The social justice teaching of the Catholic Church dates back to 1891 with Pope Leo XIII’s landmark encyclical, Rerum Novarum (“Of New Things”). There we learn that justice means that we act with integrity, honesty and truthfulness at all times and in all ways. Since then, the Church has continued to stress the responsibility of all people to work for justice and peace which includes care for the poor and vulnerable, and defends the life and dignity of every person from conception to natural death. Justice is at the heart of God’s plan for all humanity. We are told in Psalm 33 that “…God loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.” (Psalm 33:5) A simple way of understanding God’s love and justice is that we are to share with everyone what is due to her or him – each person’s rights. Another way to say it is that ALL are responsible for ALL.
This giving to others what is their due is understood in a story of God’s judgment told in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 25:31-46). This is the story of Jesus separating the sheep and goats from one another. The sheep are those good souls who ministered to the needs of others when they fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, gave clothing to the needy, visited or cared for the sick, visited the imprisoned. They seemed surprised when they were told that they had provided services for Jesus because they had provided services for their neighbor. When the goats learn that they are not saved they ask why. God tells them they did not take care of the needs of others. The goats didn’t recognize the presence of Jesus in their neighbor. How would you be judged? What is your motivation for the call to be just, to grow to wholeness or holiness to which God has called you?
Sometimes we don’t recognize the needs of those closest to us or others with whom we come in contact. We are often so caught up in our private worlds that we are blind to what is happening around us. This awareness of needs would be more easily recognized if we tried to be truly present to each other, to really listen to each other, and value each person for whom she or he is. Very simply, the lesson to be learned is that who we really are at our core, and what we have been given is to be shared with others. That sharing might well include food and clothing, but it also may include our time, talent and other kinds of resources. True justice means that each person is given what she or he needs to flourish. That might not always be the same for each person so we need to ask ourselves, What gifts do I have to make my here and now a better place for all with whom I come in contact?
Another aspect of justice is that we are to be in right relationships with all of God’s creation, treating every person, our surroundings and the whole of creation with care and concern. Justice includes our care for our environment.
How would you describe your mutual relationships with your family, friends, colleagues and the stranger?
When and how does justice have a role in your care of others and the environment?