April 1, 2011

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

On the highway to heaven

David SilerThere are some phrases, terms or words that, spoken in some circles, can make the most steady eyes roll, heads bob, groans become audible and hands go to foreheads in that “here we go again” reaction.

One such phrase is “social justice”—a phrase that has been badly battered and bruised lately.

The “eye rollers” seem to immediately associate the term “socialism” with “social justice,” which in turn leaves little room for openness or understanding. This is so unfortunate for a Christian since so much of the life of Jesus was about looking at and acting in the world through the lens of justice.

When we “put on Christ,” we can no longer look at the world and those around us the same.

And when Christ inhabits us, as he does in the sacrament of Eucharist, we are reminded that, as Catholics, we are called to work for peace and justice in the world, not because of any ideology or political platform, but because that is the path that Jesus walked in life.

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami put it beautifully when he said, “As Catholics, we must be involved in the issues of world hunger, human rights, peace building and justice promotion. This social ministry is not opposed to the ultimate spiritual and transcendent destiny of the human person. It presupposes this destiny and is ultimately orientated to this end. If this Earth is our only highway to heaven, then we must seek to maintain it—and to make sure to the best of our abilities that this highway is cleared of the obstacles which sin—both personal and structural—has placed in the path of those traveling on it.”

It is simply unjust that 43.7 million people live below the federal poverty line in the United States. No matter our ideology or our politics, God’s justice calls us to do something to right this wrong.

No doubt that a portion of these 43.7 million people have created their own obstacles—their personal sin. But God would have us show mercy and forgiveness for them, just as all people are in need of his mercy and forgiveness. No one is exempt from God’s justice nor is anyone of us exempt from demonstrating God’s justice to anyone else.

On the highways to heaven throughout the world, 24,000 children die every day. The vast majority of these children die of completely preventable diseases. This fact demands a cry for justice—and actions that match.

Justice not only cries out for the poor, but also for my friend who owns a small business and whose growing tax burden to support a broken social service system—among many other things—makes it nearly impossible for him to grow his business and, therefore, create jobs. He, too, needs justice.

Social justice is not a bad word or phrase that should turn us away, but rather turn us toward the person of Jesus to guide us in seeing our neighbor as deserving of the very best that the world has to offer.

What can I do to remove some obstacles?

(David Siler is the executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at dsiler@archindy.org.)

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