Not far from the Law Courts Building on Macquarie Street is the Colonial Secretary’s Building. Many of you know it. While crossing at the corner of Macquarie and Bridge you might have caught a glimpse of the three statues that grace the corner of the building. In ascending order – and it is important to note the order – these statues depict allegorical figures of sapientia, iustitia, and misericordia. Wisdom, Justice and Mercy.
If you have not noticed these sandstone statues before, I invite you to take a moment to observe and contemplate them the next time you pass by. Strange as it might seem, these statues are powerful touchstones for the Red Mass today. I would like to offer them, and what they symbolise, as an inspiration to members of the law profession as well as leaders of government, as we embark upon a new Law Term.
By virtue of Baptism, the Christian has a vocation to participate in the great mission of Jesus Christ who is the good news of salvation (Mk16:15). Saint Francis de Sales once wrote, we each have specific ways to respond to that call, in accordance with our station in life (Introduction to the Devout Life Pt.1 Ch.3). As custodians and practitioners of law, lawmakers have a specific way to live out this call, a call which is literally carved in the stone of these three statues.
In other words, we live out this vocation when we allow the virtues of wisdom, justice and mercy to order the way in which we answer God’s call and live out our mission in the concrete setting of the law profession. It is not by chance that these virtues dovetail with, and are enriched by, our Scripture readings today. Recall how I said that these virtues of the law profession – wisdom, justice and mercy – are arranged in ascending order. We begin with the most fundamental of these virtues, wisdom.
The doctrine of the Church teaches that moral law is the work of divine Wisdom (CCC1950). Animated by the gift of Divine Wisdom, the human person seeks the rules of conduct that lead to the fullness of life (cf Jn10:10).
Law is a rule of conduct enacted by competent authority for the sake of the common good. The moral law, which is born of Divine Wisdom, presupposes the rational order, established among creatures for their good and to serve their final end, by the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Creator (CCC1951).
Wisdom is not access to some special hidden knowledge. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom is the foundation for every well-ordered human life. Our first reading from the Book of Exodus exhorts the people to live a moral life for the sake of the common-good as well as for a productive and well-ordered societal life. The foundation of this moral life is rather simple, not to make false assertions (Ex 23:1), not to take sides (Ex 23:1), to speak for the improvement of others (Eph 4:29) and to seek goodness actively (Eph 4:24).
This behaviour seems so obvious to us that it is easy to forget how much we need it. Our society can tend to forget how these basic building blocks of Wisdom shape the way we understand the next virtue, which is Justice.
Once again, the Sacred Scripture gives us some insight and demonstrates how Wisdom is interwoven with Justice. In the same passages where we find wisdom, we also have the exhortation to pursue Justice. The Book of Exodus requires us to be impartial, not to follow the passions of the crowd, which is explicitly called a “perversion of justice” (Ex 23:2), and not to accept a bribe (Ex 23:8). In the letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul champions this theme calling each believer to be renewed by a spiritual revolution of the mind so as to work and avoid theft (Eph4:28), to avoid falsehood against our neighbour (Eph4:25) and to avoid claims made in a spirit of anger.
We come to the crowning glory of the set of statues, Mercy, also the jewel of the crown of justice. The fact that mercy sits at the very top of this hierarchy is rich in implications for those who dispense justice. The baptised are to be the signs in the world that Justice and Mercy never oppose but presuppose each other. It is Mercy that tempers Justice and is what prevents it from mutating into crude revenge. It is mercy, as the book of Exodus reminds us, that draws our attention to the living person at the centre of our work of law, especially the most vulnerable persons in our society (Ex 23:3), and that in turn stops Justice from desiccating into a dry and lifeless procedure.
In the same way that the person of Jesus shows the face of God’s mercy, the Christian virtue of mercy is a sign that the justice which is dispensed by our courts is marked with the sign of our faith. Mercy is that quiet yet powerful proof of the Divine origins of the order that undergirds the upholding of the law. An order divinely blessed, as the Gospel reminds us, is what allows society to flourish like rich fruit-bearing trees (Lk 6:43). Finally, it is mercy that shows that, through the wise and just dispensation of the law, one is able to encounter the source of mercy, which is none other than Christ himself. Jesus Christ is in person the way of perfection (CCC1953). He is the end of the law, for only He teaches and bestows the Justice of God. As Saint Paul reminds us in the letter to the Romans, “Christ is the end of the law, that everyone who has faith may be justified.”
Those of us who are both among the baptised and among those who are charged with safeguarding the common good and protecting society by way of the law, have a vital trust, to embody wisdom, to pursue justice, and to bestow mercy. In taking up this charge we show ourselves to be the good fruit of the good tree.
May Christ, the supreme embodiment of wisdom, justice and mercy, bestow his blessings upon your labours, and may your good work help build a just and merciful society which safeguards and upholds the dignity of the human person at every stage of life.
This Homily was given by the The Most Rev Anthony Randazzo at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 2 February 2017.