Inaugural address, Role of Canonists in the best and worst times

– Most Rev. Dr. Devadas Ambrose Bishop of Thanjavur

“It has been the best of times andIt has been the worst of times”: Thus begins Charles Dickens, his famous novel “A Tale of Two Cities”.

We are in the best of times – when the Catholics of India, particularly Diocese of Thanjavur is looking towards 2002 for the 10th celebration of World Day of the Sick, at Lourdes of the East, the Well known Marian pilgrimage center in South India, the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Health at Vailankanni. I, with immense joy and happiness welcome you all, the members of the Canon Law Society of India, to this historic holy shrine. Our Holy Father Pope John Paul II has invited all to this shrine to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, the Divine healer in his message on 6th August, 2001, Castel Gondolfo I invite you all to this shrine in finding out a meaningful role in your ministry not as judges but as guides and healers in our society. But without compromising to truth and justice, you are exhorted to find out ways of healing and guiding human kind in justice tempered with mercy.

We are in the worst of times – Terrorism is ruling the human world. Corruption is slowly eating the fabric of the society like a moth. Humanity is threatened for its identity. The meaning of life stands as an unanswered question of trust and hope for the future is shattered and the foundation of world is shaken. United States of America, the unquestioned monarch in the world today is in hot waters. People are in fear foreseeing the biological war and even third world war at the wake of the third millennium.

Church in the new millennium with the new spirit

Church is the light of humanity, and she has a duty to draw all men and women closer together by social, technical and cultural bonds to achieve full unity in Christ (Lumen Gentium No.1). Church is, by its very nature missionary and by its nature and mission, she is universal. She s committed not to any one culture, to any Political, Economic or social System. She has a universal mission considering the varied systems and studying the signs of the time. As we have moved to the third millennium, our responsibility has widened due to the great changes and challenges; demands and newness in every walk of life. Humanity is challenged by

  • Tradition and development
  • Science and sickness
  • Technology and destruction
  • Power and poverty

These challenges question the core of human life. Whys and hows push the world far ahead in development but whats and whens divide the world as developed and under-developed countries.

The role of the church today is, to understand these realities and to be a witness in this world. Looking at the world today, we realize that it is a world, which suffers from injustice, exploitation and inequality like – The widening economic gap between North and South; rich and poor; the exploitation of the resources of the so called “third world”, the injustices of patriarchal and sexist systems; the violation of human rights, racial discriminations and national conflicts; the evils of the social systems that use political power to oppress the people. To all this we can also add the changes brought by secularization, materialism and technology. The need of the hour is a new vision of faith where all human beings can experience their brotherhood and sisterhood in one God. For this, the Word of God should enable us, to discover and destroy the ideals, we have made, and dispel the shadows that prevent human beings, from walking in the light of God. Even in the worst of times, there is a ray of hope for a better future, when everyone in the world stops for a moment and thinks who, what and where of one’s existence.

Canon Law – The Candle in the Wind

In the Old Testament, following God’s law, gave life, endurance and peace to the people of Israel (Ex: 18:23). When Israelites disobeyed God’s commandments, Yahweh punished them (Judges 2:14) and brought them back to life in His mercy and love (Dt. 6:1-3). Jesus came as the fulfillment of Old Law and gave new meaning to the law as life (Heb. 1:1-4). Law is made for man and not man for law, was the new vision given by Jesus (mk. 2:27)

Church though missionary, is a society. To bring order and justice, the society needs laws and regulations. The importance of such law was insisted by our Holy Father Pope John Paul II, while promulgating the new code of canon Law in 1983 through the apostolic constitution “sacrae disciplinae leges”. ….

We need people who are canonists – juridically trained and prepared. Their presence will help the authorities of the Church in their function of governing, which cannot be separated from pastoral care. … Canonists are urged to look towards the achievement of order in ecclesiastical society. While giving primacy to love, grace, and charisma, they should not forget to facilitate an orderly development in the life, both of ecclesiastical society and of the individual persons who belong to it.

While recollecting the best and the worst of our times, I exhort you all, in finding your exact role and eminent place in the ecclesial society as the servants of God. …

Let me conclude with the inspiring poetic verses of Rabindranath Tagore in his Gitanjali (no. 7):

“O master poet, I have sat down at Thy feet,

Only let me make my life simple and straight;

Like a flute of reed for Thee to fill with music…”