Justice - the word — is loaded with many possibilities and scenarios. It generally means that persons and societies are to be held accountable for the wrongs they commit against other people regardless if the injustice is highly personal or impersonal; perceived or real. But doesn’t justice — the word — also imply that societies must implement fair laws, policies and procedures in order to promote peace and prevent injustice and punish those who fail to live justly? So what exactly is a community clamoring for when they decry injustice? Do they want an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth or simply some sort of compensation? Is it ever possible to ‘punish’ enough those who have committed crimes against justice? Should past injustices be erased and forgotten — ever? Is justice achieved by requiring descendants to pay for the sins of their fathers, for example?
We all realize that justice is a good thing. And it is needed in everyday matters. But can we promote justice if we are not sure what justice is within the social, criminal, or even international justice contexts?
Before trying to answer a few of these questions, let’s talk about the many faces and definitions of LOVE. We say that we LOVE God. We also say that we LOVE our spouses, our children, our family members, our neighbors, ice cream, baseball games, famous people, vacation destinations, activities, and on and on. We use the same word to describe wildly different emotions, actions, and feelings. LOVE can be used as an adjective, a verb, or a noun. So, what is love? What are we really saying when we exclaim that we Love it or him or her? Psychologist Erich Fromm writes that love is “a feeling and an action; in fact, the 'feeling of love is superficial in comparison to one's commitment to love via a series of loving actions over time’. [Erich Fromm. The Art of Loving. Harper Perennial. September 5, 2000] This statement fails to define those critical actions, commitments and feelings needed to convey the type of love one is expressing. Saint John Paul ll provides necessary clarity when writing: “Our expressions of love should reflect God’s love and our intentions ought to express God’s intentions including and especially the sexual expressions of love because God is Love and only he can teach us what LOVE IS.” Furthermore, the “explicit and implicit meaning of the sexual act makes it imperative that the circumstances and conditions, intentions and expressions surrounding it are moral settings.” But our contemporary understanding of love fails to think about the necessary link between God and Love. Contemporary love, therefore, takes on a whole new meaning and a whole lot less significance than authentic love. Contemporary love’s intentions and actions are necessarily more shallow, temporary, more self serving and less able to be full, faithful, fruitful, forever and free. Authentic love reflects God’s intentions and actions. This is the type of love we are called to express.
Consider the confusion created when love is conveyed to someone but the lover fails to clarify his/her intentions, degree of commitment, or even a basic understanding of the circumstances and conditions of the relationship! The Greeks avoid some confusion by using different words for love. For example, philia describes the love between friends. Eros is used when referring to romantic love. Agape is the good will between people. Storge is the love between parents and children or other family members.
It seems that Justice would be better served if there were different words for its many different faces, conditions and situations because it is critical that we get justice right! Isaiah 34:17 teaches: “Justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security.” It can be assumed — rightfully — that Isaiah would conclude that the lack of justice will bring about subsequent chaos and the very presence of injustice produces insecurity and anxiety. Is this our problem today? Do we fail to understand justice so much so that we are unable to restore it when injustices are present? Stop and consider what justice means to you. Consider what it means to your friends and family. Then consider what it might mean to people facing real and/or perceived injustices. Are we all on the same page with regard to restoring justice for all? That is highly doubtful.
Consider that the word JUSTICE means different things and can be used in a variety of ways. It can define someone’s actual job — i.e. Justice Kennedy or his/her place of employment [ the Department of Justice]. The word also describes a virtue [fair or impartial mindset] or a principle or an ideal. It can also define the state of being in conformity with this ideal or principle. Justice also is defined as the act of doing something right. So, do any of us know what someone else is talking about when they call for justice? Are they crying out for the restoration of Original Justice, Legal Justice, Social Justice, Commutative Justice or the practice of personal virtue?
Like LOVE, authentic Justice has to hearken back to God in order for us to get it right. The Catholic Catechism defines original justice as that state of holiness in which God created our first parents (CCC 375). Even though that first state disintegrated because of Original Sin, we are still called to try and restore our original state by loving as God loves and acting as God loves. How do we do that since we are all sinners? We do it by surrendering our free wills to God and His grace and His Church.
Some would argue that God acts preferentially and with vengeance based on the Old Testament stories and therefore He was unjust. This is an obvious heresy that detracts from our loving Him as we should. Theologians teach us that God desires all people to be saved — even in Old Testament times. The reason many people were/will not be saved is because they failed to surrender to the Creator; they prefer to think of themselves as their own creator. And while we can never fully understand God’s Grand Plan here and now, we are obliged to search for His Truth meaningfully. He is Creator, we are mere creations who cannot make ourselves. Neither are we free to tinker with His Grand Plan which got started in Eden and continues uninterrupted today. The Grand Plan included the sending of His Son for our final glorification. And all along the way, we are called to strive for justice because of our authentic love for God first and foremost, and then because of this love we treat fellow creatures with love and respect also. Failing to love as God loves and act as God acts only serves up injustices.
What justice do we rely on in contemporary society? We often turn to commutative justice to create peace and calm. This type of justice fully obliges others “to respect the rights of another as required in the seventh commandment” (Thou shall not steal thy neighbors goods) [CCC p.885] This justice hearkens us back to God and His commandments without compromise. But how many people really understand that respect for others’ rights are linked directly to the Commandments? We also clamor for legal justice in hopes of restoring calm and peace when criminal injustices have occurred.Thistype of justice requires citizens who have committed crimes of passion, violence or fraud to pay back what they owe other people or communities disaffected by their actions [through financial reparations or physical incarcerations]. True remorse and repentance for one’s crime can definitely help restore peace and calm but true justice can never be achieved when someone’s life has been taken unnecessarily. Distributive or social justice establishes calm and peace as societies properly regulate “what the community owes it citizens in proportion to their contributions and needs.” [CCC p 885] But again, in order to impart distributive justice well, societies have to realize that its members are their brother’s keepers. Finally, we should regard justice as a cardinal moral virtue wherein it is a person’s constant and firm will to give their due to God and to neighbor.”(CCC 1807).
Our due is to honor, love, and be in relationship with God - true Love and Authentic Justice. Love for God motivates us to love others; therefore love and true justice go hand in hand. Conditional [contemporary] love and a more imperfect justice (a contradiction in terms) also go hand in hand. Unless and until society acknowledges that each person is made in the image and likeness of the only Creator - God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; true justice will never be attained in the workplace, in homes, communities, or society at large. God loves each person justly; this is our call too. To love without prejudice and presumption; to act fairly and honestly without prejudice and presumption and to understand the original basis for Justice. And until Final Justice has arrived, we are to show the world that “Jesus is the vine; we are the branches. If we remain in Him and He in us, we will bear much fruit; Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing.” [John 15:5]