“To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted through temperance. No misfortune can disturb it and this is fortitude. It obeys only God and this is justice and is careful in discerning things so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery and this is prudence.” [St Augustine, De moribund eccl. 1, 25, 46: PL 32, 1330-1331 and CCC 1809]
Since most of us are disobedient to God [proven by the fact that we have sins to confess] — are we relegated to the practice of imperfect, man-made justice on earth? Or is it possible to arm ourselves with authentic Justice — the most difficult of all Cardinal, moral and personal virtues — in my opinion? What does authentic Justice look and feel like? These are some of the questions we will explore while examining Justice — the fourth Cardinal Virtue — which obeys only God as it works to perfect wrongs.
We all want to be happy in this life — and hopefully the next. Happiness was imprinted in us by God for the purpose of drawing us to Himself. [CCC 1718] Most of us realize — very early in life — that our pursuit of happiness will never be completely satisfied by people, places, achievements, or things. Everything or everyone — at some time or another — will disappoint us. Material riches get used up or lose their luster; careers end; relationships end due to death, detachment or dissolution — you get the idea. If perfect happiness could be found on earth, we would never turn to God or hope for Heaven. What would Faith matter? Yet it is faith, hope, and love — the three theological virtues that remind us that God alone fulfills our desires for ultimate happiness — forever.
St. Thomas Aquinas said it best:
“It is impossible for any created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is that perfect good which entirely satisfies one’s desire; otherwise it would not be the ultimate end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e., of man’s desire, is what is universally good; just as the object of the intellect is what is universally true. Hence it is evident that nothing can satisfy man’s will, except what is universally good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone, because every creature has only participated goodness. Therefore, God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of the Psalms (102:5): “Who alone satisfies your desire with good things.” Therefore, God alone constitutes man’s happiness.” (Summa Theologica. Part 2. Q.1. Article 8)
What does Justice have to do with Happiness? They fully support each other; just as Justice is inextricably linked with the advance of Truth, Love, and Obedience to God. And the more we love and obey God the more willing we are to do for others as we would hope they would do for us. “Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness [justice], for they shall be satisfied [a state of happiness]. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” [several Beatitudes]
We have been blessed by many contemporary saints who demonstrated an incredible love of God and his people and in turn were able to promote Justice more authentically. Consider the examples of Saint Pope John Paul ll, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla and young Jose Sanchez del Rio of Mexico. Justice always advances when we do good, promote the beautiful and teach truth at every opportunity given to us. Rarely do marches, protests [especially violent ones], hunger strikes, new legislation, or raising awareness of the plights of certain peoples promote authentic Justice. Rather, justice overcomes injustices when performing charitable and corporal works of mercy or while making personal sacrifices for individuals or groups of peoples. Justice reigns when we sacrificially love our neighbors, friends and family; when we speak the truth; when we display the beautiful.
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We must not let ourselves think we are doing enough good. Neither should we consider the possibility of trying to serve both God and self interests or pleasure. Justice cannot advance while practicing self-love. Either we will love God more and more and self less and less or we will love self more and more and God less and less. (St. Augustine) And that is because "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
The Commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind is the first and greatest commandment we have to attend to in order to practice justice. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” [Matthew 22:38-39] reminds us of the importance and necessity of ordering our lives around God. If we love God faithfully, first and foremost, we will love others more authentically. If we fail to love God first and foremost, we will also fail to love others authentically deterring the advance of Justice.
Have you ever wondered why God became man? Why that order? God became human so we could become God someday. [Bishop Robert Barron. Pivotal Players, Part 1 - Michelangelo, the Artist. P.19] That is, after having lived lives that helped advance authentic justice, love, truth, and beauty here on earth.
"You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." ( Matthew 5: 43-48)
Imagine what your family life would be like if your children were perfectly obedient to you and for all the right reasons. It would be heavenly, wouldn’t it? “Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity.” [Isaiah 32:17] Now imagine what life would be like in America if every citizen was perfectly obedient to God. It too would be perfectly harmonious, justice would prevail and the Golden Rule would be the rule rather than the exception. But to get to this place, God has to occupy every heart and mind. Obedience can’t be thought of as a dirty obligation.
In the Fall of Adam and Eve [Sistine Chapel], Michelangelo depicts Adam reaching for a fig [representing human sexuality] rather than an apple. The fig represents man’s desire to alter God’s meaning, intent and purpose of sexuality. Unfortunately, this disobedience has racked up countless offenses against lovers over the ages. This self love only promotes injustice — against wives, children, spouses, individuals, and society. It has destroyed countless numbers of families and personal relationships. As goes the family so goes society; and we march onward advancing injustice rather than God’s Plan. The desire to express our sexuality our way — however, with whomever and whenever — continues to drive scores of adults — young and old — out of the Church today. Paradoxically, the desire to know, practice and understand God’s design of human sexuality invites many back to the Church.The word Justice invokes different meanings for different people. Generally, it is thought to mean holding persons, institutions, and societies accountable for any wrongs committed by them against other people even if/when the actions are highly personal, impersonal, perceived, or real. However, few people realize the necessary connection between Justice and obedience to God. Many also fail to recognize that today’s injustices are direct consequences of the failure to love/obey God first and neighbor secondarily. Isaiah 34:17 teaches: “Justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security.”
Perhaps it would be helpful to generate different words for the various types of justice! For example, justice can define someone’s actual job — i.e. Justice Kennedy or his/her place of employment [the Department of Justice]. Justice is also described as the human virtue of fairness and having an impartial mind and mindset. It also means adhering to a principle or an ideal or the state of being in conformity with an ideal or principle. The Catechism lists these various types of justice: original, cardinal, legal, social, commutative and personal. What are the main differences?
Original justice refers to the state of holiness in which God created our first parents (CCC 375). Justice - the Cardinal Virtue - is a person’s constant and firm will to give their due to God and to neighbor.”(CCC 1807) Commutative justice is the type of justice that fully obliges others “to respect the rights of another as required in the seventh commandment.” (Thou shall not steal thy neighbor's goods) [CCC p.885] Legal justice requires citizens who have committed crimes of passion, violence or fraud to pay back what is owed those people or communities disaffected by their actions/crimes. [through financial reparations or physical incarcerations]. True remorse and repentance for one’s crime can go along way in restoring peace and calm but it can’t restore lief or lost treasures. Distributive or social justice regulate “what the community owes it citizens in proportion to their contributions and needs.” [CCC p. 885] The last four are certainly perfected when we have a constant and firm will to give our due to God and to neighbor.” Unfortunately, that is often the last thing we think of when discussing justice with family and friends.
Things to consider:
- Pray for the grace to advance Justice where you are.
- Pray for constancy and a firm will to give God his due and to your neighbors in need.
- Pray to discern opportunities to advance Justice from distractions to Justice.
- Write a life plan with regard to God. Is it your first intention to love God first and others secondarily?
- What opportunities are available to you to learn more about God, his moral teachings, your faith and beliefs, and the Church? Sign up for classes or talks that would enhance your knowledge of the Trinity, the Church, moral laws, and God.
- Think about personal examples whereby your decision to be obedient opened your heart to God’s Plan for your life. What did you have to give up in order to experience God’s love? Share these examples with your family and friends.
Copyright 2017 Linda Kracht
About the Author
Linda Kracht is wife to David, mother to seven very special children and grandmother to 17 little ones [presently]. Linda enjoys speaking and writing and has developed field guides for families in English and Spanish about parenting, marriage, faith, morals, and family life. Kracht founded Fortifying Families of Faith  to help parents honor their role as primary teacher of their children in matters that matter.