The Law of the Spirit of Life

[Homily: Mass of the Holy Spirit, ADDU Law School, 6/22/12]

At the beginning of this month, when I addressed the joint faculties of the Ateneo de Davao University, I challenged all to come together to in a shared effort to form an “Ateneo de Davao Leader sui generis.” That was a challenge I made shortly after the Senate Impeachment Court had pronounced the Chief Magistrate of the land guilty of culpable violation of the Constitution.

The general elation that such an impeachment was possible in our troubled land, where an earlier process had ended in revolution, was tempered for us by the fact that the defendant here was a lawyer, a professor of law, a one-time cabinet member, a chief justice of the Highest Court of the land, and an Atenean. Even as we concede that alumni and alumnae make their own choices freely in life, some of which are consciously made contrary-to-conscience, contrary to what had been taught them, Ateneo educators cannot help but ask whether we do enough to form our students to make the right choices – in season and out of season – not only when they are studying with us, but when they are practicing their profession. The saint whose memory we recall today, St. Thomas More, was trained in the law and formed in the faith. Pressured to recognize the second wife of his king as legitimate, when she was not, he had to choose between convenience and the morally imperative, between rationalization and reason, between compromise and conscience, between comfort and truth, between life and faith. He chose truth in faith. He chose law that could not be extricated from truth, could not be content with legalisms, and fidelity to law that bowed to the judgment of God rather than the judgment of men. He accepted death, ironically, rather than lose life. His law was not the law of the flesh. His was the law of the Spirit.

At this Mass of the Holy Spirit at the outset of the new academic year in your study of law, I invite you to reflect on the law that governs your life. Is this, as the scriptures suggest, the law of Moses, the law of the Flesh, or the law of Christ? Or is it a law, which is the object of your academic labors and career dreams, that works however tangential to God’s Ten Commandments, to the laws of concupiscence, or to the law of the Spirit won and promulgated for us in the incarnation, life, teaching, death and resurrection of Word of the Father? What is the spirit with which you study your law? Is it a spirit of ambition, a spirit of intellectual pride, a spirit of arrogant power, a spirit of self-effacing subservience to procedures, a spirit that hungers and thirsts for justice, a spirit of service to the morally imperative? What do you see in your future? Many lawyers become leaders in our society – they enter into the corporate world and parlay their legal expertise to gain positions of power and influence; they enter the political world and use their legal knowledge to govern people and chart the course of their history as a people; already in the title their bear, “attorney,” they are “set apart,” or “set above.” But in leading, where do they ambition to lead their corporations, where do they propose to lead their people, where do they take you and me? What “about life” do their have to offer to their followers? What “about wisdom” do they have to share with those who place hope in them? Are they governed by the Law of higher things in life, or by the Law of lower things? Do they lead to greatness or to the pedestrian? Do they lead to magnanimity or to niggardliness? Do they lead to life or to death?

In law, you have so much to study, so many hurdles to overcome, so many things to learn and digest. But at a Mass of the Holy Spirit, the prayer is that in all you learn and in all you do, you do not miss the point, and end up being lawyers governed by the law of the flesh or the law of sin, that is, the law of base, self-centered compulsions or the law of ultimate self-destruction. Some of you may already know from experience: these lead to depression and despair; these lead to bondage and death. Against this, St. Paul says, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom 8,2). Think about that: “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” Christ Jesus has dealt with death and sin “in the flesh” (Rom 8:3b). In overcoming sin and death by taking sin onto himself and dealing death its death blow, he and his Father sent us the Spirit of life, the principle of life, the source of vitality. The law of this Spirit is life! The law, the imperative of this spirit is: Live! Live, not partially, not abstractly, not truncated and maimed, not just for money, not just for power, not just for yourself, but live to the full. Remember Jesus says, “I came to bring life, and bring life to the full” (Jn 10:10). The law of the Spirit of Jesus, the law of the spirit of life, is to live life – really – to the full! Those who are led by this law, the law of the Spirit of God, are children of God, and it is the Spirit of God in them that entitles them to call on him as father. “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!” St. Paul says, “it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom 8 15b-17).

Notice the “if”. “If, in fact we suffer with him….” The Law of the Spirit of life, life to the full, entails suffering. It entails living out what in baptism actually happened to us: “that we were baptized into the suffering and death of the Lord” (Rom 6:3). That may mean not only struggling and suffering to pass the bar, but choosing a way of exercising your profession as a servant of the faith, as a doer of justice, as an educated person of cultures, as a person of dialogue even among religions, as a person protective of God’s creation, as a person of peace –no matter the cost. That may mean becoming lawyers with the vision and determination to lead people – not just in obedience to whim, to fashion, to fad, to comfort, to complacency – but in obedience to the Law of the Spirit of life – leading them to life, and life to the full,¬ no matter the struggle, no matter the suffering.

But it is in the Spirit of life, and in obedience to its law of life to the full, that we have hope and know with St. Paul, “…that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:18). That refers not to the suffering of rigorous, painful lawyering and the glory of partnership in a top law firm. It refers to struggling for the fullness of life in Christ, the fullness of personal life and social life, where justification in faith cannot escape the pursuit of justice, so that persons are each given their due and all relentlessly pursue the common good, the struggling that leads to the full revelation of the glory of God. In this revelation, all that is human life is God’s life, for the fullness of human life is divine. Can all this awesome truth in our faith be tangential to the life of the lawyer? Can all this be irrelevant to the life of an Ateneo-bred leader? Apparently, yes, it can be. Or it can be the lawyer’s soul to be obedient to the law of the Spirit of Christ – as St. Thomas More was. It can be the leader’s vision to lead people to the fullness of life – as the Spirit of Christ impels.

In this academic year, and throughout your professional lives, may you be lawyers of the Spirit, advocates of the Truth, and leaders to the fullness of life!

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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