers the hope and promise of Christ in concrete fashion so that, if I may borrow from Lady Fraser’s conclusion, we become a people whose motives are noble and whose actions are upright. In particular, may this gift of one’s self provide the environment for the making of and the living by laws that reflect lives of virtue, and serve as models of human existence that merit duplication by those whom we encounter in this world as we people of God prepare for the next.

A blessed Christmas to you all!


RJA sj



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