The great Jewish prophets, the forerunners of Jesus, coined a mantra which ran something like this: The quality of your faith will be judged by the quality of justice in the land and the quality of justice in the land will be judged by how “widows, orphans, and strangers” (biblical code for the three most vulnerable groups in society) fared while you were alive.
Jesus wouldn’t disagree. When he describes the last judgment at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, he tells us that this judgment will not be, first of all, about right doctrine, good theology, church attendance, or even personal piety and sexual morality, but about how we treated the poor. Nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor. Jesus and the great biblical prophets make that clear.
This has also been made clear in the social encyclicals of the Roman Catholic church during the past 150 years, most recently in the social encyclicals of John Paul II. We see this as well in the prophetic traditions within all the Christian churches and in some of the great individual Christians who have touched our lives during this past century: Mother Theresa, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, William Stringfellow, and Catherine Doherty, among others. We also see this challenge in our own generation in the work and writings of persons such as Bishop Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Jean Vanier, Henri Nouwen, Daniel Berrigan, Bryan Hehir, and Jim Wallis.
Granted, this challenge to justice doesn’t negate other religious and moral obligations, but it does remain always as a fundamental, non-negotiable, principle: We are going to be judged by how the most vulnerable groups (“widows, orphans, and strangers”) fared while we were alive and practicing our faith. The challenge is a strong one.
Sometimes it’s helpful to sing our truths, both so that rhyme and rhythm can etch the words more indelibly into our consciousness and that the chant itself can help increase our courage and resolve. Here are some justice hymns:
– We need to be on fire again because our hope is no longer an easy one.
We live in a culture of despair where Pentecost can no longer be taken for granted.
We must refuse to make the Holy Spirit a piece of private property, but a spirit that matters. (Mary Jo Leddy)
– Looking at a picture of our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of his divine hands. I felt a pang of great sorrow when thinking this blood is falling on the ground without anyone’s hastening to gather it up. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive its dew. I shall spend my life gathering it up. (Therese of Lisieux)
– The wages of work is cash.
The wages of cash is want of more cash.
The wages of want more cash is vicious competition.
The wages of vicious competition is – the world we live in. (D.H. Lawrence)
– There are Seven Social Sins:
Politics without principle
Wealth without work
Commerce without morality
Pleasure without conscience
Education without character
Science without humanity
Worship without sacrifice (Mohandas Gandhi)
– Strength without compassion is violence
Compassion without justice is sentiment
Justice without love is Marxism
And … love without justice is baloney! (Cardinal Sin)
– We are not, but could be.
We don’t speak languages, but dialects.
We don’t have religions, but superstitions.
We don’t create art, but handicrafts.
We don’t have a culture, but folklore.
We are not human beings, but human resources.
We do not have face, but arms.
We do not have names, but numbers.
We do not appear in the history of the world, but in the police blotter of the local paper.
The nobodies, who are not worth the bullets that kill them. (Edward Galeano, The Nobodies)
– In the world’s schema of things, survival of the fittest is the rule.
In God’s schema, survival of the weakest is the rule. (Alphonse Keuter)
– It is not possible to create a world in which no innocent people suffer, but it is possible to create a world in which fewer innocent people suffer. (Bryan Hehir)
– We don’t want your money; we can steal that from you when we need it. We need you to lead us back to God, and to give us jobs. (A Gang leader to a group of church and business leader)
– Lost is a place, too. (Christina Crawford)
– You could say that, if you are walking down the roads of life these days, and looking for a piece of God or for some spirit by which to guide your life, you should be looking down. For is God is going to be found these days, it’s going to be small things. It’s going to be close to the ground. It may even be below the ground. Looking for God, these days requires the willingness to investigate the small, to descend. To look down. To look down. To look down. (Aztec poem)