Unit V Proclaiming justice and mercy Introduction
Pope Paul VI said that "action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world" is a "constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel" (Synod on Justice, 1971, # 6). Doing justice is essential for the gospel to take root and to set humanity free. Justice is a key virtue for an ordered society. It regulates the distribution of goods. It reckons the healing of the social order when it has been jeopardized by criminal offences. It measures what is owed to each. It is the essential social virtue. Without it no human society can live well.
Chapter 13 examines mainly distributive justice. Distributive justice explores how a society can value each one equally with an unequal distribution of its wealth. What makes such an unequal distribution of wealth ethical or moral? Philosophers and politicians struggle with this issue constantly. Justice is a foundational virtue for life together. In the Bible justice is fundamental to our covenant with God. The Sermon on the Mount insists on relationships based on love - even love of enemies - yet it does not relegate justice to a lower order. The law of love is incomprehensible without a clear sense of justice. Love presupposes justice and rests on it. Love and justice meet in the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Matthew 7.12)
Today we speak of ecological justice - the earth and its well-being are owed their due. The devastating effect of chemical technology, for example, on plant life and insect and birds have revealed the vulnerability of the ecosystem and made imperative a new sensitivity to human life within the whole cosmic evolution. Chapter 14 examines this new area of justice.
Any reflection on ethics and morality must deal with the disorder that humans create. Within the religious tradition of Judeo-Christianity this disorder is understood as a breach of relationship between God and humanity. It is called sin. Chapter 15 is an examination of sin, both personal and social. At the same time, the chapter focuses on the promise of pardon, reconciliation and forgiveness. Can what we do ever be undone? Must we forever remain a prisoner of our own past? The Christian hope in the resurrection proclaims pardon and reconciliation. It remembers how after his death Jesus appeared to his followers and offered them peace: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven." (John 20.23) Do we not pray in the Our Father: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us"? Reconciliation and forgiveness are the great gifts of the resurrection.
Chapter 13 “I the Lord justice” (Isaiah 61.8) For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly and if a poor person in dirt clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?
Letter of James 2.2-5
Focus your learning
Cognitive; Identify the key principles of Christian justice.
Practical; Explain the relationship between justice and love as reflected in our faith tradition.
Affective; Become familiar with stories of people who live justly.
Key terms in this chapter
common good; economics; Golden Rule; justice: commutative; legal; distributive; private property; righteous; solidarity
Smell the kingdom At 32, Barbara lived in a wonderful world. Her husband was loving, her children healthy, her home happy. Rarely did a dark thought cross her optimistic mind. It was a friend who first invited Barbara to volunteer at the soup kitchen. The invitation was added to many others she received these days... the garden club, the parent group at school, the Cancer Society and, it seemed, a hundred others. One bright morning in early December off she drove in her new Taurus to work a few hours preparing and serving a hot meal for the city's poor. She felt deliciously unselfish.
As she drove to the kitchen, Barbara entered a part of her own city she had never seen before. The buildings were dilapidated, the streets and sidewalks dirt and unkempt. People in dull tattered clothing seemed to wander aimlessly about.
As she entered the soup kitchen, the first sensation that struck her was the SMELL. .. a heavy mixture of cabbage, sweat and unchanged babies. Barbara wanted to vomit. She looked around and saw about fifty people sitting passively at the tables, waiting. Few spoke to one another. Most stared listlessly into space. The men had not shaved. The women were either too fat or frighteningly thin.
The whole room reverberated with constant coughing. Barbara wanted to run back to her new Taurus and escape to the cleanliness and order of her home in the suburbs.
Just then, an old woman reached out and touched her arm. Barbara was afraid until she looked into the woman's face and saw eyes glistening with love and the beginnings of a smile on her lips. "Don't be afraid, Sweetie," the old woman began. "We're just like you. We had a little bad luck or a problem we couldn't beat.
Look at John over there. He has been in a mental hospital for seven years, just out and no place to go. Look at Joni, from a rich family. Had a nice husband, too, until he left her with five kids. We aren't bad folks, just poor."
Barbara blushed and felt her knees shaking. She eased into a chair next to the old woman and tried to smile. The old woman picked up the conversation, "All you need to do is just sit here and talk to me. The folks understand how you feel. They'll help you get adjusted and maybe become your friends if you will let them."
Barbara smiled. She had come to give something and here she was receiving. She was learning about a new reality, the reality of the poor. Suddenly she remembered the words from the Gospel she had never understood, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” She was in the kingdom and it smelled like cabbage, sweat and unchanged babies. (1)
1. This was how Barbara awakened to God's kingdom in her life. How is God's kingdom, or presence, breaking into your life? 2. Something happened when Barbara looked into the face of the old woman. How would Levinas (Chapter 1) explain this encounter in terms of morality and ethics?
3. Do you think this story has any lesson in it about justice? Explain your answer.
Who is the just person? The Old Testament points out a number of people whom it calls just, or righteous. In the story of Moses, we are told how one day, while the Hebrew people were lost in the desert, they found themselves longing for the meat, fish, cucumbers, leeks, anions and garlic they had grown accustomed to eating as slaves in Egypt. So they complained about the miraculous food - the manna - the Lord sent them each day as they wandered in the desert. They complained that they were tired of the same thing every day, pining for the variety of food that was theirs as slaves. It must have been a trying time for Moses. Moses complained to the Lord by saying, "Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all these people on me? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child; to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where am I to get meat to give to all these people? ... I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me" (Numbers 11.10-14). In the Jewish tradition, Moses was a just and a righteous person because he was someone who carried the burdens of others, who endangered his own life so that others were made free, who stood up for the rights of the voiceless, and who interceded for the powerless.
In the biblical tradition, a just person is sensitive and faithful to the demands of others because that was the basis of the old covenant: to be just with others. Hence, justice under the old covenant is about persons relating consciously to the needs of others in terms of their human dignity as created, loved and prized by God. Justice is about relating rightly with others. For Moses, being just was an exhausting experience of the disproportion between the demands of his people and his capacity to help them. Becoming a just person is often like that.
In the New Testament, God reveals the just and righteous one to be Jesus Christ. He bore the burdens of others. His whole ministry was to the poor, the sick, the overburdened. He bore their illness and their sin. He even went so far as to seek Gods forgiveness for what others did to him: "Father, forgive them," he prayed, "for they do not know what they are doing" (Matthew 23.34). He is a model of how we are to live with and for others. Luke calls Jesus the Righteous One as if it were his proper name. With him justice came to mean an excess of generosity. "Though he was sinless, he suffered willingly for sinners. Though innocent, he accepted death to save the guilty." (2) Offering one's innocent life in order to save the guilty seems like excessive generosity but not in the tradition of those who follow Christ.
By accepting responsibility for the other, including the poor, the guilty and the sinful other, we serve as the hands and feet, eyes and ears of God in this world. This is what our Catholic faith tradition presents as our calling to be just and to bring justice into our relationships. In this chapter we examine our call to justice. (3)
Different types of justice Our Catholic tradition is closely tied to justice. The connection is found first in the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. In the first years after his death and resurrection, Jesus' followers sought to live justly despite an often hostile and violent environment. At that time, Christians celebrated their call to justice by sharing in the one cup and the one bread. The Eucharist, which celebrates the new covenant, continues to this day to unite us with the "Just One" and with one another. Justice is integral to the gospel and, likewise, to the act of receiving Holy Communion (the body and blood of Jesus). It is also a communion of love and justice with others. There are three types of relationships that undergird the notion of justice: Commutative justice: the relationship of one individual to another individual Legal justice: the relationship of the individual to society or the state Distributive justice: the relationship of society or the government to the individual Commutative justice pertains to contractual relationships between individuals and between institutions that have the legal status of a person. Institutions with this status are called corporations. Corporations may include associations, retail stores, schools, sports clubs, law firms, religious communities, and dioceses. The contracts and agreements that make up the basis of relationships at this level are subject to commutative justice. Commutative justice, in a certain sense, is not personal. Consider, for example, what happens when you are clothes shopping. A pair of jeans in a store costs the same whether you are a wealthy person or poor person. The retailer does not make distinctions. The pair of jeans forms the basis of your legal or contractual relationship to the retailer. Contracts and agreements of this nature are impersonal and blind. Take another example: You are seeking a bank loan. The laws that govern banks and their clients form the basis of your relationship when the bank approves your loan. The bank loan is therefore a contractual, rather than a personal, relationship. It is a business/client relationship, just as the relationship at the clothing store is a retailer/customer relationship.
Commutative justice is important because of the fiduciary nature of all agreements and contracts (that is, agreements based on trust and confidence that the other person will respect the agreement). Society is built on trust in the word that is given to another. Without it, society quickly slides into anarchy and mistrust, which take such forms as shoplifting, shoddy workmanship, stealing tools on the job, absenteeism, inflated invoices, theft, robbery, etc.
Guiding questions 1. Give examples of incidences of commutative justice in your life. 2. What is the importance of a signature on a contract?
Legal justice refers to the relationship of the individual to society. It is also known as contributive justice. In the past legal justice concerned itself primarily with the individuals obedience to the laws of society or the state. A citizen's relationship to society or the state was straightforward: You obeyed the laws or you paid the penalty for lawlessness. During the last decades, legal justice has come to be understood more in terms of what the individual in society can contribute beyond the keeping of the law.
We are expected not only to obey but also to participate in creating laws that benefit the good of society. Legal justice today means that we contribute to the life of society. That is why some call this justice contributive justice. We accept not only the right to vote but also the obligation to vote. We enter into the dialogue of contemporary society by writing letters to the editor, contributing to Internet blogs and community meetings, participating in neighbourhood watch and recycling programs, conserving energy, etc. Perhaps the most celebrated expression of contributive justice is captured in the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy, who on January 20, 1961, said, "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." (See Chapter 18 for more on contributive justice.)
Guiding questions 3. What are some programs of legal (contributive) justice in your community? 4. What is the importance of legal justice for society or the state? Distributive justice pertains to the relationship of the government or society to the individual. In Chapter 11 we saw how the unequal distribution of goods, in a society where everyone is in principle equal, showed itself to be the burning issue of modern liberal democratic societies. What is the obligation of the government towards its citizens? Whatever program of distribution of the burdens and benefits the government adopts, it is subject to distributive justice. What are the goods of distributive justice? Distributive justice deals with all sorts of goods that are not economic. In order to discuss the dilemma of unequal distribution and basic equality, we must begin by recognizing that there is a variety of goods, and that justice operates differently in each sphere:
The good of citizenship, which deals with the conditions of becoming a citizen; how citizenship is lost; the rights of residents, strangers, immigrants, refugees, and political exiles; the right to vote and participate; freedom of expression. How does the state distribute these goods, for instance, to determine a just immigration policy? What is a just policy regarding the acceptance of refugees? Is it just to have an unequal distribution of the rights of citizenship among Native Canadians, those who are born in Canada, those who are naturalized Canadians, and recent immigrants to Canada?
The good of security and public assistance (welfare), which responds to the needs of those who have the right to public protection and help. What is a just system of welfare for the psychologically, physically and socially disadvantaged? What sort of health care is just? Within a universal health care system is it just to give those who can afford it a quicker access or preferential access to health care? Is it part of distributive justice to provide assistance to those who are unemployed? Are there limits to the law that protects the individuals right to privacy?
The economic good, which regulates the area of money and merchandise. This area of goods touches on salaries and wages for work, the economic benefit of the stock market and banking, the availability of consumer goods, the right to private property. There are, however, limits. Persons have a value but not a price. If persons are not to be measured by a price, the question arises whether it is permissible to patent life forms or the genetic code of DNA, even of genetically modified plant seeds and stem cells.
The good of offices and positions, where the distribution is not to be based on heredity or wealth, but on qualifications set by public procedures. Everyone must be, in principle, eligible. No one may be excluded for reasons of age, sex, or religion. (4)
Guiding questions 5. Select one of the goods and study its distribution in Canada. (For example, research the welfare rates in your province or territory and compare them to the cost of living.)
6. Calculate the annual income of someone working for the minimum wage. Make a budget based on this income.
The distribution of wealth in Canada in 2000
Data from Statistics Canada on financial security gives the following picture of the distribution of wealth in Canada. The wealthiest 10 percent of family units held 53 percent of the wealth in 1999. The wealthiest 50 percent of family units controlled an almost unbelievable 94.4 percent of the wealth, leaving only 5.6 percent for the bottom 50 percent.
The poorest 10 percent of family units have negative average wealth or more debts than assets. Average wealth adjusted for inflation for the poorest ten percent actually declined by 28 percent from -$8,031 in 1970 to -$10,656 in 1999.
The average wealth adjusted for inflation for the richest 10 percent of family units increased from $442,468 in 1970 to $980,903 in 1999 - an increase of 122 percent.
The poorest 20 percent of family units had financial assets of only $1,974 on average in 1999, and their average income in 1998 was only $18,698. If their current income suddenly disappeared, their financial assets alone would be enough to keep the family going for barely five weeks.
About 60 percent of family units were homeowners, and the other 40 percent were renters. The median wealth of homeowners with mortgages was $111,807 in 1999, and the median wealth of homeowners without mortgages was $259,200. The median wealth of renters was only $8,000. (5)
Given the statistics above, one might ask, who is being taxed the most? the least? Have governments been effective in fortifying safety net programs for the poor? Have governments weakened social safety nets? What are the ethical principles to critique government action in this area?
The social doctrine of the Church In her social teaching, the Church addresses these and other issues. References are provided to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The meaning of work has a religious and moral value (2427)
The right to economic activity (2429, 2430)
The responsibility of the state (2431)
The responsibility of the business world (2432)
Access to employment (2433)
A just wage (2434)
Legitimacy of a strike (2435)
Obligations of rich nations (2437-2439)
Direct aid to poor nations (2440)
The right of nations to seek and find their potential (2440-2441)
Love for the poor (2443-2449)
Social justice and the Catholic Church The Church has sought to live and act within different forms of government, voicing its dissent whenever important values were threatened. The Catholic Church does not identify with any one type of government: whether liberal democratic, communist, tribal or monarchical. History has seen many attempts to find a just method to govern people. With the demise of the communist approach to governing, and the rise of theocratic fundamentalist governments in some Muslim countries, there appears to be no easy alternatives to liberal democracy. For example, the Magisterium must guide the Catholic faithful who live in China, where the political system is communist. At the same time, the Church's teaching on justice must guide the Catholic community in Iraq, where tribal, democratic and theocratic political ideologies are in conflict. And the Catholic Church's teaching on justice must assist the Catholic faithful in the many countries of Africa and South America, where liberal democracy is often a new and relatively untried system.
The Catholic Church brings the gospel perspective of justice to bear on all political and economic systems. When it comes to social justice there can be no neutral point of view. A reflection on social justice in Canada must take account of the situation created by our liberal democracy. It must consider the influences of governments and transnational corporations on the economic situation. Catholic social teaching stretching back to the nineteenth century provides us with principles of social justice to ground our reflection on this reality. Most of the social encyclicals of the recent popes, from 1891 (Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII) to the present, can be understood as a response to Western democracies. The Church's teaching offers several bases for re-thinking social questions in terms of justice. Ownership of property Many traditional societies accept common ownership of property. In modern developed societies this common ownership would probably lead to conflict. For quite some time in the West, particularly because of the emphasis placed on private property by the political theorists Hobbes and Locke, the emphasis was placed on the right to own property. Property and the ownership of property came to be seen as an extension of owning a body. Today in our much more complex and technological society, you may no longer need a piece of property to survive, but you do need material goods. In an economy no longer based on agriculture and fisheries, you need special skills to make a living; you gain wealth through creativity and entrepreneurship. Today the question is not so much focused on private property but on material goods in general.
In a variety of social encyclicals, the popes have weighed in on the topic of private property. The Church's position is best summarized by saying that "the right to private property is valid and necessary" (6) but it is not an absolute right. The earth first of all belongs to God the Creator. Humans are at most stewards of this gift. All have, therefore, a God-given right to be sustained by the earth. The reality of famine anywhere in the world elects all to responsibility. The ownership of property is therefore subject to a higher principle, namely, that the "goods of this world are originally meant for all." (7) It means that private property has a social function justified "by the principle of the universal destiny of goods." (8) Private property for this reason is always to be seen in relation to all the goods of creation which, in the final analysis, are to serve the needs of all. The issue of the distribution of material goods, however, has not disappeared. The concern today is no longer a national issue but a global one: "The most pressing question of our day concerns the relationship between economically advanced commonwealths and those that are in process of development." (9)
Guiding questions 1. The right to private property is not an absolute right. What are the implications of this teaching?
2. Why is it no longer adequate today to speak only about the right of private property? Why must the right to own material goods be considered as well?
Solidarity Most modern political theories have a common point of departure: the individual and his or her instincts and drives to possess him or herself and material goods. This individuals bond to a larger social whole is based on a tacit "social contract" which obliges each citizen to abide by the social arrangement. The social bond must be so constructed as to be in the individuals self-interest. Historically, the motivation for compliance has mostly been fear of death (Hobbes) or fear of chaos and unremitting confrontation.
Catholic social teaching has consistently advocated another style of social relationship with a different point of departure: the common good. Catholic social teaching says that individual goods ought to serve the common good. Justice, not fear, is what binds us to this common good. And solidarity is the virtue that binds us to one another in the distribution of wealth. This solidarity can be understood in its widest sense as a solidarity with God’s love of creation. It can also be seen as a solidarity with those who are near to us (family, community, country) and far away (all are children of God). And finally, it is seen as solidarity with the earth and the earth’s ecosystems (see Chapter 14). What has become more central in our understanding of solidarity is the solidarity with the poor, also known as the "preferential option for the poor."
The "preferential option for the poor" must be understood as a commitment to the poor on account of God’s concern for the poor. This principle of Catholic social teaching is a recent development. The U.S bishops in their pastoral letter on the economy (10) understand the principle as follows:
[It is] an obligation to evaluate social and economic activity from the viewpoint of the poor and the powerless... The "option for the poor," therefore, is not an adversarial slogan that pits one group or class against another. Rather it states that the deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community... These wounds will be healed only by greater solidarity with the poor and among the poor themselves. (#87-88)
This solidarity with the poor suggests that when we consider problems of the social order, our solutions must bear in mind the people who are poor and powerless. The U.S. bishops proposed three priorities in economic decision-making:
The fulfillment of the basic needs of the poor is the highest priority… Increasing active participation in economic life by those who are presently excluded or vulnerable is a high social priority…
The investment of wealth, talent, or human energy should be specially directed to benefit those who are poor or economically insecure. (# 90-92)
Guiding questions 3. What is the meaning of "preferential option for the poor"?
4. What is the meaning of the "preferential option for the poor" in light of the huge discrepancy of wealth in Canada? How are goods redistributed to the poor?
I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you apply the following test: Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj (self rule) for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away.
M. K. Gandhi
Proportional equality What justifies that a hockey player earns $4 million a year while a single mother working as a waitress receives the minimum wage? If before God all are equal, should there not be more equality in remuneration for work done? Commutative justice was described above as blind. It makes no difference whether l owe $50 to Wayne Gretzky or to the grocer down the street. It is still $50. In distributive justice, on the other hand, there is no such arithmetic equality. It is proportional. It asks, "What is a fair or just distribution of wealth or material goods?" Here are four criteria that have been used to measure the just distribution of economic goods:
1. Need. Pope John Paul II says, "It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied…” (11) Every human being has the right to a decent human living. The distribution of goods must therefore provide at least a minimum standard of living. There is a standard, therefore, below which society must intervene. When the number of food banks and the number of homeless increase in a country, questions need to be asked about whether welfare subsidies have fallen too low, what can be done about subsidized housing, and whether programs for employment need to be revised. The support given to those who cannot take care of themselves and are dependent on social assistance must be enough to take care of the fundamental human needs of food and shelter.
2. A just wage. Interestingly enough a just wage does not fall under commutative justice, as we might expect. After all, wages are about a contractual relationship between individuals, or between individuals and corporations. According to Catholic teaching, however, a just wage falls under distributive justice. Because work is personal and necessary, this means that "Each one has a right to procure what is required in order to live." (12) Ultimately, it is not the contract, but the need, that ought to determine the wage. A just wage is a wage that allows one to fulfill the basic needs of human life. The needs of one person are higher than another and there is a considerable difference between the desires, capacities and powers of each worker. A just wage should permit each one to have his or her basic needs fulfilled.
How would you reconcile this teaching with the commutative notions of "equal pay for work of equal value"? 3. Effort and skill required. Unequal remuneration is also due to the different levels of effort and skill needed to do the work. In our economy wage levels are determined by a number of factors, including the power of the union, the success of the firm, the scarcity or abundance of workers in a field and the popularity of the product. At the level of justice, outside of other factors, effort and skill ought to be rewarded proportionately.
4. Productivity. In current economies it is the higher level of productivity which is frequently cited as the reason for higher salaries. At an individual level, the brain surgeon makes a greater contribution to the health of a patient than the attendant nurse and hence remuneration will differ. (13)
Market forces and the common good 76; The Catholic doctrine of the common good is incompatible with unlimited free-market, or laissez-faire, capitalism, which insists that the distribution of wealth must occur entirely according to the dictates of market forces. This theory presupposes that the common good will take care of itself, being identified with the summation of vast numbers of individual consumer decisions in a fully competitive, and entirely free, market economy. Its central dogma (as expressed by Adam Smith, the founding father of capitalist theory, in his The Wealth of Nations 1776) is the belief that in an entirely free economy, each citizen, through seeking his own gain, would be "led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was not part of his intention," namely the prosperity of society. This does sometimes happen; but to say that it invariably must happen, as if by a God-given natural law, is a view which can amount to idolatry or a form of economic superstition. Smith himself did not appear to think the rule was invariable, for he also observed "By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society.”
77; The Catholic Church, in its social teaching, explicitly rejects belief in the automatic beneficence of market forces. It insists that the end result of market forces must be scrutinised and if necessary corrected in the name of natural law, social justice, human rights, and the common good. Left to themselves, market forces are just as likely to lead to evil results as to good ones. It is often overlooked that Adam Smith himself did not envisage markets operating in a value-free society, but assumed that individual consumer choices would be governed by moral considerations, not least the demands of justice.
Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales:
The Common Good and the Catholic Church's Social Teaching, 1996.
Taxation: A tool of distributive justice Governments redistribute wealth within a society by means of taxes. Taxes also allow the state to provide services for the common good - law enforcement, health care, education, transportation, infrastructure, foreign affairs, public safety, the judiciary, and so on. Citizens have an obligation and responsibility to pay for these public goods through their taxes. The only equitable way of regulating the tax burden is to have people pay progressively more according to their means.
As the U.S. bishops stated it, 'The tax system should be structured according to the principle of progressivity so that those with relatively greater financial resources pay a higher rate of taxation. The inclusion of such a principle in tax policies is an important means of reducing the severe inequalities of income and wealth in the nation.” (14) In other words, those who possess more pay more to the common good. Those who have very little pay very little, or nothing at all. The neediest members of society receive a basic level of support funded by the taxes on the more wealthy.
What are the taxation rates in Canada? Are they proportionally or progressively distributed? Discuss the merit of progressive tax rates. Would a flat tax be just? (photo: omitted)
The landowner and the workers In Matthew 20.1-16, Jesus tells a parable in which there is talk of wages:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the market place; and he said to them, "You also go into the vineyard, and l will pay you whatever is right." So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same. And about five o'clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, "Why are you standing here idle all day?" They said to him, "Because no one has hired us." He said to them, "You also go into the vineyard." When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, "Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first." When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, "These last worked only one hour, and you have them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat." But he replied to one of them, "Friend, l am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; l choose to give this last the same as l give to you. Am l not allowed to do what l choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because l am generous?"
In the parable the landowner pays the same wage for different hours of work. Our immediate reaction to the behaviour of the landowner is that something is not quite just. If he could be generous to the workers of the last hour, why could he not be generous with the workers of the first hour - despite the original agreement? The parable sets us up to react in this manner. According to the underlying expectation, our worth is measured by the wage we receive. A wage determines where we fit in the scheme of things. And so for us the right wage is a matter of justice. This parable subverts this expectation. The landowner offers those who worked all day a full day's wage; to the other workers from the third hour onward he promises what is right; to the workers of the final hour he makes no verbal agreement at all. We expect some kind of gradation in pay but the landowner pays all the workers the same amount. Our worth is not measured by our wage. The justice of the kingdom of God is obviously of a different texture than the justice the reader expects. The point of the parable is to be found in verse 15: "Are you envious because l am generous?" Through the parable, Jesus confronts our legalistic notion of what is right, a notion that misrepresents God’s goodness. Jesus is making the point that God’s mercy surpasses all human measure and is not to be equated with strict (photo: omitted) human justice. We have in the parable a striking picture of God’s unfathomable generosity.
What does this parable teach us in terms of social justice? In our human relations and dealings with others, the Christian cannot be content merely to grant to others that which they have a strict right to receive. Love transcends and goes beyond merely giving people their due. As St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, "Justice without mercy cannot be perfect virtue." (15) A second lesson to draw from the parable is this: we should not look for evil where there is only good. All too often it is too easy to discredit another's good works because that person's generosity is upsetting our own narrow vision of justice. Guiding questions 1. What do you consider to be a just wage? On what principles do you base your judgment?
2. Compare your answer with the response to the workers of the first hour in the parable of Jesus.
3. How could we apply in today's world the kind of generosity to which Jesus calls us? Explain.
Economic activity and social justice Catechism of the Catholic Church (photo: omitted)
2427; Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another... Work honours the Creator's gifts and the talents received from him. It can also be redemptive.
2428; In work, the person exercises and fulfils in part the potential inscribed in his nature. The primordial value of labour stems from man himself, its author and beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work.
2429; Everyone has the right of economic initiative; everyone should make legitimate use of his talents to contribute to the abundance that will benefit all, and to harvest the just fruits of his labour. He should seek to observe regulations issued by legitimate authority for the sake of the common good.
2430; Economic life brings into play different interests, often opposed to one another. This explains why the conflicts that characterize it arise. Efforts should be made to reduce these conflicts by negotiation that respects the rights and duties of each social partner: those responsible for business enterprises, representatives of wage-earners - for example, trade unions - and public authorities when appropriate.
2431; The responsibility of the state. "Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical or political vacuum. On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services. Hence the principal task of the state is to guarantee this security, so that those who work and produce can enjoy the fruits of their labours and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly… Another task of the state is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society.”
2432; Those responsible for business enterprises are responsible to society for the economic and ecological effects of their operations. They have an obligation to consider the good of persons and not only the increase of profits. Profits are necessary, however. They make possible the investments that ensure the future of a business and they guarantee employment.
2433; Access to employment and to professions must be open to all without unjust discrimination: men and women, healthy and disabled, natives and immigrants. For its part society should, according to circumstances, help citizens find work and employment.
2434; A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice. In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. "Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good.” Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.
Love, justice and the Golden Rule What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour.
What you do not want done to yourself, do not do unto others.
Let no man do to another that which would be repugnant to himself.
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
Justice has been defined as giving each person his or her due. In commutative justice this means acting in accordance to agreements and contracts. It is called a blind justice because it applies equally to all. l give so that you may give. This justice works with a logic of equivalence. l give the equivalent to what you give. In distributive justice we saw that the equivalence is not arithmetic but proportional – proportional to needs. Still there is an equivalence: l give so that you may live.
The Sermon on the Mount (or "in the plain") points us toward another option in distributive justice. It has become known as the Golden Rule. It seems on first reading not to be radically different from the logic of equivalency. We have two readings of it in the New Testament:
Matthew 7.12: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you." Luke 6.31: "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Jesus has taken this Golden Rule - which in a negative form also exists in other world religions (see margin) - and given it a surprising new meaning. The Golden Rule is in the language of justice: do to others what you would have them do to you. It seems very close to the definition of justice: give to everyone his or her due. But in the context of the Sermon, Jesus obviously means something more. In a sequence of questions, it is clear that if the Golden Rule appears at first sight to be the usual understanding of reciprocal justice, Jesus wants us to think again:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. (Luke 6.32-34)
These words appear almost contrary to the Golden Rule. These sayings push for much more than just "loving those who love you." They want us to go beyond equivalence to a decidedly uneven equation: love your enemies; lend, expecting nothing in return. This is the sort of logic of grace, or of the gospel. It operates not out of measuring with impartiality the rights and duties of the one over and against the rights and duties of another. Here the measurement is of abundance: lend without expecting a return. It is not “I give in order that you will give," but "Give because it has been given you." In this case we are asked to interpret the Golden Rule in terms of generosity because God has been generous:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well; and from him who takes away your cloak do not withhold your coat as well. Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods, do not ask them again. (Luke 6.27-30)
This is a higher commitment to justice which seeks to move beyond the "give that you may give" to an overwhelming of the other with the power of love. This is a disinterested justice: l have no interest in what the other will give to me. l act only out of love and generosity. We have seen some live this way: Jesus himself St. Francis of Assisi and Gandhi, to name a few. We also see it in the concern of the Church for the poor. We see it reflected in John Rawls's second principle: "All social primary goods - liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and these bases of self-respect - are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any or all of these goods is to the advantage of the least favoured." The law of justice injected with the "law" of love would create a healthy equilibrium in the practice of justice. It would suggest that love asks for more, never for less, than what justice requires. Guiding questions
1. How does Jesus understand justice in the Golden Rule? 2. What happens to justice when it enters into dialogue with love? Living Christian justice
Douglas Roche, Mary Jo Leddy and Rosalie BerteIl model for us what it means to be motivated by a sense of Christian justice. They share with us in their own words what they understand to be a concrete expression of Christian love.
Douglas Roche Senator Douglas Roche, O.C., made the following statement on the occasion of the terrorist attacks on the United States. On September 11, 2001, terrorists, using hijacked civilian aircraft as weapons, destroyed the World Trade Center in New York, a wing of the Pentagon, and also crashed United Airlines flight 93 into a field, killing nearly 3,000 people that day, and changing the world forever.
Douglas Roche was first editor of The Western Catholic Reporter, a former Member of Parliament from Edmonton, and chairman of the international organization of Parliamentarians for World Order, ambassador to the United Nations for peace and disarmament, a position he held for five years, and served nine years in the Senate. He has continued to speak out on behalf of peace and disarmament and has written several books on militarization and development and is currently a lecturer at the University of Alberta.
September 12, 2001
Our first reaction to the horrible terrorist attacks in New York and Washington must be grief and prayers for the victims, their families and friends. An outflow of love and support for those so affected ought to guide our future actions.
The perpetrators of such evil acts must be brought to justice. But this must be done in a way that does not compound the violence. The law enforcement agencies must be given the resources they need to carry out their duties in maintaining order and apprehending criminals.
But revenge as an end in itself is unproductive and not worthy of the solemn obligation we have to ensure justice in the world. Rather we must be motivated by a determination to end violence by getting at the root causes of violence. We must strengthen the international institutions working in the law and economic development fields so that more hope is given to the vulnerable, the oppressed and dispossessed that they can obtain the social justice that is their due without recourse to violence.
At this tragic moment, Canada has a special role to play in continuing to reach out to the United States with love and support to help the U.S. cope with a challenge of immense proportions. Canada, through its political and diplomatic work, must help the U.S. recognize that working multilaterally with the many governments, agencies and civil society leaders around the world is a far better response than acting alone. Canadian foreign policy should be directed at helping the U.S. to combat terrorism with comprehensive strategies that include the economic and social development of peoples around the world.
The New York/Washington attacks were attacks against humanity. They require a humanity-centered response. (16) Douglas Roche
Spirit that matters By Mary Jo Leddy,
Founder and Director of Romero House for Refugees in Toronto, and author of At the Border Called Hope and Radical Gratitude.
Let me start by giving you snapshot scenes from the dispirited life l sense in Canada today. Every night on the television news, talking heads solemnly declare: "The economy demands cuts; there must be layoffs. There is no other way; there is no other choice. This is reality.”
The nurse manager of a Chronic Care unit in Toronto lamented to me, "We have the best rating in the province: best care, most cost effective, but they're going to close us. Its as if nothing we have done matters."
A congregational study group in Vancouver confesses, "We are all concerned about the economy, but we don't really know what we are talking about. We need to get an exert in."
These scenes are examples of the generalized sense of powerlessness and the vague sense of guilt which grips so many people in this country at this time. It is a dispiriting time.
When good people see the casualties of our present economic changes, they feel vaguely guilty; they think ''We should do something" and "Somehow we're responsible, but we also feel powerless."... Deep down most people feel that it doesn’t matter what they do or say.
We are perplexed and disturbed by this and we look for explanations... l suggest that much of our present sense of powerlessness and vague guilt has everything to do with the fact that we live in the culture of money - in the culture of consumerism. Capitalism is a form of materialism - the other form of materialism, communism, has been shown to be soul-destroying. But capitalism is also soul-destroying, dispiriting...
Capitalism works only as long as people want to shop; it works only as long as we want more, as we think we need more. Advertising is crucial to all of this because it sets up within us a craving for more, to the point where what once seemed like a luxury is now a necessity. We are encouraged to believe that: you must have more to be more: more things, more travel, more experiences, more relationships, even more spirituality. The message we get is "if you have more, you will be happy." It is a promise... We begin to believe that freedom is not a political reality, but it is having all these choices in the supermarket, such as twenty kinds of cereal... In the culture of money, you are someone, if you have a car, if you get mail and you get catalogues and you shop.
The internal contradiction of capitalism is that it promises happiness which it will never deliver - not cannot, will never. It capitalizes on that deep human need for happiness - a need recognized long ago by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas who said that we are meant for happiness. Whomever you allow to define happiness will have the power to direct your life - not by coercion, but by seduction. In the consumer culture, our very best desires are turned into a drivenness - a compulsive searching for happiness. Although advertising communicates the promise of happiness, it must never be fulfilled because if you were satisfied, why would you shop. In the culture of consumerism, you must remain perpetually unsatisfied...
Mary Jo Leddy
In this culture, the deep sense of dissatisfaction becomes internalized at almost every level of our being so that "I don't have enough" becomes "I am not enough" or "I am not good enough." It isn't just about shopping and having things. It begins to transform us. "I am not enough" is a feeling of powerlessness. "I am not good enough" is a feeling of vague guilt...
Can we do something about this: in our own lives, in our place of work, in our churches, in our country? Will it matter? Will it make any difference? It would be obvious and easy to say that we should try to do something to change our political and economic situation - models of social change and social justice. But if we don't believe that what we do and what we think really matters or makes a difference, we will probably not even try. We will complain. We will blame…
Any change in our dispiriting situation must begin with a transformation of spirit. The change begins, l believe, not with an agonizing sense of guilt, but with a simple act of gratitude. It is simple, but the simplest things are often difficult. Gratitude is the only way to find our way back to the ground of our being and our way forward to the point of our being. l do not mean gratitude for this or that thing - but gratitude for the most obvious and most miraculous fact that we are alive. This is what we most take for granted…
To become grateful is to say of our lives "it is enough." This is the beginning of the transformation of spirit. To begin to say "I have enough" is the beginning of transformation on other levels of our being: l have enough. I am enough. I am good enough. This is not mere assertiveness; it is an act of gratitude and faith. It enables us to say: "I don't need to have more, in order to act. l don't need to be more, in order to act. l don't need to speak better, in order to speak out. Just as l am, here and now, l can do good. l can make a difference." And once again the miracle, as 2000 years ago: The deaf hear, the dumb speak, the lame walk. Then, as now, this is called the power of the spirit, spirit that matters, that makes a difference in this world…
Jesus said: "Happy are those who hunger and thirst for justice." Happy are those who desire to see and to share in the economy of grace. Who desire this, who are not driven. They will know that they will have enough energy, enough time, enough power to do good, to do justice. Happy are those who hunger for justice, for a world beyond cravings, beyond the permanent dissatisfaction of consumption and production. Happy are those who know what they are for, rather than what they are against; if we are only against something or someone, then we will become like what we are fighting against. But to seek justice, to love justice, is to become just. Happy are those who know that spirit matters. [Excerpt from Mary Jo Leddy's lecture in the series "Keeping the Spirit Alive" presented by St. Stephen's College]
Dr. Rosalie Bertell, a Grey Nun for half a century, is an internationally recognized expert in the field of radiation.
By Donna Jean MacKinnon Toronto Star Staff Reporter May 3, 1998
Dr. Rosalie Bertell perches on a wooden chair in her small Harbourfront apartment. Animated, her eyes bright, she has a no-nonsense look on her face.
BerteIl has been a Grey Nun for 50 years and, along the way, earned a doctorate in biometry and written books about radiation and its effect on the health of humanity and Planet Earth. No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth has been translated into four languages and is about to come out in Russian.
Bertell, an environmental epidemiologist, is neither a recluse nor a denizen of the Ivory Tower. She is an activist and a self-confessed whistle blower.
After the Bhopal disaster in 1984, BerteIl directed the International Medical Commission investigating the effects of the Union Carbide chemical spill that contributed to some 15,000 deaths. (* The Bhopal disaster in India, in 1984, was the world’s worst chemical disaster Toxic gas leaked from the poorly maintained and understaffed plant owned by Union Carbide, killing up to 20, 000 people and leaving 120,000 chronically ill. – Greenpeace)
After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 resulted in 31 dead and forced the evacuation of 135,000, Bertell helped convene a tribunal to fight for the rights of those victims. (* * Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, April 26, 1986 - the routine 20-second shut down of the system seemed to be another test of the electrical equipment. But seven seconds later, a surge created a chemical explosion that released nearly 520 dangerous radionuclides into the atmosphere. The total power of the explosion was estimated to be more than 100 times that of the atomic weapons used in World War II. The force of the explosion spread contamination over large parts of the Soviet Union, now the territories of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Had the other three RBMK blocks exploded, high-levels of radiation would have spread to the English Channel. According to official report, thirty-one people died immediately and 600,000 "liquidators,” involved in fire fighting and clean-up operations, were exposed to the high doses of radiation. Based on the official report, near 8,400, 000 people in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were exposed to the radiation, which is more than the population of Austria. About 155,000 sq. km of territories in the three countries were contaminated, which is almost half of the total territory of Italy. Agricultural areas covering nearly 52,000 sq. km, which is more than the size of Denmark, were contaminated with cesium-137 and strontium-90, with 30-year and 28-year half-lives respectively. Nearly 404,000 people were resettled but millions continued to live in an environment where continued residual exposure created a range of adverse effects. (17))
Dr. Rosalie Bertell
She has written reports on everything from radiation-related health problems, experienced by the Rongelap people after bomb testing in the Marshall Islands, to the effects of the Pickering nuclear plant on the health of local children.
In 1990, Bertell took on Ontario Hydro when it published "slick" booklets outlining a 25-year plan with no mention of potential health problems.
"We challenged them and ended up producing five volumes on what they should have known," says Bertell.
The "we" are BerteIl and the 300 members of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health, a hard-hitting environmental organization formed in 1984.
Bertell, who retired "in theory" in 1994, is currently president of the institute where her mission is to integrate influential people, with environmental concerns, into a cohesive force so that they can lobby governments as a block.
BerteIl currently serves on the U.S.-Canada International Joint Commission Nuclear Task Force and is an adviser to Health Canada on the state of the Great Lakes. She has also worked on the relationship between diabetes, cancer and leukemia and radiation. And BerteIl has a thought-provoking view of obesity.
"It’s not just junk food. It’s well-known that radioactive iodine in North American's atmosphere slows down the thyroid gland and that contributes to (being) overweight."
Bertell declares its all about money. "War and money make the world go around. When you have money, you have to be prepared to go to war to protect it and that is the main concern of corporations and governments."
This may sound cynical coming from a nun, but Bertell snaps, "Once your eyes are open, you can't dose them again."
Reprinted with permission - Torstar Syndication Services.
1. The above articles deal with terrorism, materialism and public health hazards respectively. Identify the issue(s) of justice in each.
2. Of the three types of justice, which does each article above treat? Explain.
3. How do the arguments made by Roche, Leddy and Bertell connect to the teaching of the Church? Does one have to be Catholic to understand the Catholic Church teaching on justice? Why or why not?
Mary's Magnificat Mary's song is a wonderful example of justice imbued with love. Mary sings about the God of the covenant who has come to bring a new order to the world, bringing down the powerful and raising the lowly. Mary rejoices in what God is about to do for her people. My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, For he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; He has filed the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
Chapter review Summary
Justice under the old covenant is about persons relating consciously to the needs of others in terms of their human dignity as created, loved and prized by God.
In the New Testament, God reveals the just and righteous one to be Jesus Christ. He is a model of how we are to live with and for others.
There are three types of relationships that undergird the notion of justice: Commutative justice: the relationship of one individual to another individual; Legal justice: the relationship of the individual to society or the state; Distributive justice: the relationship of society or the government to the individual
The Catholic Church brings the gospel perspective of justice to bear on ail political and economic systems.
Private property is always to be seen in relation to ail the goods of creation, which, in the final analysis, are to serve the needs of all.
Catholic teaching takes as a point of departure the common good. It says that individual goods ought to serve the common good.
The Catholic Church explicitly rejects belief in the automatic beneficence of market forces. It insists that the end result of market forces must be scrutinized, and if necessary corrected, in the name of natural law, social justice, human rights, and the common good.
Governments redistribute wealth within a society by means of taxes. As the U.S. bishops stated it, "The tax system should be structured according to the principle of progressivity so that those with relatively greater financial resources pay a higher rate of taxation. The inclusion of such a principle in tax policies is an important means of reducing the severe inequalities of income and wealth in the nation."
Through the parable of the landowner and the workers (Matthew 20.1-16), Jesus confronts our legalistic notion of what is right, a notion that misrepresents Gods goodness. Gods mercy surpasses ail human measure and is not to be equated with strict human justice.
The Golden Rule: "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Jesus asks us to interpret this rule in terms of generosity because God has been generous.
Knowledge and understanding
1. Explain the distinctions between commutative, legal and distributive justice.
2. Summarize the key teaching of Jesus in the parable of the landowner and the workers (Matthew 20.1-16).
Thinking and inquiry
3. What is the Golden Rule, and how does Jesus interpret it?
4. Describe the relationship between the private good and the common good in Catholic social teaching.
5. Create a class portfolio of stories of people who live justly.
6. Create a Web site (or design one on paper) that addresses from a Catholic perspective a critical justice issue in your community.
7. Explain how taxation can be used by a government to address a particular injustice in society.
8. Analyze "Spirit that matters" by Mary Jo Leddy for what it means to be people of justice. Glossary
common good: "The sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily." (CCC, #1906)
economics: Originally referred to the household and its management. Generally used to refer to the system of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services in a society.
Golden Rule: "Do to others as you would have them do to you."
justice: commutative: pertains to contractual relationships between individuals, and between institutions that have the legal status of a person; legal: the relationship of the individual to society, based on law and the enforcement of law; distributive: the relationship of government to the individual, and the governments obligations
private property: Something that is owned for one's exclusive use, or for one's exclusive control.
righteous: Acting in accord with divine or moral law.
solidarity: Unity with and among people, based on common interests, values, principles.
In Search of the Good
A Catholic Understanding of Moral Living
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Chapters 14 to 17
Printed pages: 265 to 346
To make the reading of this book easier, the footnotes are numbered as they are in the print copy and they are placed in the text in parentheses.