What is justice? (From the Diocesan Catechetical Office)
I was reminded of this article put out by the Diocesan Office of Catechesis (DCO) before the recent events in our world, and thought it would be a good reflection during these trying times. Today, there seems to be much confusion in our world on the meaning of justice. Often it seems to be something that is driven by emotions and feelings, which are good in and of themselves, but when these are our foundation we are building on sand. Another misconception is judging history and the actions of our ancestors, whether it is in the church or our nation, by today’s standards. There seems to be a sense that we are ‘enlightened’ today, and we can judge history by our ‘enlightened’ status. No generation is all-knowing, and we must be very careful in these matters. We, too, will be judged by future generations, but more importantly, we will be judged one day by God, and He is the only one we should be concerned with pleasing.
DCO writes: Each of us aspires to be fair in the way that we interact with family members, friends, neighbors and any persons that we meet. Justice is the virtue of being fair and upright in all circumstances. Justice is necessary because we are bound by our natural rights and obligations to give others what is their proper due.
Living out the virtue of justice consists in choosing, by a constant determination, to give God and neighbor their rightful due. We develop the good habit of justice in our lives through correct understanding of this virtue, good acts frequently done, and perseverance in difficult situations. In practicing this virtue, the Commandments provide the foundation. The first three Commandments are based upon giving God his due (what we owe Him) and the last seven Commandments are based upon giving our neighbor his due, what is rightfully his.
Justice toward God is called the virtue of religion, which directs us to honor and worship God by showing our Maker proper reverence, love, obedience, and gratitude. We act in a just way toward God by participating in Mass each Sunday and taking time each day for prayer in order to respond to God’s love, thus giving Him our rightful attention and gratitude.
Justice toward another person compels us to give others what is their due so that they can fulfill their responsibilities and exercise their rights as persons in their situation in life. We also have the right to insist that others practice fairness and honesty toward us. In justice, each person is to be treated with dignity and this requires repairing any harm when done to another person. Justice makes for peace and mutual trust and confidence among men in that it respects the rights of all and restrains deceit, fraud and oppression. Justice safeguards our most fundamental rights, some of which are especially challenged today, such as the right to life from conception to natural death, and the right to religious freedom, which means not only the right to worship according to one’s faith, but also to live one’s life in keeping with one’s religious convictions and conscience.
In justice, we have a responsibility to assure the conditions for individuals to obtain their due in human society, and this is referred to as social justice. Since everything we have is a gift from God, we are temporary stewards of these gifts. In justice, we must make good use of these gifts in serving others. Therefore, on Judgment Day we will be asked how we used the gifts that we received.
Growing in the virtue of justice requires consistent effort and self-mastery, and most importantly God’s help through prayer. Making a constant effort to be fair and honest involves correct knowledge about things that ought to be done or that ought to be avoided by distinguishing between what is good and fair and what is harmful and unfair.
In order to act justly it is important to take good counsel from others whose moral judgment is sound, especially our shepherds, the Pope and the bishops in communion with him, Christ’s representatives on earth.
The supernatural virtue of justice, gained through cooperation with the grace of God, disposes us to respect the rights of others (both of God and of our fellow man) and to give them their due. It regards the rights of others not merely as seen from the light of reason, but from the viewpoint of reason elevated by supernatural faith and charity, and in light of our ultimate goal - eternal life with God.