Fr. Reginald Martin, 30/01/2017
by Father Reginald Martin OP
In his letter to introduce the recent Year of Mercy, Pope Francis reflected on the relation of mercy to justice, and observed that a misunderstanding of justice “has not infrequently led to legalism by distorting the original meaning of justice and obscuring its profound value.” (MV, 20) We may not be so particular as the Pharisees in their Sabbath observance, but our idea of justice often reflects their sadly negative view of the virtue, that justice is a force to restrain and compel our behavior.
How refreshing, then, to encounter an entirely different – and theologically accurate – picture of justice among the petitions at a recent Evening Prayer, when we asked God, “May all those who love and pursue justice, work together without deceit to build a world of true peace.” Here is the obverse of the negative view of justice as a force to restrict and limit. Instead, we are invited to embrace it as a tool to promote the tranquility that characterizes peace.
Our moral theology teaches us that justice is the habit by which we give each individual whatever is her or his due. This may not be the first thought to cross our minds as we grumble about speed limits while we battle traffic on the freeway, so perhaps we might profitably expand our notion of justice and imagine a world in which a nation’s citizens (or even mere “residents”) need not fight for what belongs to them. This is the vision of peace that characterizes God’s Kingdom. It ought to characterize life in our kingdoms as well, but experience shows us – and sadly! – this is often not the case.
Four years ago our Holy Father wrote a reflection on preaching, Evangelii Gaudium, (“The Joy of the Gospel”). This was a call to pastors for a “renewal in preaching” to produce “new joy and fruitfulness in the work of evangelization.” Although the Pontiff’s words were primarily directed toward ministers ordained to preach in liturgical assemblies, they also speak to members of the Order of Malta, who daily ask God for the grace to learn from the gospel a spirit of “deep and generous Christian devotion” that will touch the poor and sick and promote the world’s peace.
As our leaders in the Order challenge us to assume a more active role in the hands-on apostolic work of the Order, we may profitably reflect that we undertake preaching not simply with our words, but also with our actions. Pope Francis reminds us, “an evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances…abase(s) itself if necessary…touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.” Lest we miss the point, the Pope tells us, “I want a Church which is poor and for the poor…We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends…the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care.”
On New Year’s Day, in 1972, Pope Paul VI challenged the world, “If you want peace, work for justice.” The present Pontiff’s reflection on preaching lays some foundation stones for building that Kingdom of Peace we all seek. We begin by embracing our preaching task – however we may be called to exercise it – and we begin that task by listening to God’s word, revealed in the Scripture and in the lives of those we have pledged ourselves to serve.