Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Catholic and Social Justice

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,  and all the nations* will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous* will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’  And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25: 31-40

Social Justice.  Fewer words cause more controversy in the political and religious spheres.  I believe that the controversy stems from an utter lack of understanding in what the concept means.  For some, these words represent the corporate responsibility of peoples to utilize government to the public welfare.  For others, these words represent the guise that many who favor socialism or communism use as a way of the redistribution of wealth.  Still others who favor a socioeconomic Darwinism see this as the seizure of their goods to be given to those who are undeserving.  What does the Church actually teach about this?

We should start by answering the question as to what justice itself is.  The concept has taken on the meaning in our culture of a person getting what their actions deserve.  This is certainly the operative meaning in our criminal justice system.  The socioeconomic Darwinist would apply this definition in regards to society.  What does the Church say?  First, understand that 'justice' is one of the four Cardinal Virtues. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1807, it is stated, " Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor.Justice towards God is called the 'virtue of religion".  Justice towards men disposes one to resp[ect the rights of each and to establishing human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regards to persons and to the common good."

This is lived on two levels, not one.  First, as is seen in the Last Judgement Sequence, justice finds itself in what are commonly called the corporal works of mercy and, by extension,  the spiritual works of mercy as well.  In no teaching of Jesus does He command love or mercy only to the deserving, but commands love and mercy even to the undeserving, which He says is in imitation of the Father. (see Matthew 5: 43-48)  To see a need and simply do nothing is not an option in the Christian life.  In fact, it is a sin of omission. The onus, though, is on the individual first.  Many times, social justice warriors will concentrate their time and energy on institutions they perceive as unjust without looking towards their own injustices and lack of mercy.  Rallying for a government or business to be just is not a replacement for the person themselves exercising justice. 

To do so is the height of hypocrisy. It is tantamount to what we see in so many 'cause celebre' out there.  To give an example: the actor who on the one hand screams about global warming yet who owns multiple homes, cars, yachts, and such.  It smack of Gnosticism.  "I know the secret knowledge which exempts me from acting justly." We cannot demand corporate entities change or become just in lieu of my own action. Charity, as they say, begins at home.  Jesus' primary directive towards justice is aimed at the individual first.  This is why paying taxes does NOT absolve one of charity.

With this said, as Catholics, we do have a responsibility to be sure that the entities to which we belong reflect our own commitments to justice.  It is upon us to influence corporate entities to  be just and to use those entities to ensure the welfare of the populace.  Here, political and economic arguments can be made as to what system will best do this.  I am not going to tackle that here.  The Church herself favors no political or economic system; rather, she gives standards that should be used in seeing to the welfare of the citizens or workers of the various corporate entities.  The general guidelines point to a respect for the integrity and dignity of the human person; that the person is never reduced to a thing to be used and disposed with upon end of use.   These would include the sins that cry out to heaven: "There are particular mortal sins that are so evil that they are said to be sins that cry to heaven for vengeance: murder (Gn 4:10), sodomy (Gn 17:20-21), oppression of the poor (Ex 2:23), and defrauding workers of their just wages (Jas 5:4)." (taken from catholic answers website)

Social justice is an extension on the corporate level of the demands of justice on the personal level.  One is not the exclusion of the other.  We can quibble as to what is covered and what is not; where charity ends and enabling begins.  The point is, we can never absolve ourselves of the duties we have to be just, to care for those in need (deserving or not), and to be the face of the love and mercy of God.