Sunday, October 11, 2020

What is Justice?

Homily for the 27th Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle A  -- October 4, 2020
Broomtree Retreat Center, Irene, South Dakota

 In our second reading (Philippians 4: 6-9), St. Paul writes: “Have no anxiety at all.”  Yet today there is so much anxiety in our world.  It accompanies Covid, the election, the state of our nation, and the state of the world.  How can we not be anxious!?

Paul goes on to tell us how.  He writes: “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then that peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ.” 

When anxious and negative thoughts come our way, Paul says we should pray.  We should petition God and bring to mind those things for which we are thankful.  In other words, we are to replace the negative with the positive.

Elsewhere (2 Corinthians 10: 5), Paul tells us to bring every thought captive to Christ. 

Today, in our reading from Philippians, Paul writes: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  In other words, fill your mind with good things.  Not T.V., not 24/7 news, not blogs and social media, but things that are “worthy of praise.” 

And the most “true,” most “honorable,” most “just,” most “pure,” most “lovely,” most “gracious,” most “excellent,” and most “worthy of praise,” – what, or rather Who, is that?  God. Fill your mind with Godly things.  Replace the things that make you anxious with what draws you closer to God.  This is not escapism.  God is the goal and end of our lives and we want nothing to draw us away from God.  In a world filled with injustices, God is the most “just.”  God’s way is the way of justice.

In many of the recent demonstrations you can see signs that read: “No Justice, No Peace.”  At times those words seem like a threat.  Yet they are true.

There is a similar phrase that over the years appeared frequently on signs and in brochures and on bumper stickers.  It comes from Pope St. Paul VI: “If you want peace, work for justice.” 

Some years ago I was preaching about this.  My congregation was a group of Jesuit scholastics (seminarians).  After quoting Pope Paul, I asked: “And if you want justice, work for …?”  They were befuddled.  One offered a circular answer, “Peace!”  “No,” I said, “if you want justice then you have to work for faith.”  I reminded them that our 32nd General Congregation in 1975 declared that the Jesuit mission today is “the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement.” 

What is “justice?”  Justice is defined as giving to others what is their due.  Given human dignity, what is due to others?  First of all life, the most basic right of every human being.  What follows from this, then, is all that sustains life: food, shelter, health care, protection from violence.  These are basic human rights.  They are required by justice. 

The Church has taught that with rights come responsibilities.  We have a responsibility to care for our own life and the lives of others.  We are required to give to others what is their due, what human dignity demands. 

But what is the ground, the basis, the foundation for this responsibility to act justly, to give to others their due?  What is the basis for justice?

Giving God His due.  And what is God’s due?  What do we owe God?


Our first reading (Isaiah 5: 1-7) speaks of Israel, God’s People, as a vineyard that belongs to God.  In the gospel (Matthew 21: 33-43), Jesus tells a parable that picks up on the theme of God’s People as a vineyard.  He promises a New Israel, the kingdom of God to which all people are invited. 

No human being is his or her own creation.  There is no self-made person.  Our life and the health and talents that have allowed us to continue in existence and to acquire all that we possess—these are not our own.  They are gifts from God to whom we owe everything. 

There is no peace without justice, and there is no justice without God.  We cannot create a more just world on our own.  Justice, without the most basic justice of giving God what is due to the Creator, has no foundation.  Such justice is incomplete and is built on sand. 

Those who signed our nation’s Declaration of Independence understood this.  They wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights….”  The Declaration of Independence is actually a declaration of dependence: dependence on God who “created” humanity and “endowed” it with its rights. We are creatures who are given dignity and rights. 

Without the Creator there is absolutely no basis for human dignity and rights.  Without the Creator, the basis for justice is power.  Justice becomes a matter of  “might makes right.”  Popular opinion determines what is just or unjust.

The challenge is to see and to treat others justly.  That means seeing the human dignity of all people and giving them that which is their due.  It means seeing others as made in the image and likeness of God.  For the Christian, it means seeing others as precious because Jesus shed His Precious Blood for them.  Even those who hate us or whom we consider our enemies.

This is so important to Jesus that He sends His own Mother from time to time to tell us to pray.  At Lourdes and Fatima and Champion, Wisconsin, Mary appeared with a message of peace.  She called on us to pray for the conversion of sinners, including ourselves.  Only when the world is converted, when God and the children of God, our brothers and sisters in the human race, are given what is due to them, only then will there be peace. 

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