Social Justice
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Social Justice

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Social Justice

 

In the last century, there have been numerous documents written in the Catholic Church about the social teachings of Jesus and the Gospels.  Even more conversations and programs about social justice have emerged, especially after the idea of social sin came into view in the 1970s or so. Social sin was the recognition that there were social structures in place that were even sinful, like unfair laws, unscrupulous businesses, oppressive countries, etc. Social sin would need to be confronted by social justice. Many main stream Protestant and Orthodox Christian churches have also been part of those conversations, but the Catholic Church leaves a nice, neat paper trail that is sometimes easier to follow. The social teachings did not begin with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum et Novarum in 1891, but it certainly was a catalyst for bringing the issue of social justice into the late nineteenth century, and then the main stream discussions for the 20th and 21st centuries. 

 

First and foremost, however, the social teachings are embedded in the Scriptures, in covenant language, within 8th century BCE prophetic language, and certainly in Jesus’ own words of the Gospels. In the ancient world, justice was viewed as the culmination of all the other virtues, and the just man, a goal of living. Care for one another is part of the covenant message found in Exodus (20:1-17), Deuteronomy, (10:19), Micah (6:8) and Matthew 5 –7 among others. Loving your neighbor as yourself, care for the widowed and orphaned, care for the stranger, certainly care for those on the margins in ancient societies, and fairness toward one another was and is required for the believers. That meant no falsifying weights and scales in 8th century BCE grain bartering, no carved ornate ivory beds from Salamas for the rich while the poor went homeless, no taking the poor’s coats as pledge and not giving them back when evening came along with freezing temperatures in the desert, etc. For some wonderful insights about social justice in that 8th century BCE, see Phil King’s archeological commentary and the Books of Amos, Micah and Hosea (1). The Book of Isaiah also harkens the voice of justice when he warns that oppression of weaker members of society offends the Lord’s holiness (1:10-17, 21-26; 3:13-15; 5:1-10, 20-23; 10:10-4). Isaiah tells us that the Lord is not so much interested in our burnt offerings or our festivals. Rather the Lord desires that we “cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (1:17). Jesus acknowledged that we would always have the poor with us (Matt 26:11), but time and time again, Jesus reached out to the widow and the outcast and the marginalized.


Here at Mystical Ventures, social justice concerns, charity toward the poor, enabling others, and seeking the just life ourselves are also a part of the rhythm of the seasons and the rhythm of life. Justice is about action. Even Aristotle, back in the 5th century BCE ih his Nicomechaen Ethics, wrote that virtues were not just theoretical, intellectual constructs, but had to be lived, had to be acted upon (2). William J. Bennett wrote a marvelous book a few years back, entitled: The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories (3). In it, he explored stories that could be used to teach children about virtues like: responsibility, courage, compassion, loyalty, honesty, friendship, perseverance, hard work, faith, and self-discipline.   We learn about the virtuous life by good role models, often by those who have gone before us.  In many cases, our parents are our best teachers. That is also one of the reasons why the Saints and Mystics play such a pivotal role in the Catholic Christian life. There is a beautiful litany of the saints that is used in the Holy Saturday liturgy in the Catholic Church, usually accompanying those who are about to be baptized. It is sung, asking all the saints, many of them by name, to pray for us: St. Michael, pray for us, Saint Agatha, pray for us, St. Peter, pray for us, St. Hippolytus, pray for us, Saints Cosmos and Damien, pray for us, St. Matthew, pray for us, and on and on and on, until it get to the lines: all you holy men and women, pray for us. It is a beautiful tribute and prayer that asks those who have gone before us to accompany us on our journey to the Lord.

 

Many of the saints and mystics were great lovers of justice, and took on unjust structures in their days. Catherine of Siena, a fourteenth century Dominican mystic who wrote beautifully about Christ being a bridge and a door where one meets God and this bridge having three stairs to mirror three spiritual stages, is the same Catherine who argued with the pope that he should go back to Rome and retake the papacy against the false popes of his day, and so volatile were her enemies that assassination attempts were made on her life.  Her motto and the motto that the Dominicans employ to this day was and is “contemplation in action”.  She wasn’t afraid to act toward justice.  Teresa of Avila, my all time favorite, was one strong woman, who took it upon herself not only to teach her sisters the ways of mystical prayer, but to reform the entire Carmelite order including the men’s order during the time of the Reformation. She, too, was all about restoring the just life.

 

At the very core of social justice concerns for the Christian is the conviction that each human being is made in the image and likeness of God. Commonly called Imago Dei in theological language, it is the driving force behind all social justice endeavors.  Each human being has intrinsic worth.  If one understands that, one can understand most papal statements and most Christian teachings about social justice. The Christian’s obligation toward his or her neighbor is two pronged: it is one of charity and one of justice.  Jesus has already told us we will always have the poor with us, and in many cases the poor will need our immediate help. But there is an old adage about how one can help a hungry man: “If you want to feed a man for a day, give him a fish; if you want to feed him for a lifetime, teach him how to fish.” Charity is giving the man the fish. Some needs require immediate assistance. Justice, however, is more about enabling…..teaching the man to fish.

 

MV.St.-VdePmainlogo7-300pxAt Mystical ventures, hopefully we are doing a bit of both. The pages on this website are teaching viewers and readers how to engage in organic gardening, in raising farm animals, in leading a more sustainable life as well as learning more about the Catholic Christian faith so that we all may be better equipped to carve out our own path of sustainability and faith. At the website, too, we will list several links where one may engage in more works toward charity and social justice endeavors as well. We will highlight one

MV.redcross-logoparticular agency or effort from time to time to which we may share our time, talents and treasures.   Agencies like the American Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services help people with immediate needs especially in times of disasters. Agencies like Catholic Charities, which gives more assistance to people in need than any other agency save the federal government, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which constantly tries to serve the poor, are a few that engage in the works of charity. There are countless others that enable people to make build a more just society.  Heifer International, Inc. for instance, helps families in need purchase farm animals that can change their lives. Oxfam American and Oxfam International are about the work of not only feeding the hungry, but teaching the people to fish….. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) is a national organization that provides seed money for co-ops to help the poor market their goods. Years ago, one such grant allowed the New England lobstermen to work together to keep the industry viable. CCHD came about during the Johnson administration in America.  President Johnson was trying to MV.Appalacia.logocreate programs that would break the cycles of poverty he kept seeing.  Generations were locked into poverty.  At the same time, the American Bishops thought they could help as well. So, they decided to ask for one of those famous “second collections” the weekend after Thanksgiving and that money would be the seed money for those in need.  It was not to be simple charity.  Recipients of grants had to show how they could become sustainable in three to five years.  And it worked.  Several groups were helped and still are every year though this one agency.
Changing social structures is sometimes more difficult, but MV will also highlight groups that seek to do that, like Doctors without Borders, Amnesty International, Genocide Watch, etc. Many college campuses are also engaged in works of social justice, sending volunteers to Appalachia or Habitat for Humanity, or interns to Agape, a community training non-violent lifestyles, and others. Many schools now engage in service learning efforts as well, often pairing students with agencies that are seeking to empower the poor and change some of those unjust structures.  

 

Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.

Kindness and truth shall meet;

                                   Justice and peace shall kiss.

                           Truth shall spring out of the earth,

                          And justice shall look down from heaven.      

Psalm 85

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