Catholic Herald staff
“Okay Jesus, whatever is gonna happen – I give it to you.”
Fr. Adam Laski’s peaceful disposition towards the possibility of being asked to study canon law was not immediate. After three years ministering in the Superior area, he felt he had just hit that “sweet spot,” and it was “really hard to think about saying goodbye.”
He revealed his anxiousness after Fr. Jim Tobolski, judicial vicar for the diocese, requested a meeting. Fr. Laski’s spiritual director had encouraged him to meditate on the wedding feast at Cana, Mary’s honest and simple way of making her concern known to Jesus and the miracle brought about by her faith.
His moment of surrender came while praying the luminous mysteries on his way to meet with Fr. Tobolski. By the time he arrived at the chancery, Fr. Laski had arrived at the peaceful conclusion “that I was exactly where I should be.”
When studying canon law was proposed on behalf of the bishop, Fr. Laski accepted the opportunity and saw going to St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Ontario, as an adventure.
Fr. Laski had considered being a lawyer in high school, liking the idea of figuring out the best practical argument for something. Such was his interest that he chose a patron of lawyers, St. Alphonsus Ligouri, as his confirmation saint.
Fr. Laski’s response to this recent calling echoes the pattern of his own priestly discernment.
“A vocation is the call of God to the soul – an encounter with God in the heart and recognition of his call to do something,” he said, “where ‘here I am’ is having the courage to respond.”
He explains his own vocation as a process of conversion, a personal understanding that God matters and an “openness to potential.”
Experiences during his high school years had stirred up restlessness in the young man’s heart and matured his own relationship with God.
In November of 2004, his dad, Allan Laski, 43, was one of six persons killed in a hunting dispute.
When he knew for certain his father was dead, then 16-year-old Laski felt prompted to pray, “God, if you’re real, you have to help me.”
This admission that he needed God to sort it out – knowing he didn’t have the least idea of how to deal with the weight of his loss – meant his father’s death was a turning point for Laski.
“The weight of two potentials was really raw in front of me,” he admitted.
“I could either hate God right now, or cling to him,” he said, noting the intense clarity to the choice before him and its lifelong consequences. “I could blame God for this, and I would probably have a good reason,” Fr. Laski shared. “Or I can choose to just be with him and let him love me.”
Looking back he sees how much of his prayer life came from reflecting on how God provided for him when he was on the edge of despair.
When it came to his vocational discernment, Fr. Laski acknowledges his disposition was a grace.
While grateful for the virtuous dating relationship he was in, he knew deep down it wasn’t enough.
“I don’t know what you want from me, but I want to want what you want,” he told the Lord.
Following Mary’s example, his desire was to say, “Jesus whatever it is, I want what you want.”
Frequent conversations, and many pots of coffee, with then-vocations director Fr. Andrew Ricci helped to verify that what young Laski experienced in his relationship with Jesus “was not a load of hooey … quite the contrary, the fact that it was an invitation made it disarming.”
Laski entered college seminary, “And the Lord never told me to leave.”
This consideration of the dignity of Christian freedom is the backdrop for Fr. Laski’s study of canon law. “God knows that his law is love and love is freedom,” ultimately leading to joy.
“Part of what I think is so beautiful is that the Lord’s grace is at work, and we can trust the patterns in so far as our heart is aligned to Christ,” he said. “Our conscience is that aboriginal vicar of Christ to the soul it is also the Lord’s work in our hearts.”
Fr. Laski admitted how difficult it is to put the Code of Canon Law – its history and development – into a neat summary.
“Try to describe in law the entire life of the Catholic Church throughout the world and what instruments it would need to exist solely as an institution apart from a civil society, and that is what is in canon law,” he stated as his best attempt.
The current code that was the primary subject of his studies – in a class where 95 percent of his classmates were other international, English-speaking priests and religious – was the 1983 code approved and promulgated by St. Pope John Paul II, with its subsequent edits and additions.
To illustrate with an example, Fr. Laski used that of the church in Poland, “trying to exist in the political and religious vacuum left by Communism, then you need your own law” to govern its functioning.
He added that it is more foundational than upholding separation of church and state. Where there are both canonical and civil law on a topic – and the civil law is in line with the Divine law – you “may canonize civil law.”
Alternately, Fr. Laski stated the church “generally tries to respect civil law – unless it’s morally repugnant to us and requires acting against our conscience, it is not binding.”
Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, “An unjust law is no law at all.”
Explaining the rights and obligations of the Christian faithful to approach the sacraments, Fr. Laski sought the right words.
Christian worship is a reception of God’s gifts and a response of the church as Christ’s spouse. As such, civil laws protecting religious freedom are necessary.
However, he acknowledged a bishop’s right as particular legislator in his own diocese to make interpretations and prudential judgment calls considering the good of the faithful, as has been enacted throughout the current pandemic.
During a pandemic has not been deemed a legitimate time to approach the sacraments, considering the benefit of all. That said, Fr. Laski also clarified the bishop’s duty to rebuke impositions if they became governmental prohibitions.
“This is an arm wrestling that happens in nations all throughout the world and has happened in history throughout the world,” he confirmed.
Fr. Laski graduated with his canon law degree this summer. Even though it has only been a few months that Fr. Laski has been applying his studies for the diocese, because of the overarching nature of canon law, he has already dealt with everything from financial questions to marriage law, pastoral questions and sacramental clarifications.
He said with a laugh that he realizes often he is simply “a cog in a procedure or process that benefitted somebody.”
The two years Fr. Laski lived in Ottawa with its European urban feel and international culture as Canada’s national capitol exposed him to a lot of history. He saw aspects of the Canadian Catholic Church that were very vibrant and others that revealed calcifications in need of renewal.
Although he thought he would be learning French, as Ottawa is a completely bilingual city, the parish where Fr. Laski became most connected and where he lived during his second year happened to be a Spanish-speaking parish.
“Languages has always been a place of delight for me,” the priest affirmed. He enjoys language as a creative space and feels blessed to be using and practicing his Spanish in the Rice Lake area.
Fr. Laski also appreciates being back “in the mix” of parish life and having a community to love and serve. He admits the challenge of bifurcating between his canon law days and parish days, of the time it takes to learn new names.
At the same time, serving in the parish and area he grew up in, it is “endearing and encouraging” to know they still consider him their “seminarian Adam Laski” and have been praying for him ever since that stage.
He has a clear sense of the fruitfulness of those prayers for vocations, aware that as he was discerning the seminary, the adoration chapel in Dobie was starting.
“Where does the fruitfulness come for a vocation or any ministry in the church?” he asked and answered his own question. “You get on your knees, you make the Mass the center of your existence, and prayer will give it the spirit.”