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…
With the advent of Pope Francis last year the dignity of the human person and social justice has come to the forefront of the Church in a way that has made the world sit up and take notice – not that it wasn’t as significant before. It is an exciting time, and on this Labor Day we celebrate the role of our first worker role model Joseph, the father of Jesus.
It began in 1955 when Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of St. Joseph the Worker in response – it is believed – to the Communist sponsored “May Day” worker celebrations. However, there is a more ancient beginning linking Joseph and the human worker.
From the beginning people have proudly celebrated the humanity of Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter. They have acknowledged the importance of Jesus growing up in a working class family – not in an elite family – learning from Joseph, his father. Jesus learned carpentry from his dad, working and creating with his hands, and then supporting his widowed mother. Then there is the other side, to the son, the radical social activist advocating drastic change from the then current norm.
The question for us today is what role, if any we are and will be playing? As if the first role models are not enough, Catholics have the the doctrine of Catholic Social Teaching on matters of social justice to impel a response to all injustice. Such teachings have inspired. For instance, in 1933 Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin founded of the Catholic Worker Movement. More recently, in 2013 Pope Francis released an amazing Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).
Side note: Issues related to the Catholic Church, and their intersection with society in general, are significant. Why? Declared Catholics are 1.1. billion making them the largest denomination of any religion of our 6.7 billion planet’s citizens. The Catholic Church also probably is one of the largest non profit organizations in the world. It runs many schools, universities and hospitals, and does a lot of charity work. Something to keep in mind as you read this and other Catholic related posts.