Justice and Peace

Here are excerpts from a homily that I gave yesterday at the Novitiate of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Queens Village, NY.

July 16, 2012, Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 1: 10-17 and Matthew 10: 34-11: 1.

Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but a sword."  Why does the Prince of Peace say this?

We're all familiar with something that Pope Paul VI said.  It has appeared on bumper stickers and posters and ads: "If you want peace, work for justice."  And if you want justice, what should you work for?  The answer to that question will explain the words of Jesus.

The classic definition for "justice" is to give others what is their due.  Human rights, like the ones Isaiah mentions--"redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow"--involve justice, giving to others what is their due because of their human dignity.  And where does this dignity come from?  It is not something granted by the State nor by any other human being.  It is the dignity that comes from being made in the image and likeness of God.  Human dignity and rights come from God.  They are not human in origin.  Thinking that they are human in origin has led to all sorts of atrocities from the Nazis determination that some humans were not worthy of life to the determination today that some life in the womb is not worthy of life. 

Ultimate justice means giving to the Creator what is his due.  And what do we owe God?  Everything.  Giving God his due means following the Law of God, worshipping God, giving all to God because everything ultimately comes from God and is given to us on loan.

The problem that Isaiah confronted was the empty worship and rituals of the Israelites.  Their "heart" was not in it.  Their whole self was not in it.  They performed rituals to give God something, but not everything.  They gave God some of their time to, as it were, placate God, so that the rest of their time could be used for their own pursuits.  True worship and justice mean giving God all. 

Blessed John Paul II wrote about this kind of false religion in the Apostolic Letter he wrote to the Church at the turn of the millennium:  "It would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalistic ethic and a shallow religiosity. ... The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction" (#31). 

In the Gospel, after declaring that he has come to bring a sword, Jesus challenged his followers to be whole-hearted, to prefer nothing to him.  Justice required that he, the Son of God, receive worship and that his law be followed.  This is his due.  The First Commandment says: "I am the Lord, Thy God.  Thou shalt not have false gods before me."  Prefer nothing, as the Benedictine motto goes, to Christ. 

This is a teaching that divides.  The world does not accept it and as a result the world is filled with injustice, conflict, and war.  Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the former General Superior of the Jesuits, once wrote: "Injustice is rooted in a spiritual problem, and its solution requires a spiritual conversion of each one's heart...." 

The warning of Jesus in the Gospel is clear: unless we give God his due, unless we believe God and follow his plan for humanity, there will be no justice, there will be no peace. 

So the answer to the question, "If you want justice, work for...?" is "Conversion."  Work for Faith.  Give God his due and work so that all the world will do this as well.