Saturday, March 21, 2009

Charity and Justice

"Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity; it is an act of justice"- Nelson Mandel

The virtue of justice touches on many aspects of the moral life. It springs from the fundamental obligation to give others their due. When individuals do this for one another, we call this justice.
This is why some people have said that charity and kindness to the poor are not just charity but also justice.

The Bible is full of encouragement to be charitable. The good wife of Proverbs 31 is commended because “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy”. In Deuteronomy 15, God’s people are told “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy.” Jesus, too, calls us to compassionate charity and justice for those neighbors who need it.

What is the justice that we "owe" our neighbor? Who is our neighbor?

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the neighbor is defined universally to be any suffering person, not just a member of the same country, race or faith. Jesus said "the one who showed mercy on him" proved to be his neighbor. (Luke 10:29-37)

Fr. Benedict Groeschel had this to say in his book The Virtue Driven Life :
"Christian justice causes us to give to God what is due Him and, within that understanding, to give to others what is due them as children of God. Christians have a much greater responsibility to justice. We must be more aware of the fact that we all accidentally participate in injustice, that we are well-off because others are poor, and that without ever willing it, we reap the fruits of economic exploitation and impoverishment.

If you feel guilty about some of this injustice, then generosity is a great way out, especially if you're not looking for too much thanks. We could begin with generosity with those who work in restaurants, taxi drivers, and others who work for tips. We can make a habit of showing generosity toward those who work at menial jobs and who are often not treated well. And we can support laws that give a better chance to those who are victims of injustice."

Be faithful. Start today. Start right with the person in front of you - at home, in your office, in school, in traffic, in the store, in church. True, we must be charitable on a global level, but it's important that we look at the person in front of us -one face, one smile, one heart, one person at a time.
We may not be successful at first. In fact, we probably won't see the fruits of our efforts. In our human minds, this is hard to register since we are told that success equals self-worth - constantly bombarded with messages and images of worldly success on billboards, TV adds, magazine pages...
They all cry out - how successful are you? If we can't see our success or measure it, then we must be a failure. But, no, we are not failures if we step out in faith and try. If we are laughed at or shrugged off, then that is an opportunity to grow in the virtue of humility and fortitude!

As Mother Theresa said so many times, "We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful."

Lord Jesus, you who willed to become poor,
give us eyes and a heart directed toward the poor;
help us recognize you in them --
in their thirst, their hunger, their loneliness, and their misfortune.

Enkindle within our Christian Family
the virtues of charity, justice and humility

Strengthen us, so that faithful to the practice of these virtues,
we may contemplate you and serve you in the person of the poor,
and may one day be united with you and them in your Kingdom.