The relationship that binds all others in love is the key to justice and peace in our world
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
“Do justice for the weak and the orphan; give justice to the poor and afflicted.” (Psalm 82:3)
There are so many cries today for justice and so many calls to support programs and political causes for obtaining it. While some causes are successful, others bear little or no fruit; some even sanction violence in their supposed pursuit of justice. So what is justice and how do we best obtain it?
As a people of faith, we should know that justice is not a program or a cause, but a person — Christ Jesus. For Jesus is the living fulfillment of justice, and His saints are the extension of His justice and peace in the world. For this reason, St. John Paul II stressed that “The world does not need more social reformers — it needs saints.”
The blueprint for true justice has long existed, but in today’s society it has practically been outlawed — the Ten Commandments. Far from a list of “shall” and “shall not” commandments, the moral life expressed in these “Ten Words” represents our essential response to the experience of God’s love and mercy. And they also help to safeguard the image of God in each person and the collective good of the human community.
Justice, as defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is the giving of one’s due to both God and to neighbor. In the Ten Commandments, we find the unity of our religious and social life — in the vertical dimension of giving our due to God and in the horizontal dimension of the giving of our due to neighbor.
They are the essential roadmap if we are to accept the invitation of Jesus — “Come, follow me.” (Mt 19:21)
It is an error to separate God from neighbor in seeking justice, and even worse to oppose one to the other. Why is this? Very simply, our first and most important relationship is our communion with God, who is the source of our communion with each and every person. If our relationship with God is not in order, then all our other relationships are injured. The closer we grow to God, the closer we grow to our neighbor.
While it is a simple and imperfect image, think of the rays of the sun. The further the rays are from its source of light and heat, the weaker and further apart they grow. But the closer a ray approaches the sun, the greater its intensity and the closer it grows to the other rays.
When we truly give our due to our neighbor, we are not only giving witness to the divine image in them, we are also giving them the fruit of our communion with God. This is why Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says that we always give too little when we give only material things — “He who does not give God gives too little.” This is why Pope Francis emphasizes that to be the face of mercy, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
While space does not permit but the briefest examination of the commandments, the Church has long recommended the venerable practice of making a daily examination of conscience using them. For the commandments are the “corrective lens” that helps us to see with greater clarity our true self in relation to God our Creator and our neighbor, and to love as God loves us.
In the first three commandments, we are called to love God above all else “with all our heart, soul and mind” (Dt 6:5), to keep holy His name, and to observe the Lord’s Day. Their highest expression is found in the faithful celebration of the Mass where Christ’s self-offering on the cross becomes the Church’s offering — our offering to God — in adoration and thanksgiving. But the Mass does not end when we leave church each week — it must be lived and guided by the remaining seven commandments.
The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Commandments — to honor one’s parents, to not murder, and to not commit adultery — form the basis of social living. Each of us, as an image of God, is called to be a selfless gift of love and our talents to others. This gift is first nurtured in the family, the smallest cell of society. As a sanctuary of life and love, the family’s first responsibility, as it should be with those we elect to public office, is to safeguard and protect the lives of those we are entrusted with, as expressed in the Fifth Commandment. In the Sixth Commandment, we are reminded that what harms marriage and family, harms society. Adultery, like idolatry, represents the antithesis of our call to love as God loves.
The Seventh Commandment, to not steal, forms the essential basis for society’s dignity and finds expression in the little understood principle of subsidiarity. Very simply, subsidiarity is the principle of social dignity — the dignity of a community of people. This principle encourages us to go beyond the prohibition of material theft to the higher plain that forbids us from robbing the dignity of others in our social relationships —it protects a smaller community of people against micromanagement, as well as from neglect, by a higher community. This principle particularly applies to discussions of what constitutes an appropriate (versus an excessive or insufficient) level of government involvement in our family and society. This is why the Church has always condemned socialism and communism as a violation of the dignity of a community of people.
In the remaining three commandments, against bearing false witness and not coveting our neighbor’s wife or goods, we are reminded that we all share a common journey in life that must be walked in God’s truth. God is the source of all truth, and He calls us to live this truth in solidarity with each other and to not exploit others, especially the poorest and most vulnerable among us, but to instead build relationships of interdependence and equality. We must strive to share not only our material goods, but more importantly our spiritual gifts. As Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church expresses beautifully, “The common good will always be incomplete if it considers earthly life exclusively, while the highest good — life in Christ — is ignored.”
We are all called to help each other to get to heaven, our true home, and the commandments represent the path of life, which we are to walk in Christ. With Jesus, our efforts bear fruit, but apart from Him we can do nothing. (cf Jn 15:5) Know of my prayers for all of you as you endeavor to be the leaven of justice and peace in the world!