Homily: Commencement of the Legal Year, 2014

Liturgy for the Commencement of the Legal Year    
3th February, 2014

‘I have endowed him with my spirit: that he may bring true justice to the nations’ the prophet Isaiah makes it clear that the Lord's main concern is for true justice. It is clear that the Lord is not merely concerned about what is accomplished for the sake of his plan, but his concern is also for the manner in which ministry is conducted. Justice is not to be accomplished through force. The whole passage is descriptive of the Redeemer, who nourishes the most feeble hearts of his people, and through the Spirit, will enkindle any wavering flame of faith.

There is always the possibility that we can become complacent in our faith and indifferent to these fundamental principles of justice and truth, and risk losing our way and relinquishing our freedoms to, what Pope Benedict XVI has called, “the dictatorship of relativism.” Therefore, it is good for us, at this Annual Liturgy to mark the commencement of the Legal Year, to reflect upon the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (characterised today by the emphasis on RED) and the fundamental principles of justice, and those essential truths upon which our rule of law is based and forms the foundation of our democracy.
The integration of faith and the practice of the law, bring to mind Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman. Thomas More was a 16th century lawyer, judge, and diplomat who became the first layman to serve as Lord Chancellor of England, the crown’s chief minister as well as its highest judicial officer. St. Thomas More (1478-1535) is the ideal of the Christian lawyer. He was a man of scholarship and action; contemplative prayer and public life; dedication to family; and service to his country in the highest offices of the land. But most important of all, he was a witness to God and the Catholic faith. After a celebrated career, the most distinguished lawyer in England was martyred under Henry VIII for a matter of conscience.  In 1935 he was canonized on the 400th anniversary of his martyrdom and declared the patron saint of lawyers.

To this day More is admired by believers and non-believers alike, for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, because he chose to serve God first, even at the cost of displeasing the king. We recall the saint’s oft quoted last words on the scaffold: I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first!
The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times was the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, and provides opportunity to reflect with you briefly today. The fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority, can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

So we take note of both readings today which emphasise the need for and the power of the Holy Spirit as guide and counsellor. The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me’ this refers to the coming of the Spirit at Christ’s Baptism. The Spirit is the source and empowerment for godly ministry and even the Messiah depended on the Spirit for guidance. We know too well the complexity of the human heart and you know well also, how difficult it is often to discern motive, effect and consequence as well as subsequent guilt. Even though procedures and precedent are well established, there remains in every case a moment of human judgment.
So, did Saint Thomas More die for his conscience? Yes, but that is only a part of the story, perhaps a little over emphasized in Bolt’s Man for All Seasons. The lawyer saint died for the Catholic Faith. He gave himself in personal faith for the Faith of God’s People, our faith.  

Brothers and sisters, as you strive to maintain Saint Thomas More’s Catholic vision of right and justice in society and a love of your Church, I thank you.  As Christians, especially those in the legal profession, we must not shrink from our obligation to assert the values and principles that are essential to the common good. We must call upon God’s blessing on our lives and work, and seek guidance on the administration of justice, under the power of the Holy Spirit, who is the source of wisdom, understanding, counsel and fortitude.

I am most happy to gather with you today to pray for the light and gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is a great work of justice to be accomplished in today’s world. Decisions are difficult and we need Wisdom. Circumstances can be discouraging and we need the Hope of the Gospel.
St. Thomas More, pray for us.