Saturday, August 29, 2009

St. Ignatius and Law Schools: Homily

As we celebrate the feast of St. Ignatius with this Mass, I thought that I might begin by asking what relevance St. Ignatius has for a Law School. I ask this question because, when St. Ignatius first wrote the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, which is the fundamental law of the Jesuit Order, he said that Jesuits should stay away from running Law schools because they are far from the goals of the Jesuit Order. And, he also said that if Jesuit schools must teach law, it should not be taught by Jesuits. Which could leave me jobless.

St. Ignatius, however, soon enough realized the value of law schools. Thus, even before he died, law was being taught in some Jesuit schools, but not yet by Jesuits. But his successors were wiser still and now Jesuits teach law and there are any number of Jesuit law schools, an outstanding example being the one in Rockwell! But then we must ask: What amkes a Law School Jesuit?

We say sometimes that Jesuit schools are distinguished by academic excellence and that therefore what distinguishes Jesuit law schools is academic excellence. But there is nothing originally or exclusively Jesuit about academic excellence. The academic excellence of Jesuit schools comes from the Ratio Studiorum, which is the bible of Jesuit education. But the Ratio Studiorum is not original. It is characterized by borrowings. Eloquentia, for instance, has been borrowed from the Roman rhetorician Quintilian. The method of our schools we borrowed from the medieval Univesity of Paris. And when we want to put up an excellent law school, what do we do? We borrow from Harvard. Thus, academic excellence is not the distinguishing mark because it also belongs to other schools. What then should make Jesuit schools Jesuit?

There are two words in the phrase "Jesuit school,”the noun ”school” and the adjective “Jesuit.” Both the noun and the adjective are important. When we are serious about the noun ”school,” then we get academic excellence. But that is just half of the phrase. There is also the adjective ”Jesuit.” What does the adjective add to the enterprise when we are faithful to it. What it should add is what I would call “Ignatian spirituality.”

By ”spirituality╦ć” I do not mean external piety such as novenas, lighted candles and pilgrimages. By spirituality I mean how one relates with God, how one relates with men and women, and how one relates with wealth and power. In this sense, everyone has a spirituality. And the question is whether in your spirituality you aim for excellence in much the same way that you aim for academic excellence.

In your relationship with God, do you consider him as the be all and end all of your life. Or, as Our Lord says, do you love him with all your mind, and all your heart, and all your soul?

In your relationship with people, do you distinguish between privileged and underprivileged, between fraternity brother or sorority sister on the one hand and all so called barbarians. Jesus said you should love your neighbor as yourself, even barbarians, and even members of other fraternities.

How do you relate with wealth and power now? And how will you relate with wealth and power in the future? A career in law throws a person into a world of wealth and power. Look at our graduates who now occupy positions of power in the private and public sectors. How does Ignatian spirituality ask you to relate with wealth and with power?

Ignatian spirituality is optimistic. It tells you that wealth and power are good. You do not despise them. But Ignatian spirituality is deeply aware that wealth and power are gifts of a loving God and are given for a purpose – ad majorem Dei gloriam. This is where we get what we often hear – women and men for others.

Wealth and power are two-edged swords. They can uplift or they can crush, they can serve or they can enslave. Ignatian spirituality tells us that we must always choose that for which wealth and power have been given by a loving God – to uplift, to serve, to liberate. This is excellence in spirituality. Ignatian spirituality is a spirituality of choice.

I guess I can sum it up by asking what all these should mean for a student or a product of a Jesuit law school. It should, of course, mean excellence in the law, But it should also mean realizing that lawyering is not just a means of livelihood but a vocation. The word vocation can sometimes scare us because it is closely linked with being a monk or a nun which for obvious reasons is not for all. But having a vocation is larger than monkhood or sisterhood. It simply means that your are created for a purpose and that you are called to fulfill that purpose. And for us the purpose is excellence in legal service and excellence in being men and women for God and for others.

Today we pray to St. Ignatius to help us fulfill the vocation to which we have been called. We have the ideal; let us make it a reality

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