Hip deep in canon law

One of my areas of service to the Church in Canada is as chairman of the standing committee for canon law of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. This is now my second three-year mandate on the committee, following a first mandate in which we managed to produce new bylaws for the conference (the last ones hadn't been updated since 1984). Now, we have a new project: to update all the Procedural Norms for the conference.

I know, I know, this may all sound very boring. But I believe in the importance of doing boring things well, especially if they are key parts of an overall system. A few years ago there was a big recall of GM cars which, it was found, could easily switch off if (get this) there were too many other keys on the keychain holding the main car key. It turned out that the reason for this was a faulty part called a detent plunger (basically, a small pin held in place by a spring). Later, newer ignition switches had detent plungers which were 12.2 mm long, while the older, faulty ones were only 10.6 mm long.

Those 1.6 mm are not a lot -- about the thickness of a quarter. And yet, because of this problem, dozens of people lost their lives when they lost control of their cars after something as simple as hitting a bump in the road.

Now here's the thing: at some point some engineer somewhere was given the job of designing that detent plunger. It's not exactly the most interesting part of a car -- people doing years of engineering school at university want to work on the engine, not a pin and spring not even half an inch long. But people lost their lives (and GM hundreds of millions of dollars) because some more "boring" part of the car wasn't handled properly.

The Church is like that. Just like the engine is the real heart of the car, the real work of making the Church "go" is rooted in the preaching of the word and the celebration of the sacraments. But sometimes, there are seemingly little pieces that, if neglected, cause big problems down the road. I doubt it's from malice, just as designing a pin a bit too short wasn't probably from malice either. But it needs to be addressed -- even if it is boring.

The good news, of course, is that I don't, in fact, find canon law discussion of bylaws and procedural norms boring -- far from it. And I see their importance. Please pray for the members of our canon law committee, that we may serve the Church and help keep her running well!