My name is Tom Sundaram, and I am currently in my third year of studies at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. I am about to finish my licentiate in canon law, and would love to go on to complete a doctorate as well. Before I tell you about why I chose to study in this field, I think it is important for me to explain a bit about what canon law is.
Canon law is the Church's internal system for providing justice in its day to day operation, which involves dealing with the sacraments especially. Since the Church is a massive international society, with massive and essential charitable commitments, and fundamentally has been given its mission by Jesus Christ Himself, this establishes bonds of justice that we have to satisfy. We, therefore, make laws in order to more accurately provide for what justice demands from us. This, of course, is conditioned by the fact that the Church's fundamental mission is a mission of charity; everything that we do is ultimately for the salus animarum (the care of souls).
I became interested in canon law during a year in which I was discerning religious life as a Dominican friar. I had already completed two Masters' degrees in the United States, one in philosophy and the other in theology. With degrees in these fields, you are often destined to do something academic, and many are called to that, but I knew that I wanted a job in which I could work more directly with the Church, using the gifts that God has given me, and I saw during that year that canon law was a field in which I could use these gifts. After leaving the seminary, I realized that I still wanted to follow God's call to work in canon law as a lay person, and before I knew it I was on a plane headed from California to Rome to study at Santa Croce.
My experience at this university has been truly amazing. In my personal opinion, Santa Croce is the best school for pursuing a degree in canon law. I like how the school takes care of its students, even through helping them to find work while they pursue their degrees. I like that the school is very careful to instill principles when it comes to canon law. Here it isn't simply a matter of memorizing dusty tomes - though we do that too! - but, rather, the whole institutional mission of Santa Croce reflects itself in the way the professors and the students relate to each other. The studies are very well systematized, in such a way that you are sure that you have all of your core principles memorized before you start getting into the specifics. Everything is imbued with the understanding that what we do here in the canon law program, we do for the sake of procuring justice for people in the Church. When we go back to our respective countries and work in our tribunals, universities and seminaries, we will take Santa Croce's values with us.
This is important in canon law, because you are always reminded that what you do you are not doing for your own aggrandizement, nor just to be an expert in canon law, but rather, that we must leave this school with the motivation and desire to procure what is just for the people God will send us. That is the mission of canon lawyers. The law that we seek to pursue is the law that is spoken of in the Scriptures, which is something we ought to love, and this is what we ought to desire to fulfill with our whole lives, even to the point of whatever way God demands from us in terms of sainthood. I truly believe that working as a canon lawyer is a vocation, in the sense that it demands things of you, from your life; you must simultaneously be an academic and a caregiver, and we must do it for love.