Arts and Culture

Desiring Justice for All

Ninth in a series

As I started writing this column about justice, I wondered what was the last book or essay I read that has excited me and motivated me as much as Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Rejoice and Be Glad.” I am hoping that every Catholic takes time to read the Holy Father’s Exhortation. It contains marvelous insights into the nature of holiness.

I find especially challenging the section in which Pope Francis discusses the Beatitudes. Commenting on the beatitude: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled,” he writes the following:

“Hunger and thirst are intense experiences, since they involve basic needs and our instinct for survival. There are those who desire justice and yearn for righteousness with similar intensity. Jesus says that they will be satisfied for sooner or later justice will come. We can cooperate to make that possible, even if we may not always see the fruit of our efforts.

“Jesus offers a justice other than that of the world, so often marred by petty interests and manipulated in various ways. Experience shows how easy it is to become mired in corruption ensnared in the daily politics of quid pro quo, where everything becomes business. How many people suffer injustice, standing by powerlessly while others divvy up the good things of this life. Some give up fighting for real justice and opt to following the train of the winners. This has nothing to do with the hunger and thirst for justice that Jesus praises.

“True justice comes about in people’s lives when they themselves are just in their decisions.”

I am struck by Pope Francis’ comment that hunger and thirst are “intense experiences.” Frequently when I am going to a restaurant with relatives or friends on the way to the restaurant someone will say “I am starving.” I imagine all of us have had the experience of a strong hunger. This past summer, I had a rare experience of thirst. My guess is that I was nearly dehydrated and did not realize it until I sat down to supper. Before I began to eat, I drank four glasses of cold water. I had not realized how thirsty I was until I tasted the water, which seemed to me to be really delicious. Can I have that kind of hunger and thirst for justice?

Often I feel that there is little that I can do. An injustice can seem so overwhelming that I feel incapable of doing anything. I did an action against injustice a few months ago, during the time that our country’s immigration policy of separating immigrant children from their parents was receiving great deal of coverage in the press. To me, this was so obviously immoral that, at the encouragement of Catholic friends, I decided to say something about the policy from the pulpit at a Sunday Eucharist. The following is the gist of what I said:

“I feel the Holy Spirit is moving me to speak. Right now about two thousand immigrant children have been separated from their parents at the border of Mexico. This practice has been condemned by the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, by Cardinal Dolan and by Cardinal Tobin of Newark. I have always been careful not to speak about politics from this pulpit but this is not politics. This is morality. I cannot understand how anyone thinks that separating children from their parents is a good idea. This policy is a disgrace.”

Some parishioners, but not all, applauded. I believe what I said was correct and proper. A few days later, Pope Francis condemned the policy. Some parishioners spoke to the pastor and said they thought my homily was too political. I wish they had spoken to me so that could have made more clear that what I was speaking about was not politics but morality.

The Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ, has stressed that there is an enormous amount of injustice in the world. He is not going to allow Catholics to blind themselves from seeing that injustice. Perhaps we can do little. However I am going to try not to excuse myself too quickly and too easily from opposing injustice wherever I find it. No one can do everything, but I believe that everyone can do something.


Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his 24-part lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.

 

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