Justice and Charity – Day 15

Yes, it's been a few days. Because the Lenten practices are not observed on Sundays or solemnities, I figured it would be alright if I skipped posting for the Solemnity of St. Joseph. I was also ill over the same time, so I was grateful for the additional rest.

This is a bit of a difficult topic, especially considering the current climate to claim injustices and violated rights for everything imaginable. Yet it seems as though every time we manage to get one solution settled in place the solution is then claimed to be part of the problem and additional work (and additional money) is required to set it right.

I was listening to one such presenter when I was struck by the constant emphasis on personal autonomy. The presenter proclaimed that true justice would happen when people habitually treated each other as autonomous human beings who can make their own decisions. Now, there are obvious cases where this breaks down: Babies or those grownups with the mental (and occasionally physical) capacity of babies. But that wasn't my initial thought, it was "Where does charity fit in this view?"

I happen to be using charity in a few different senses here, so let me go through and define what I'm saying:

  • Justice: Giving to others what is their due. E.g. giving a laborer his just payment for his work, punishing a criminal for violating the law, etc.
  • Charity: Willing the good of another. E.g. Ensuring that the laborer is happy in his work, providing shelter to the homeless, or simply cheering for your child at a ball game.

To give a stronger contrast:

  • Justice: "He who does not work shall not eat"
  • Charity: "When I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink"

What is interesting is that justice and charity are not opposed to each other. Justice applies to the obligations that I can claim from others, even to the point of a gun (Don't believe me? see just war theory). Charity applies to the goods that I seek to give to others. The direction of each is reversed. Pursuing one without the other is to court disaster, ensuring that neither goods that charity wishes to bestow nor the rights that justice seeks to ensure are realized. When the two are united, then mercy is possible, where the rights that must be ensured are tempered by knowing the goods that must be preserved and achieved.

However, even this only speaks at the natural level. At the supernatural level, we have a historical event that speaks not of personal autonomy, but self-emptying for the sake of the beloved. This alone would shatter the ideal of "treating persons as autonomous beings who can make their own decisions". It instead demonstrates that we are not merely autonomous beings. We are loved persons who are called to give ourselves in a self-emptying way back to Him who loved us first. "For whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life, for My sake, will find it."

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