Friday, October 21, 2011

Heavenly Habits: Justice

After learning about Prudence, we proceed to the virtue of Justice. This is another of the bulletin inserts I wrote for our church.
Heavenly Habits: Justice
1807 Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.”68 “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”69
Catechism of the Catholic Church

Justice is a certain rectitude of mind whereby a man does what he ought to do in the circumstances confronting him.
Saint Thomas Aquinas

Justice is rather the activity of truth, than a virtue in itself. Truth tells us what is due to others, and justice renders that due. Injustice is acting a lie.
Horace Walpole
Justice is the virtue that ensures we treat others fairly. It is this which helps us desire that goodness is rewarded and evil punished.

Catholic teaching defines justice as one of three types:
  • Commutative justice calls for fundamental fairness between individuals. If the grocery store clerk hands you too much change, you are practicing commutative justice when you give back the overpayment.
  • Distributive justice is found in the relationship between an individual and a group. Largely speaking it is concerned with the fair distribution of resources to those who need them. We see an obvious example of this as citizens. The government should levy only the taxes necessary to provide services while we should pay our fair share.
  • Social justice is perhaps the term mentioned the most in Catholic circles as it involves ensuring fair treatment for all in society. Welfare, right to life, feeding the poor, the environment, and many other social issues fall under this category.
Regardless of categories and definitions, justice toward our fellow man is an easy concept to grasp. Even small children have an innate sense of what is fair and what isn’t. It all boils down to Jesus’ words, “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). This helps us keep in mind that justice practiced as a cardinal virtue is not defined strictly by civil legality. For example, abortion, legal though it may be, is a grave violation of justice as well as love. Additionally, strict legality must always be tempered by equity so that the precise appreciation of even a just law does not de facto produce an injustice.

Another application of justice may be a new idea to us. The virtue of religion requires that we practice justice toward God. We owe to God, our Creator, worship, praise, and gratitude. Though they should be motivated by love and not fear, these are nonetheless not optional or favors we do for God. They are instead owed to God by the virtue of our creaturely relationship to Him. Even creatures without reason praise God by living according to their natures. We, whose nature is so like to God’s, owe to Him the proper fulfillment of His plan of love for us.

Thus, when we take time for prayer to further our relationship with Him and not merely to ask for things, though that asking may be perfectly appropriate, that is a form of justice. When we obey God’s will, whether it is practicing the virtues or the many other ways we live our faith, that also is a form of justice as we respond to His right that we submit to His laws. We are giving Him what He truly is due as our creator and as the one who loves us more than any other.

If we reflect on all these manifestations of justice it becomes clear that justice forms a network, a web if you will, that defines our relationships to God and to each other. It puts a whole new spin on the motivation for playing fair in all aspects of our lives.

68 Lev 19:15.
69 Col 4:1.
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church. This may be found online
  • Catholicism for Dummies by Revs. Trigilio and Brighenti
  • The Virtues by Fr. John Hardon. This may be read online.
Next up, to help us stay on an even keel: Temperance.

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