Monday, October 21, 2013

The Common Good and Justice

 "I don't need your love, give me justice" were the words on a poster on a wall of a convent of sisters whose apostolate was helping workers. It's not difficult to grasp what is being said, but though love goes beyond justice, can there be love without Justice?

In the Catholic Times, a priest who works with the poor refers to Matthew 6:33, "Set your heart on his kingdom first and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well."

St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, was called a  just man because he didn't want Mary's condition to be known to the world, conscious of what this would mean to Mary. He was thinking of Mary more than himself. This is what a just person does, and Jesus, the supremely just person, wanted everyone to fully participate in society. We see this repeatedly in the New Testament. 

One of the basic principles of Catholic social teaching is the common good.  "The principle of the common good, to which every aspect of social life must be related if it is to attain its fullest meaning, stems from the dignity, unity and equality of all people. According to its primary and broadly accepted sense, the common good indicates 'the sum total of social conditions which allows people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily'" (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church #164).

The common good is difficult to achieve, the priest says, when city life is all we know. He believes living in the city is unnatural and he expresses this in rather strong language. He compares city dwellers to animals living in a zoo. Is it not a place where we have covered over the earth? he asks. So that one does not find it easy to step on a piece of real earth, but walks daily on cement, asphalt, colored sidewalk tiles. Even when there are flowers and trees, it is more like a large flower pot filled with dirt, rather than living earth. We are protected from hearing anything against this kind of life, he says. We have become parts of a social machine and the busy life it fosters takes the mind off reality. There is a sufficiency of food, pleasure and comfort, and those who speak out on the problems this creates within society find themselves at  the periphery. For those who have no place in this so called 'good life', what meaning would justice have for them?

The gap between  the rich and the poor is increasing, though Korea does not have the same gulf between the haves and have-nots as do many other developed countries; this is a blessing.  In the past, 20 percent of the population were in the upper segment of society. Today, he says, it has decreased to 1 percent. In a factory, for instance, the one who assembles the wheel in the front of the car may not get the same pay as the one who puts on the back wheel--if one is a regular worker and the other a temporary. People are fired for the good of the company, students are judged by the marks they receive, and those who have a handicap are seen and treated differently. In a word, he says, the society is not just.

"Among the numerous implications of the common good, immediate significance is taken on by the principle of the universal destination of goods, 'God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity.' This principle is based on the fact that the original source of all that is good is the very act of God, who created both the earth and man, and who gave the earth to man so that he might have dominion over it by his work and enjoy its fruits (Gen 1:28-29). God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone" (Compendium # 171).

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