At some point, because of the division of the study of the Constitution into two courses, most law students would come to realize that government is “structure” and “process”. The course on Structure of Government would revolve, for the most part, on the principle of “separation of powers”: many of the cases studied would involve “encroachments” by the three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) on each other’s turfs. The other constitutional law course would focus on the Bill of Rights (limitations on what government can do vis-a-vis the private individual), the paramount principle of which is the requirement of “due process”, understood as having a “substantive” as well as “procedural” aspect. The substantive aspect of Due Process may be reduced into “reasonableness” (laws must be reasonable) and its procedural aspect into the idea of “fair play”.
A corollary insight is that government is “institution” in the sense of being an “entity” separate and distinct from the persons running it (both words derive from the Latin ens, “being”, i.e., something that exists). This implies that government (or the political leader as its representation) can only be as effective as the collective effort of the various functionaries will allow; and that, the larger the institution, the less tangible or quantifiable will be the contribution of the individual. It can be said, for instance, that the late President PNoy’s achievement, more than anything else, was to serve as symbol and inspiration for earnestness and decency in government, as against a culture of corruption associated with traditional politics.
But, yes, government power must be exercised within the parameters fixed by the Constitution and laws—by the legal system—so much like human freedom in general, which should be exercised within the limits of morality, of which the Natural Moral Law is the objective basis, and the individual’s Conscience the subjective measure. To be morally good, our acts should conform with the norms of the natural moral law as well as with the judgment of one’s right conscience. Indeed, human freedom is not absolute.
Saint Pope John Paul II explains that the original sin of Adam and Eve was a refusal to accept the existence of objective norms, or an assertion of “freedom” to define right and wrong:
“In the book of Genesis we read: ‘The Lord God commanded man, saying, “You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die”‘ (Gn 2:16-17)….With this imagery, Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone. The man is certainly free, inasmuch as he can understand and accept God’s commands. And he possesses an extremely far-reaching freedom, since he can eat ‘of every tree of the garden.’ But his freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’, for it is called to accept the moral law given by God. In fact, human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfilment precisely in the acceptance of that law. God, who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love proposes this good to man in the commandments….God’s law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom; rather, it protects and promotes that freedom. In contrast, however, some present-day cultural tendencies have given rise to several currents of thought in ethics which centre upon an alleged conflict between freedom and law. These doctrines would grant to individuals or social groups the right to determine what is good or evil. Human freedom would thus be able to ‘create values’ and would enjoy a primacy over truth, to the point that truth itself would be considered a creation of freedom. Freedom would thus lay claim to a moral autonomy which would actually amount to an absolute sovereignty.” (Veritatis Splendor, No. 35; italics in the original)
Today, June 26, is the feastday of Saint Josemaría Escrivá, priest and founder of Opus Dei. The Opening Prayer of the Memorial Mass is succinct: “O God, who raised your priest Saint Josemaría in the Church to proclaim the universal call to holiness and the apostolate, grant that by his intercession and example we may, through our daily work, be formed in the likeness of Jesus your Son and serve the work of redemption with burning love”.
The doctrine of “the universal call to holiness” holds that all persons are called to holiness (union with God, to become like Christ), based on the Gospel passage in which our Lord says to the crowd, “You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
Our human perfection means acting as we should (or at least wanting to), with our human freedom, according to the mind of God, our Creator; and so to serve and love God and be united with Him here and in eternity. Indeed, this freedom is man’s capacity to direct himself towards his end (union with God). While it carries the possibility of turning away from God, freedom is also our capacity to Love.
Saint Josemaría writes: “Interior life. We need it, if we are to answer the call that the Master has made to each and every one of us. We have to become saints, as they say in my part of the world, ‘down to the last whisker,’ Christians who are truly and genuinely such, the kind that could be canonised… And don’t forget that when God marks us out and gives us his grace to strive for sanctity in the everyday world, he also puts us under an obligation to do apostolate” (Friends of God, No. 5).
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, help us all to become more and more like our Lord Jesus Christ. (26.VI.2021)