Tag Archives: need

June 10: Justice VI: Justice, Gratitude and Religion

samaritanwoman

Abbey of Saint Maurice, Switzerland.

We have not yet talked about justice expressed toward God, but we need to. It is of crucial importance. The Catechism’s definition of justice mentions God as the principal recipient of our justice. Why should that be so? God does not need anything from us! Isn’t justice about responding to need?

Yes, justice is about responding to need, and about paying our debts. But justice is not primarily a virtue by which we learn to add up the numbers and pay the bill. On a more fundamental level, justice is the virtue by which we become increasingly sensitive to our indebtedness. The distinction is subtle, but important. There can be a grudging quality that goes with paying a bill, as we know when we see our hard-earned money vanishing so quickly.

But, a grudge does not belong in the virtue of justice as it relates to God. In being sensitive to indebtedness, we realize how much we have been given by God. In him we have received something far beyond what we have strictly deserved – the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field, the very kingdom of heaven, as Jesus expresses it.

Even if we do not acknowledge God as our loving Father, and the creator of the universe, it is hard to avoid admitting that we have been given gifts in our lifetime that are of vital importance to us, that have helped us to become ourselves. This gives us a recognition, simply put, that someone has loved us, and has shown it, and our life has changed for the better because of it. When that Someone is acknowledged as God, then we need a way that allows us to make some sort of response. Tomorrow, we shall reflect on this.

SJC

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June 8. Justice IV: Justice and Debt

aquinas-carlo_crivelli_007 

The virtue of justice is particularly sensitive to all forms of indebtedness, not merely monetary. ‘The just deed,’ says St. Thomas with admirable succinctness, ‘is the deed that is adjusted to or commensurate with the other’ (S.T., II.II, Q. 57:3). For example, a parent feeds baby-food to her three-month-old baby because that is what the baby needs. The rest of the family receives normal food. An employer in a large company normally would not expect the daily cleaners to be doing executive work. Justice apportions expectations, services, and wages according to the needs, services, and abilities of the other.

Justice, therefore, does not mean that everyone is treated in the same way. Rather, it is the role of justice to see that people are treated differently when they are different, when they have different needs, and exist in differing situations. The equality with which justice is concerned involves ensuring that what is done for another or given to another is duly proportionate to that person in his or her situation of need.

At the same time, when people are existing in identical situations, then it is the role of justice to ensure that their treatment is identical. Two people performing the same job in the same company should be paid the same wage, regardless of the colour of their skin, their country of origin and so on. ‘Justice’, says Thomas Aquinas, ‘is the perpetual and constant will to render each one his right. A man is said to be just because he respects the rights of others’ (S.T. II.II. Q58:1).

SJC

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20 January: Inter-galactic Discoveries, XXI.

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31 October: ‘…when you have a party, invite the poor…’

shared-meal-assisi

(Sculptures in Assisi, near Domus Pacis)

 

‘…when you have a party, invite the poor…’

Lk 14:12-14

I work as a volunteer in a community centre that provides food for homeless people.  Working in the Centre has exposed me to meeting different people with different needs. Some just need someone to notice they exist, some just want to be left alone, while others would like to chat.  One particular client created a deep impression on me.  He was man of middle age.  Looking at his face and disposition, I wondered what made him always happy and smiling. It was obvious he could not boast even of basic necessities of life – food, clothing and shelter.  One day, I summoned courage to ask him why he was on the streets.  This was his response: “you know sister, as an ex-convict it is difficult to find a job” but he told me he was determined to stay ‘clean’. His response made me admire his courage and wish I could do more to help him. There is this tendency of mine to write myself and others off because of one mistake or other, but everyone given the chance is capable of changing from bad to good decisions.  I thank that man and others at the centre for helping me “learn to love without condition. Talk without bad intention, and most of all care for people without any expectation” (The Essence of Life).

FMSL

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24 October: Mammon, money, need and greed.

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God’s greatest rival: the religion of Mammon.  “You cannot serve God and money,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13).  This is because money has the capacity to touch the very depths of our soul.  How can it do that?  It has no poetry!  There are no poems about money: I can’t think of a single example.  It could be that it only takes over souls that have no capacity for poetry.  “If you want to see what God thinks of money,” someone said, “look at the people he gives it to.”  In itself it is not an interesting subject.  It is need and greed that lend it interest.  It is, above all, a promise: that essential of any religion.

Its promises, however, are always just for oneself (or one’s family: one’s larger self).  Listen to the advertisers.  The underlying creed is that life has nothing to offer but what can be purchased or won, and that there is nothing either good or bad beyond that.  All others are either partners or competitors: people who can help or hinder you in your search for more of the same.

I am thinking, of course, of pure devotees.  Many, as in every religion, are not true believers, or have mixed motives.  There are wealthy people who have a real care for the half of the world that is malnourished.  But there are others, like the rich man in the parable, who don’t even notice Lazarus at their door, and who are therefore able to step over him without malice, keeping their own self-esteem intact.  And there are others again who notice Lazarus but keep their self-esteem by throwing him a few scraps.

The religion of Mammon is a destructive cult.  It not only destroys the poor by enriching its devotees at their expense, but it destroys the devotees themselves.  They are creating “a great chasm” between themselves and the rest of humanity, so that “those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”

Which characters does the story ask us to identify ourselves with?  The rich man, Dives?  In fact he is given no name in the gospels: ‘dives’ is just the Latin word for ‘a rich man’; the rich man has no identity except his wealth.  No, we are not being asked to see ourselves as Dives.  Lazarus, then?  No, neither is it telling us to lie down at the rich man’s door like Lazarus.

The parable is telling us that we are the rich man’s five brothers.  We have Moses and the prophets  – but above all we have Jesus  –  to tell us to live by a different religion, a subversive religion that “casts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the lowly, that fills the hungry with good things but sends the rich away empty.”  We are not told whether the five brothers changed their lives around.  Why?  Because we are the five brothers, and the story isn’t over yet.

AMcC

By Meister des Codex Aureus Epternacensis

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