Wednesday, 7 August 2013

On social justice

I was sitting having some quiet time in a jazz bar on the weekend and the owner and his friend came and joined me. They were a charismatic pair who I, though initially apprehensive, had a great conversation with. We talked about an assortment of things, surprisingly one being social justice. 

It turned out that Robert, the owner of the bar, had spent the first two years of his retirement traveling abroad meeting people and conceptualising the bar to be. He visited places like Cuba and New Orleans and was moved by their sad situation. There are many ways one can react to seeing such a need and these generally tend toward aiding a person's most basic physiological needs: food, water, shelter and warmth. Robert, however, did not want to throw money at their problems but rather give them a purpose. So he commissioned them to make the décor for his bar. 

Ruby's Music Room
The inherent dignity of a person requires that we work. My best friend is an Occupational Therapist and she will tell you in a heartbeat that man must work. It’s in our nature (cf Blessed Pope John Paul II no.287).

I know of some Catholic schools that hold their heads high, trumpeting all the good works that their students do for the poor and needy, whether of this nature of giving the poor a purpose or otherwise. Sometimes I wonder, though, if they are missing the mark. Fr Dan Groody gave a talk a few weeks back at a conference for Catholic school educators on the very topic. He said something to the effect of “we need the poor more than the poor need us”. He went on to explain that while, yes, they are poor and therefore in need of our help, but as Christians, we need someone to help. We cannot call ourselves Christians without faith in action. Helping the poor is one of the ways that we grow in relationship with God and become the men and women He has created us to be.

All this said, I still think we, as Christians, are missing a vital point.
“If ‘migration’ worked itself into the self-definition of all people, we might then realise that before God we all live in the same country, we all live on the same side of the fence. In reality, death is the ultimate border, the journey of faith is the ultimate migration, and God is the ultimate Promised Land.” (Fr Dan Groody 2004)
A person’s inherent dignity is important. You’ll never hear me say otherwise. But do you not think it is just as much, if not more important to give a man a fish, sharing in a meal with him and teaching him of Christ even though he may live a short life on this earth but spend eternity with God? Rather than teaching him to fish that he might go on to become a global exporter of seafood, idolising material gain and never knowing God? Obviously this an extreme analogy, but all the same, should not the very soul of the person take precedence over their bodily needs? Is not our first call as Christians to evangelise?
"They say that we are too poor, but can a heart which possesses the infinite God be truly called poor?" (St. Clare)

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’” (Matt 28:18-20)
Jesus calls us to evangelise, to draw people into communion with Him, however the key to the passage above is in the last line: "and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." The 'everything' that Jesus is referring to has a great deal to do with helping the poor (Matt 25:34-46; Matt 10:8; Luke 3:11). So if we turn to those gone before us like St. Vincent de PaulSt. Martin de Porres and Bl. Teresa of Calcutta we have our proof. We see things like this:

So perhaps it is not a ‘or’ but a ‘and’. As Christians, tending to the body and soul must go hand in hand.
“The Christian community must be attentive to issues of social justice and spiritual hunger in society.” (Blessed Pope John Paul II no.13, emphasis added).
Social justice is just as important as evangelisation.

Further reading:

God bless,

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