His Excellency Dr James Raphael Anaparambil, Bishop of Alleppey diocese in India helps us to a wholesome understanding of Christian justice.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.’

Catholic justice is righteousness. The Sermon on the Mount is the Magna Carta of Christian living, where blessedness is inserted into the eight beatitudes the Lord proposes to be a new disciple, and part of the new covenant. ‘Hunger and thirst for righteousness’ is to be understood deeper or simply, it is the hunger and thirst for the kingdom of God. This is clarified when Jesus was tempted in the desert, where he says man should satisfy his hunger with the Word of God.

As Christians, we should accept this call to righteousness as a personal invitation to go the ‘extra mile’. For e.g. If we are given a small portion of rice, we can feed a couple of people with it. But things are different when you are a farmer, where you can feed more people with the same portion. Similarly, the hunger and thirst for righteousness invites us to go beyond our individual needs. Say, for e.g., it includes our efforts to ensure clean water for all. You can either arrange clean water for sale or make efforts to keep natural water resources clean and potable, which is closer to the righteousness expected of a Catholic.

Christian righteousness: broad, harmonious, inclusive 

We have seen the prophets using this word often. The Hebrew word for righteousness, ‘צְדָקָה Tzedaqah’, means harmony, where everyone gets what is needed and everyone fulfils their obligations.

Thus, the call to righteousness is the call to a greater value.

If one understands righteousness as a synonym for the kingdom of God, then we would be reading, ‘blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the kingdom of God.’

The magisterium of the Church has been constantly inviting us through exhortations like Rerum Novarum or Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour (encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII on 15 May 1891), to revisit our practises not only in the Church but the whole world, to ensure equal wages to workers, the dignity of labourers at the workplace, and their welfare. This and the exhortations that followed have greatly influenced the worldview on these matters too.

Christ taught us the best version of justice

Many illustrations from the Bible underline this statement. We see that he wanted the poor to be near him, he didn’t want anyone to be excluded, he wanted the children to be considered with attention, he was against the stratification of people based on income or caste, he ate with sinners and befriended people of all walks of life, etc.

Beyond this is a better version of justice, shown by Jesus himself, when he said let everything be fulfilled, and in his giving of himself totally through the extreme sacrifice on the cross. He told us, ‘You will be disciples if you love one another and there is no greater love than sacrificing your life for others.’ The justice of Christ is unique in itself. More than social justice, it is the justice of interpersonal relationships, considering the dignity of all human beings. It is encapsulated in the golden law – treat others the way you want to be treated.

Christian justice is when every person is given due dignity as the image of God. It comes into action when we consider ourselves part of a new family, where every human being is our brother and sister. Here we are called to share and care for each other as in a family and to each other, we are keepers too.

The Church has strived hard from the very beginning to live this idea, though time and the prevalent cultures have eroded parts off it. Historical examples of racism and casteism are grave issues that challenge the Catholic idea of justice. Robbing people of their dignity has seriously affected our morality.

The Christian idea of justice, of being a part of the family for which Jesus gave his life for, has somehow managed to survive. We are called to be a part of this blessed family experience, in which all are stewards of each other rather than owners. It is applicable even to our responsibility towards Mother Nature too. 

Christ died and established the justice of the kingdom of God. Forgiveness, where we are asked to pray even for our enemies is a peculiarity of the righteousness of this kingdom. Historically, there are many instances where the Church failed to keep this intact, where we failed to evangelise the prevalent cultures. However, our mission has made revolutionary changes in the mindset of people across the world. For e.g.: we know that it was schools established by Christian missionaries that first allowed students of different ethnic or racial groups and castes to sit together and learn. Today we are even more sensitive to having this primary sense of dignity for human beings. Even the UN charter of fundamental rights was influenced mostly by Church teachings and Gospel values like dignity, quality, freedom, etc… The Church is constantly renewing.

Love and justice are the two faces of the same coin. The very first time Jesus talks about justice is during his baptism. He says ‘Let this justice be done,’ when John hesitates to baptise him. The justice mentioned confirms his human nature as he assumes the role to be our saviour. The text confirms it saying, ‘this is the son who will accomplish the mission of his father.’ John introduces Christ as a Lamb – someone who offers his life for others while being innocent.

The justice of Jesus is his love for others, the ultimate sacrifice of his life for others. He came to embrace this by the will of God; the justice of Jesus is to obey the will of God. Psalms 40 is contemplated while remembering the baptism of Jesus ‘behold you have given me body. I have come to do your will.’

The incarnation of Jesus marks the beginning of his sacrifice. At his baptism, he affirms himself as a lamb ready to be slaughtered. The justice of Jesus was to offer his life in redemption or as a ransom. That was the will of his father for him. The justice of Christ is intimately connected to his mission as a saviour.

Now it’s time for us to reflect on what justice is for us, as Catholics baptised in the Holy Catholic Church?

As a brother or sister, as a parent or child, as a neighbour and a friend, we are called to live a life of justice fulfilled in love, as our Master fulfilled his love on the cross.

For e.g.: justice of the legal system or courts may say that it is sufficient for a mother to spare one hour for her child. But the justice of a mother will never stop loving after an hour. It flows unconditionally beyond time and circumstances.

This version of justice is what Christ taught us through his life, death and resurrection. That is why St Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:14, For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Love is the crowning of justice

In our day-to-day life, love is often mistaken as ‘false’ charity. Giving something from your surplus is oftentimes counted as love. `

The fundamental question we have to ask ourselves on seeing a naked man is, what made him naked and to address it, before offering him a pair of clothes and leaving the scene. The sight of a homeless should bring the most fundamental question of what made him roofless.

This will help us understand how the economy of the world is shared, which may lead you to a realisation that while you live in a mansion, many others directly or indirectly live in a slum.

Plain charity often overshadows real justice. Justice cannot be replaced by charity, justice is charity plus love. As Mahatma Gandhi reminds us, ‘the world has enough for all but not enough to satisfy a man’s greed.’ There is a great economic divide between a handful of rich and the multitude of poor in the world. Charity is natural sympathy that moves me to look after others. Our tiny mite definitely counts, but when we belong to the kingdom of God, we are obliged to answer more questions.

Christ showed us the example of justice through total renunciation and he calls everyone to renounce self, to embrace love. In love, we don’t retain anything for ourselves. We see this evident in families, where no one keeps a record of love given or taken. The invitation is to broaden the walls of our family to the whole of humanity. The kingdom of God resonates more with ‘public ownership’.

Sometimes, we have terribly lazy people in families, institutions, society and many more in the public sector killing our spirit, but our commitment to justice is for the value of the kingdom of God. Christ says that if you have recognised in the kingdom the greatest value, then you will sell all that you have to possess it. What motivates our choice to be people of love is not how people treat us but how we relate to the world and what meaning it brings our life.

Our choices usually belong to any of the following:

Sensory goods – what we like – attained through desire. 

Moral goods – ethically right things – attained through discernment.

Value goods – of the soul – attained through renunciation.

The conflict is most often between morality and value. We as Christians are called not merely for morality alone but to raise the value through renunciation. Renunciation comes without any profit but is a spiritual activity that apparently benefits your soul and elevates your spirit. You are in new tune with yourself, and that is when you can love your enemy. When we have embraced this greater value of his kingdom, we are at Gods’ mercy.

This defines our human nature too. Desires are related to impulsive human nature whereas morality is a rational human nature. But values define a more spiritual or merciful human being. Love is the greatest of values and that’s why Jesus said that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life.

It is in renounced love that we can bear the shortcomings and failures of others. Jesus could pray on the cross, ‘Father forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34), and the same renounced love is reflected when Gladys Staines forgave the terrorists who burnt alive her husband and children. This love is what made St Stephen pray that the souls of those who stoned him to death be spared.

When you raise your eyes to the sky and see the canopy of the heavens around you, you see God our Father.

His rain is upon us all.

His sun shines over us all.

He is the sky for all, the water for all, the air for all – it is in this sense we should be under God our Father and his love. This dimensionless embrace of universality defines God our Father best and we are called to the warmth of this love.

We prefer to understand God our Father as a personal possession, but it should never be individualistic. When God is our father, any stranger is our brother or sister. We have the privilege of being God’s child only when we are ready to accept all human beings as our brothers and sisters.

A huge church was constructed in the Holy Land, where Jesus taught the prayer ‘Our Father’. But for reasons unknown the construction halted midway and the structure still stands incomplete, without a roof. Philosophically, we can’t recite ‘Our Father’ confined in a room, under a roof as God our Father is the sky, embracing all of humanity with the same love.

So, a crime against any human being in this world becomes personally an offence to my sonship or daughterhood. Any harm to the planet earth becomes personally my problem and responsibility. The tenderness and warmth of Abba Father underlines this sense of responsibility too.

This sense of sonhood urged our Holy Father Pope Francis to move out of his comfort, to the Russian embassy for reconciliation in the Russia-Ukraine war crisis. Thus, love becomes an embodiment of values. A few days ago, an ordinary man who put up 100,000 earthen bird water feeders hit the news and became viral. This is love and he definitely is a son of God. Love is when the need of the other is my concern. Acting responsibly by keeping our public spaces clean or preserving natural resources underlines our stewardship in the kingdom of God. This love is synonymous with Christian justice.

This sense of justice is applicable to our institutions and the Church as a whole too. For e.g., if we fail to produce quality students with character or quality healthcare with compassion, in our hurry to become leaders in the industry, we would have reached nowhere close to the kingdom of God.

All our endeavours as Christians are meaningful only when we can ensure that every human being encountering our system comes out as a better human person, touched by love and thus, justice is established.

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