The Constitution and the Casebook: A Reflection by Joey Spadoni

This is the United States Constitution (holds up Constitution booklet to the camera). It is quite small. It is quite broad. It is quite general. It is a beautifully concise set of principles that we use to guide ourselves towards a good life. 

This is a United States Constitutional Law casebook (holds up casebook to the camera). It is quite big. It is quite detailed. It is quite specific. It is a horrifyingly long-winded set of judicial opinions that we use to explain, expand, explore, explode, and explicate our once beautifully concise Constitution, but one could argue that it does not help guide us towards a good life. 

This is an example of over-intellectualization. The Founding Fathers gave us this (holds us Constitution), and we turned it into this (holds up casebook), all thanks to our prodigious, powerful, and prolific intellects. 

What were we told today by Jesus? “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Have we over intellectualized this too? 

Poetry, a novella, a photograph, a painting, a kiss, a dance, a song . . . these are all examples of complicated and universal emotions, feelings, and ideas succinctly summarized into small souvenirs. Maybe that’s why we love them so much. Maybe it is because they are so manageable, so pocketable, just tiny glimpses of transcendental truths that we can take with us on the journey of life. 

So, I ask again, do you think we have a tendency to over intellectualize our faith? I do. I have so many questions, so many confusions. “Jesus said this, but then this other thing happened, so what does that mean?” Or “the Church did these, but what about those?” Or “are this and that even compatible?” 

We all want answers; we all want to know the truth. But sometimes this quest for confirmation and clarity can cause confusion, chaos, and even calamity; this quest tends to transform a constitution into a casebook. 

So let’s try something else. Let’s stay simple, let’s focus on the essence, the core, the nexus of truth. Jesus told us: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22: 37, 39. Love God and love one another. Love God, love others. . . . Love

Maybe that’s the truth, maybe that’s the key. But can that be enough for us? Can something so simple, so basic, waylay our anxieties and worries about falling short of God’s aspirations for us? I do not know. I am not the first person to highlight Jesus’ message of love, and I most certainly will not be the last. 

The Constitution left unanswered a multitude of questions, and we have tried to answer them over the last 200-some-odd years. There may be those who would therefore point to Jesus’ edict of Love and claim that it too has left unanswered a multitude of questions, and that our 2000-some-odd years of answering those questions have been necessary and good. To that, I would say this: I support the Church, the catechism, the centuries of scholarly work, the writings of the saints, the teachings of the Cardinals, and the Magisterium; in short, I endorse the law. But I wonder, what is my role in all of that? 

Fr. Jacques Philippe wrote in his wonderfully light and simple book, Interior Freedom: “Taking our stand on the law leads to death, because pride, despair, legalism, calculation, and the rest kill love. Taking our stand on grace leads to life, because it enables love to grow, expand, and flourish. Grace is given freely, and this free giving is the only law under which love can exist.” 

Do we take our stand on the law or on grace? The law is important. The law is vital. But, is it by our own understanding, mastery, and adherence to the law that we warrant God’s love? We heard St. Paul today in our Second Reading say: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.” — Ephesians 2: 8-9. God’s grace has saved us. It is a gift. It is not from our works. 

Let’s respect the law, but let’s take our stand on grace, the grace God gives us freely because He loves us. There’s that word again . . . Love. So simple, so complete. 

And so I say, maybe Jesus gave us a constitution, not a casebook, a small, broad, general, beautifully concise principle that we could use to guide ourselves towards a good life. 

Love. 

Maybe He recited a poem, authored a novella, captured a photograph, created a painting, offered a kiss, performed a dance, and sang a song. 

Of Love. 

Maybe He succinctly summarized complicated and universal emotions, feelings, and ideas into a small souvenir, manageable and pocketable, a tiny glimpse of His transcendental truth that we could take with us on the journey of life. 

Love. 

We are all a family, all of us, Catholics, we’re connected, we’re part of something great, we’re part of something that God built. I believe that each of us has can have a personal relationship with Jesus, that we need a personal relationship with Jesus, that in the face of questions, we don’t seek answers, we seek Jesus; that amidst confusion, we don’t pursue truth, we pursue Jesus; that when we do not understand a teaching, or principle, or a tenant of our faith, we don’t leave the Church, we turn to Jesus and we say: “I trust You.” 

This is the United States Constitution (holds up Constitution booklet to the camera). This is a United States Constitutional Law casebook (holds up casebook to the camera). Just as we have developed the Constitution into a casebook, we can sometimes over intellectualize our faith. Let us respect the law, but let us take our stand on God’s grace. 

What were we told today by Jesus? “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” 

Let’s believe in Jesus, let’s love God, and let’s love one another. Simply put: let’s love . . . and let’s not over-intellectualize that.

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