Unofficial Papal Mottoes – Part I

This started out as one post but as I developed it further it I saw that I was actually covering two topics, so I’m splitting it in II. Today is Part I.

Every Pope tends to use a certain phrase repeatedly during his reign as head of the church which encapsulates the direction they are taking the church. For Pope John Paul II (16 Oct 1978 – 2 April 2005) it was “Do Not Be Afraid”.  With the Cold War and the horrors/misery of World War II part of the global psyche, it was a message that people needed to hear and brought hope to millions.

Next came Pope Benedict (19 April 2005 – 28 February 2013) with “Faith and Reason”. With “just reason” Benedict warned that one falls into the trap of utilitarianism and nihilism. No religion can survive by “faith alone” as without reason the risk is of radicalists like al-Quaeda. In Christianity fundamentalism is most closely associated with those who believe that inspiration and infallibility of Scripture is translates into literal interpretation of the Bible, creationism.  This message really resonated with me, but it was poorly communicated in the media, and thus to the world.

Today we have Pope Francis (13 March 2013-present) and his message is one of “mercy”, that the “Lord never tires of forgiving”. Society has seen the authoritarian Catholic Church, the critical one.  Now it needs to see the merciful Church, and mercy as lived in the lives of Catholics every day. The media has been emphasizing simplified polarizing lighting rod messages like “no abortion and contraception”. The church’s acknowledgement that in the struggle of daily living “life is sacred” issues are not easy – a more nuanced merciful perspective – was lost in the noise. Pope Francis brings the message of divine mercy to the forefront of Catholic and world consciousness. As Pope Francis said, the Church needs to be a “field hospital”, conducting “triage” and emphasizing pressing needs of the people, first.  Everything is underlined with the focus on “divine mercy”.

Do you agree with my interpretation of Papal messages?  What are your thoughts and ideas?  What does the message of “endless divine mercy” mean to all of us?  My take on the message of divine mercy will be in part 2.



The Relationship in Justice

The etymology of words can inform us how to use them. Justice can be used in many ways so let us briefly look at its roots and then examine it through the lens of social justice.

Justice is “the exercise of authority in vindication of right by assigning reward and punishment”. It derives from the Latin isutitia ‘righteousness, equity’, from iustus ‘upright, just’. The exercise of authority implies a relationship and this is the piece that often is missing when one talks of and uses the word justice. Relationship implies rightness between the participants. If there is disconnect, lack of rightness, there cannot be justice.

The relationship component is an essential nonnegotiable part of the equation in social work and justice for the poor  Removing “relationship” results in a utilitarian material society, one that has no human element.  Looking at justice through a relationship lens colors the world differently.  When we discuss an issue like just/living wage, we talk of the employee earning enough to meet life’s needs.  We also acknowledge the rights of the employer because if a wage hike leads to a company going out of business it is not just. All relationships are complex living and dynamic balances, and the same is true for social justice.

I’m attending a Social Ministry conference today, which is why this is on my mind…