Monday of the Third Week of Lent
Solemnity of St Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary
I’m a lawyer, so it’s probably no surprise that I’m a strong advocate for compliance with the law. It’s important to have clear, shared expectations about the acceptable standards of behavior in a community. The privileges available to us are balanced by a responsibility to follow established laws, regardless of whether we like them all. Respect for the law is critical to maintaining a well-functioning society.
At the same time, the law has limits. The law generally sets minimum standards, not aspirational standards. It cannot possibly address every potential circumstance or behavior, nor would we want it to.
Given the limits of the law, what kind of world would it be if each of us were to base our decisions solely on whether a particular action is legal or illegal? As Paul confirms in today’s second reading, compliance with the law is not enough. We need to demonstrate our faith:
“It is not through the law that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants that he would inherit the world, but by the righteousness that comes through faith. . . . [T]he promise may be guaranteed to all his descendants, not to those who only adhere to the law but to those who follow the faith of Abraham . . . .”
So how do we make sure we are following our faith? In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Catholic bishops instruct us to look to our conscience. They remind us that faithful citizens have a lifelong obligation to develop a well-formed moral conscience, and that conscience is “not a mere ‘feeling’ about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil.”
Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, who is a model when it comes to the application of law and conscience. Joseph was known as someone who respected and strictly observed the law. When he learned that Mary had conceived a child, he had the right under the law to divorce her. He also could have brought Mary before the authorities to be tried for adultery, which was a serious crime punishable by stoning. Instead, Joseph listened to his conscience.
As a lawyer, I advise you not to violate the law. But that’s not enough. Lent is a particularly good time to reflect on how we are forming our conscience, so that we are prepared to do the right thing when called.
Sara Gross Methner