The Second Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops took place in Rome in 1971, gathered to consider two topics: the ministerial priesthood and justice in the world. On the latter topic, a report on justice and peace was published in spring of 1972. Pedro Arrupe, in his positions as the Superior General of the Society of Jesus and the president of the Union of Superiors General, responded to the report with the following text. Arrupe notes the existence of a credibility gap in the social commitment of the Catholic Church, observes how discernment and conversion are necessary for witnessing justice (a more active role than merely serving as a sign of justice), and what areas and roles are available to the Church and the Society of Jesus to witness justice.
For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.
Vatican I teaches that the Church is a supremely credible witness to the truth of divine revelation and to her own divine mandate to make that revelation known to man: ‘motivum credibilitatis et divinae suae legationis testimonium irrefragabile’ (the motive of credibility and the unimpeachable witness of its divine mission).
I. Credibility Gap in our Commitment to Justice
1. Discrepancy between Teaching and Witnessing
But for the Church to be a credible witness to her own divine mission ought she not also to be a credible witness to justice among men? The question has been asked. And it has been suggested that we Catholics have created—by our attitudes, by our actions, or simply by our inactivity—a ‘credibility gap,’ as far as justice is concerned, between the modern world and the Church.
We can argue forever about the nature, the extent, the causes of this ‘credibility gap.’ But if doubts do exist about the Church’s commitment to justice, we should do all in our power to dissipate them, to show that they have no foundation in fact. We cannot do this by abstract reasoning. We can only do it by making sure that the Church’s commitment—that is to say, our commitment—to justice is a fact. In other words, we must back up the Church’s teaching on justice with our witness to justice. And it must be a witness that is truly convincing.
This has always been the case; but today more than ever. For, as has been well said, “The men of today pay more attention to the witness than to the teacher.”
Why does witness have more power to persuade than teaching? Because teaching presents an ideal, but witness gives it life, embodies, incarnates it. Witness gives the ideal flesh and blood.
If so much importance is given to witness today, it is not only because of the value that witness has always had, but also, in part, because of the significance, the personal significance, that Vatican II has given to what used to be called ‘signs.’ In Dei Verhum and Lumen Gentium especially, Vatican II says, in effect, that if the Church is a sign that the salvation of the world is even now being realized, it is because Christians—that is to say, people, persons—bear witness to this fact.
Where Vatican I spoke of ‘sign,’ Vatican II preferred to speak of ‘witness.’ This ‘personalization’ of the somewhat impersonal term ‘sign’ is one of the reasons for the new stress given to witness in the Church.
This insistence on witness has something to say to us. The various ways in which, according to Vatican I, the Church can be considered a ‘sign,’ have been personalized, brought to a focus in the Christians who make up the Church. It is their personal sanctity and their effective, not merely theoretical, love for one another that make the Church a ‘sign’ or in the language of Vatican II, it is by bearing witness to Christ that the Church becomes a sign.
For when Christ’s commandment of love is truly lived by Christians—and let us not forget that love demands justice and includes it—then the claim that the Church lives by the Spirit, that it is the Spirit that gives her life becomes truly believable.
This presence of the Spirit in the Church is a fact. But it is not the kind of fact that can be studied under a microscope or stated in a mathematical formula. Life, whether human or divine, escapes the narrow categories of discursive reason. We apprehend it best through witness, through the self-revelation of the person whose life it is or who shares in that life.
That is why the revelation of God is essentially a witnessing: the Father witnessing to the Son, the Son to the Father the Spirit witnessing to the Son, the Son to the Spirit. Christ chose His Apostles, taught them and strengthened them so that they could be witnesses in their turn, men who could not do otherwise than bear witness: “We cannot promise to stop proclaiming what we have seen and heard.”
2. Mission of the People of God
And after the Apostles it is the Church, the People of God, that must bear witness to the salvation God has revealed and wrought. Here, then, is the meaning of Christian witness: it is the continuation in our own lives of the divine witnessing which is the life of the Trinity, as witnessed by Christ our
Lord, and transmitted to us by the witness of the Apostles and their successors to our own time.
This is the mission of the Church. We often say that the mission of the Church is to preach the Gospel. True; but to preach it as Christ our Lord did, not just by words but by deeds; not just by talking about it but by living it and dying for it.
The Gospel is a Gospel of love. But love demands justice. The Gospel is therefore a Gospel of justice also; it is the Good News preached to the poor. And we must preach it not merely by teaching it but by bearing witness to it: that is the mission of the Church.
This is how the Synod puts it: “Action in behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.”
More than action: life. Preaching not merely spoken, not merely acted, but lived. In the last analysis, this is what witness is. Witness is life.
The dynamism of this kind of witness is enormous. It does not impose itself by force or violence; and yet, by making visible and tangible the values that must shape men’s lives, it can bring about radical changes, in societies no less than in individuals, which mere force or violence cannot produce.
“Why do the saints have followers?” asks Bergson. “They demand nothing; yet men do, of their own accord, what the saints would have them do. The saints do not need to exhort; all they need to do is be. Their very existence is a call to perfection.”
We know this from our own experience. To many people, the teaching of the Church is valid; it is convincing to the mind. But if it is to be efficacious, if it is to move them to action, it must be backed up by life; backed up by those who have accepted the Gospel, live the Gospel, and activate their personal, family and community lives with the justice of the Gospel.
This will not be easy. Let us be realistic. It is not easy to be just. True, the example of a Christian life, a just life, will be followed by many, will be an inspiration to many. But it will also be a sign that is contradicted. How can it be otherwise? Christ Himself was such a sign, and the servant is not greater than his master. Everywhere and at all times, but especially in “the present-day situation of the world, marked as it is by grave sin of injustice,” there will be those who will say:
Let us lie in wait for the just man,
since he annoys us
and opposes our way of life,
reproaches us for our breaches of the law
and accuses us of playing false with our upbringing…
Before us he stands, a reproof to our way of thinking,
the very sight of him weighs our spirits down;
his way of life is not like other men’s,
the paths he treads are unfamiliar…
He proclaims the final end of the just as happy
and boasts of having God for his father.
Let us see if what he says is true!
And very often, it is by suffering that the just man will bear witness, that “what he says is true.” To bear witness by one’s life is to put that life at the service of an ideal, no matter what it may cost. To bear witness by one’s life is to be ready to lose it. We call those who have given up their lives for the Christian ideal, martyrs. What does “martyr” mean? It means, simply, “witness:” The martyrs are God’s witnesses par excellence.
3. Justice and Prophecy
The prophet is also a witness, a witness to justice. It is not only someone who foretells the future that we call a prophet. He also is called a prophet who speaks from an impulse of the Holy Spirit, who discerns the “signs of the times,” and who, on the basis of this discernment, tells the People of God what they have to do.
The prophetic function is not limited to the institutional and hierarchical Church alone. “The holy people of God share also in Christ’s prophetic office.” As Saint Thomas tells us, there have always been throughout history men chosen by God to lead His people in this prophetic way. “No period of history,” he says, “has been without persons endowed with the prophetic spirit; not, indeed, to reveal some new doctrine of faith, but to direct human activity.”
In ordinary circumstances, to follow the right way to God, it is enough for us to believe in His word as interpreted by the teaching Church, and to be guided by our pastors, who have been given this charism of guidance by Truth itself, and are assured of the special assistance of the Holy Spirit. This is as true today as it has always been. However, as in the past, so also today the Lord sends His prophets to help us over specially difficult stretches of the road, or to shake us from sinful slumber and supineness, or to reprove our evil deeds, or to point out wrong attitudes we must get rid of and necessary tasks we must undertake, things which demand radical changes in our lives. We have to be told these things because it has not occurred to us to think of them; moreover, they are things, particularly in matters of justice, which will sometimes appear to us troublesome, exaggerated, even unthinkable.
We, too, have our prophets. In our extremely difficult period of transition, when a whole new world is coming to birth, we must have them. In a world marked as it is by the grave sin of injustice, we need them to point out with clarity, energy and daring the new roads of justice that mankind must travel.
Not only individuals can be prophets. Local Christian communities and particular groups within the Church can also be called by God to exercise a prophetic function. Today, given the wide variety of rapidly changing situations, it is very difficult for the universal Church to utter a message or offer a witness that has universal validity. This is why the witnessing and prophetic role of the local Christian community and of other groups within the Church has acquired special relevance. Sometimes it is an individual member of the group who will create in all the others an awareness of the sinfulness of the situation and of the need for a radical change. Through him the group is awakened to its Christian responsibilities and to the need to witness. Sometimes the group itself, without the help of a single individual, but through a process of prayerful and collective reflection and in communion with those in authority, may feel called by the Spirit to a strong and public stand against injustice.
Religious congregations of men and women, by special charism and vocation, are called to witness by the lives and activities of their members to the evangelical counsels that they profess. Religious should be true followers of Christ poor and crucified by man’s injustice. They should be a special sign of the kingdom that is to come: a kingdom of justice, love and peace. By their example they should “attract all the members of the Church to an effective and prompt fulfilment of the duties of their Christian vocation.” It is not surprising, therefore, if today the eschatological and prophetic role of religious places on them an added responsibility and renders their religious vocation even more relevant.
4. True and False Prophets
We do not make prophets; we cannot train prophets; no one appoints himself a prophet. Prophecy is a gift of God. The problem is how to distinguish between real prophets and false ones whether they are individuals or groups. “Beware of false prophets,” our Lord warned, “who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves.”
It is not always easy to make this distinction between the real prophet and the false because all prophets are often inconvenient and troublesome to the People of God. “I will make my words a fire in your mouth,” God said to one of His prophets, “and make this people wood for the fire to devour.” And to the people He said, “Does not my word burn like fire … is it not like a hammer shattering a rock?” It is not surprising, then that the reaction of people to any prophet that comes along is to send him away or get rid of him somehow. This is especially true in the domain of justice, where people’s riches, power or other vested interests are endangered by what the prophet says.
Clearly, the norm for distinguishing the real prophet from the false cannot be whether his message is agreeable or disagreeable. Other criteria must be used, such as:
1) The prophet’s message should be in harmony with the teachings of the faith. “If your gift is prophecy,” says Saint Paul, “use it as your faith suggests.”
2) His message should lead men to acknowledge God, and Christ as the Son of God and only Savior of mankind.
3) He himself, in his own life, should fulfil the radical demands of his message. “You will be able to tell them by their fruits.”
4) Since prophecy is an extraordinary gift, what Vatican II says of extraordinary gifts applies to it: “Judgment as to their genuineness and proper use belongs to those who preside over the Church, and to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good.” We know from history that there have often been tensions and misunderstandings between those who have the gift of prophecy and the hierarchical authority of the Church. But we also know that the touchstone of authenticity of the prophetic gift has always been the humble submission of the prophet to the final judgment of the Church regarding his charism. This is the prophet’s personal witness that his message is true.
5. Justice in Today’s World
Christians are called to witness to the Gospel message of justice, love and peace in the context of today’s world, a world, in the words of the Synod, “held captive by a tremendous paradox.”
On the one hand, there is a growing awareness of man’s dignity and rights, and of the need for union, solidarity and peace, Powerful and dynamic forces—scientific, technological, economic, social and political—by bringing men closer together, deepen and strengthen that awareness.
On the other hand, we see frequent and open violations of the fundamental rights of individuals, groups and whole nations. The world is torn by deep and scandalous inequalities in the distribution of material resources, power, and responsibility. Unjust systems and structures keep vast masses of people in a state of subjection and tend to perpetuate and even increase those inequalities. This state of things drives men to violent and destructive conflicts, and even threatens to engulf the world in a global war.
The Synod, after describing the present situation, briefly defines it by saying that the world is marked today “by the grave sin of injustice,” and “by its perversity contradicts the plan of its Creator.” Strong words but true, if we consider that today not simply a few individuals, but the greater part of humanity is the victim of those injustices.
In this context, the duty of the Church and of all Christians to witness to justice becomes more urgent and more compelling. It is part of the mission of the Church—in fact, a constitutive dimension of it, as the Synod points out—to bear witness to justice, and to do so by her very life, by the personal and community lives of all her children.
And when we speak of giving witness to justice, we mean, clearly, the justice of God, as God reveals Himself in both the Old Testament and the New. “In the Old Testament,” the Synod says, “God reveals Himself to us as the liberator of the oppressed and the defender of the poor, demanding from man faith in Him and justice towards man’s neighbor.” In the New Testament, God reveals Himself to us in Christ our Lord: in His life and in His Message. And what is this message? “According to the Christian message,” says the Synod, “man’s relationship to his neighbor is bound up with his relationship to God; his response to the love of God, saving us through Christ is shown to be effective in his love and service of men.” Christian love of neighbor and justice cannot be separated.
The liberation of the oppressed, the defense of the poor, the love and service of men as Christ’s brothers and our own—it is by dedicating our lives to these ideals that we shall witness to justice. Or to put it another way, we must, by the testimony of our lives, make clear to all the world that it is an integral part of the Christian vocation to bring about a social order “founded on truth, built on justice, and animated by love.”
II. Discernment and Conversion for a Witness to Justice
6. Difficulty in a Complex and Fluid World
If witnessing to justice is not easy, neither is it simple. It demands discernment.
Our witness cannot be a witness to the past, but to the present. Certainly, we must make use of the wisdom and experience that is our legacy from the past. But we must realize that the present is very different from the past, and the future will be even more different. Our witness, then, cannot be to something that may have been true in the past. It must be a witness to something that is true in the present, and that will be true in the future—that future which is even now taking shape before our eyes.
This will involve much discernment on our part. As our Holy Father says, “In the present changes, which are so profound and so rapid, each day man discovers himself anew, and he questions himself about the meaning of his own being and of his collective survival. Reluctant to gather the lessons of a past that he considers over and done with and too different from the present, man nevertheless needs to have light shed upon his future—a future which he perceives to be as uncertain as it is changing—by permanent eternal truths.”
How to shed the light of eternal truths on situations so mobile and so complex? Better still, how to build the eternal truths into the very process of change, growth and development?
Will it be, as so often in the past, simply by works of mercy, by bringing the emergency assistance of Christian compassion to the victims of injustice? Surely this is no longer enough. Will it only be by being conspicuously absent from situations where men are broken by tyranny, or by keeping a disapproving silence in the face of arrogant injustice? Many times in a world “marked by the grave sin of injustice,” it will become a duty of whoever claims to be a Christian to speak out and take action against injustice. It has been well said that Christian criticism is, or should be, a thorn in the side of history—a sting that forbids man to rest on his laurels. But how, on what occasions, by what means, apply this stimulus?
And to what kind of action must it be a stimulus? In such and such a situation, what precisely is the constructive action to take? How to select, among various options, that which will bring about the more permanent and universal good? How to exclude the option which may bring temporary relief to a present ill, but will eventually create more problems than it solves?
These are difficult questions. They are not insoluble ones. They do not justify indecision or inaction. They do demand discernment.
The first fruit of discernment is to identify, at least initially, those areas of ambiguity in the struggle for justice where it is necessary to reflect, that is, to discern. A few examples will suffice.
We have already spoken of the difficulty of distinguishing the true from the false prophet. Today, particularly in the field of justice, we have a great abundance, a veritable avalanche of people who call themselves or are called by others prophets. “Prophetism” has become an “in” word. Demonstrations, accusations, denunciations of injustice abound; and, certainly, the injustice is there to be opposed by demonstration, to be accused, to be denounced.
In the case of prophetism, therefore, evangelical discernment in the light of the criteria that we have enunciated is more than ever necessary to avoid two extremes. On the one hand, we should not permit ourselves to be deceived by prophets like those of whom God said to Jeremiah: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them. I gave them no orders, I never spoke to them. Delusive visions, hollow predictions, daydreams of their own, that is what they prophesy to you.” These false prophets can at times be extremely persuasive; so persuasive as “to deceive even the chosen, if that were possible.”
On the other hand, however, we should not try to extinguish the prophetic spirit. When Saint Peter openly preached repentance in the Temple, “Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out,” the priests and the Sadducees “were extremely annoyed” at what the Apostles were teaching the people, and put them under arrest. We should seriously reflect whether there are not among us men and women whom we condemn as false prophets simply because they tell us things we do not want to hear, and urge us to right wrongs we find profitable or pleasant. If their message is that of the Gospel, if their lives bear witness to their message, if they gladly suffer persecution, if they are willing to submit their message to the final judgment of the Church they deserve from us at least respect and a fair hearing.
7. Other Areas of Discernment
There are other areas where discernment is also required: Does the involvement of Christians in the building up of a just social order imply an involvement of the Church in politics? If so, in what way? To what extent?
Are Christians obliged to denounce injustice? Is the Church as such? If so, under what conditions, and to what end?
The Church must be inclined to take the side of the poor. Does this mean taking sides with the poor in any and every conflict? If it does, how is this to be harmonized with another basic function of the Church, namely, reconciliation? If it does not, then what does it mean?
The Church must bear witness to justice. But she must also bear witness to charity. If a conflict, even if only an apparent conflict, arises between these two obligations, what is to be done?
We will have something to say about these questions later. We mention them here simply to stress the fact that if the Church is to fulfill her mission of witnessing to justice she must practice discernment: that spiritual, supernatural discernment whereby one seeks, amid the complexities of any given situation, the direction in which the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, is leading.
Here again, when we speak of the Church practicing discernment what we mean is that we—we, the People of God—must practice it. This discernment of what to do and how to act so that our very lives will bear witness to justice must now take place in the heart of every Christian, and at every level of community in the Church: the parish, the diocese, the episcopal conference, the religious institute, the lay organization devoted to some form of apostolic or social service.
As was pointed out before, the local Christian community is becoming more and more the channel through which witness is given and the Spirit speaks. The same holds true for discernment. The Christian community should become a discerning body and should structure itself accordingly: “It is up to the Christian community to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country, to shed on it the light of the Gospel’s unalterable words and to draw principles of reflection, norms of judgment and directives for action from the social teaching of the Church.” These words of Paul VI bring us to the question of the discernment process.
To get the process of discernment going at all these levels, those who are in positions of responsibility or influence in the Church have a special obligation to take the lead, to set an example. They must, before everything else, as we shall try to explain presently, put themselves in that state of mind and spirit which will enable them to discern truly and clearly. Then, approaching the situation about which discernment should be made, they must ask themselves the question: What are the facts?
To be able to discern how to promote justice in a given situation, an objective knowledge of the relevant facts is indispensable. Hence the importance of setting up agencies and procedures by which accurate information on that situation is collected, analyzed and shared. Then we should reflect on the facts and interpret them in the light of faith. To encourage this reflection the Synod, in asking episcopal conferences to put its recommendations into practice, suggests some means to this end, namely the “setting up of centers of social and theological research.”
The Synod was aware, of course, that many such research centers already exist and are active in some parts of the Christian world. Implicit, therefore, in its recommendation is the plea that where these centers do exist, episcopal conferences will give them full support, direct their attention to problems of justice—especially the most urgent ones—and take their findings seriously into consideration.
The gathering and interpretation of factual data, though essential, is not yet discernment. Discernment properly so-called is the prayerful reflection on a human reality (which we have tried to perceive as clearly and objectively as possible) in the light and with this object in view, to shape our lives and guide our actions concerning that reality only and solely as the Spirit shall direct.
And this brings us to the notion of conversion.
8. A Change of Heart
There is an absolute prerequisite for the discernment of which we speak. That prerequisite is conversion: the radical inner transformation of a man which is sometimes referred to as metánoia, a Greek word meaning “change of mind and heart.” Just what is conversion, metánoia? It is getting rid of something so that something else can take its place. It is getting rid of everything that prevents us from being filled with the Holy Spirit; from being completely at the disposal of that Spirit which Jesus promised to send, “the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, and who is to be Jesus’ witness,” leading us, who are also called to be His witnesses, to “the complete truth.”
This is why there can be no true discernment without conversion; for discernment, when all is said and done, is nothing else but being guided by the Spirit: seeing the world, and what we must be and do in the world, no longer with our own eyes, but with the eyes of the Spirit.
Conversion, then, is a change; a change that takes place deep inside us; a radical change. Let us make no mistake about it: there is nothing superficial about conversion. It is not, for instance, deciding, after a somewhat more fervent retreat, to “give something to the poor,” or to be a little more generous to one’s “favourite charity.” This is a praiseworthy thing in its way; but it is not conversion.
Conversion is not a giving away of something that we can well afford to lose. It goes much deeper than that. It is a putting away of something that we are: our old self, with its all-too-human, all-too-worldly prejudices, convictions, attitudes, values, ways of thinking and acting; habits which have become so much a part of us that it is agony even to think of parting with them, and yet which are precisely what prevent us from rightly interpreting the signs of the times, from seeing life steadily and seeing it whole.
Conversion, in short, is divesting ourselves of what St. Paul calls the “old man” in order to put on the “new man:” the man in Christ Jesus; the man who has accepted the Gospel without any reservations, and stands ready to do whatever it may require of him; the “Third Class of Men” of the Exercises of St. Ignatius, i.e., one who has reached that degree of detachment from all he has and is that he is prepared to keep or not keep them, use them or not use them, only as it shall be to the greater service and praise of the divine majesty.
The inner disposition of detachment from self-interest and readiness to follow the promptings of the Spirit are essential to discernment; that discernment by which alone, as we have seen, we can give an adequate response to the Synod’s call to action. For it is the Spirit who will suggest to us the best way of answering that call, and give us the strength to put it into practice—provided, as we have said, that by a radical inner conversion we have put ourselves completely at His disposal.
The Synod’s appeal to action, then, is also, by that very fact, an appeal to discernment, and to the conversion of heart and mind that makes discernment possible.
This appeal is addressed to all of us, to the entire People of God which is the Church. True, the Synod’s statement on “Justice in the World” puts special stress on what the hierarchical Church is called upon to do; for, being bishops, the Synodal Fathers had their fellow bishops particularly in mind.
But the witness of life and the witness of action which they ask for cannot, obviously, be given by the hierarchical Church alone. It must be given by all other corporate bodies in the Church, whether priestly, religious, or lay, at every level of organization: local, national, international. And it must be given by individuals as well, particularly by those who hold authority, exercise leadership, or wield influence either in the Church or in civil society.
9. An Examination of Conscience
Conversion begins with self-knowledge, and discernment of future action must be based on an evaluation of present performance. This is our starting-point: an examination of conscience.
The Synodal Fathers set an example by making one themselves. They recognized, however, that it was only a beginning, and could only be made in general terms. They asked, therefore, that it be taken up throughout the Church, and given more concrete application according to the varying circumstances of each locality, nation and region. They said: “The examination of conscience which we have made together regarding the Church’s involvement in action for justice will remain ineffective if it is not given flesh in the life of our local churches at all their levels.”
What follows is an attempt to “flesh out” the general indications of the synodal document and to broaden their application beyond the limits of the strictly hierarchical Church. The resulting “examination of conscience” is of course not concrete enough either; but it may suggest, at least to some, the principal areas in which we may be able to improve the witness to justice which we give by our lives.
And here it may be well to recall the Holy Father’s timely reminder that an examination of conscience should be an examination of one’s own conscience, not someone else’s conscience. “It is too easy,” the Holy Father said, “to throw back on others responsibility for injustices, if at the same time one does not realize how each one shares in it personally, and how personal conversion is needed first.”
While the Church is bound to give witness to justice, she recognizes that anyone who ventures to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes.
10. Human Rights in the Church
Within the Church rights must be preserved. No one should be deprived of the ordinary rights because he is associated with the Church in one way or another. Those who serve the Church by their labor … should receive a sufficient livelihood and enjoy that social security which is customary in their region. Lay people should be given fair wages and a system for promotion.
We might examine whether those employed by church communities offices and institutions, whom we must consider as our fellow workers in the Lord, receive at least the same fair compensation for their work, the same social security benefits and the same freedom to organize as the employees of secular organizations. Or does the Church enjoy privileges or exemptions in this regard conceded to it either by law or custom? And if so, ought we to retain such privileges and exemptions?
If what the civil law prescribes to protect the rights of workers falls short of our ethical and moral standards, should we not of our own accord go beyond the requirements of law?
Briefly: the rights of workers are defined and defended in a whole series of Church documents starting from Return Novarum. Do we practice what we preach?
11. Lay Participation in Decision Making
Lay people should exercise more important functions with regard to Church property and should share in its administration…. The members of the Church should be given some share in the drawing up of decisions, in accordance with the rules given by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and the Holy See, for instance with regard to the setting up of councils at all levels.
Today when so many are unjustly deprived not only of their rightful share of the world’s resources, but also of a proper participation in policies and decisions affecting their existence the example of the Church in this area is even more necessary.
Within the area of each one’s competence, we must respect the right of all—laity, clergy, religious—to a proper share of responsibility and participation in the formation of policies and the making of decisions affecting them. Do the necessary structures or mechanisms exist to ensure such participation?
Discrimination poses a direct challenge to the Christian concept of man. The dignity of the human personality, the unity of the human race and the equality of all men are of the very essence of the Christian Gospel, which proclaims our common origin, our common purpose, our common redemption, and our common destiny. “The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race color condition of life, or religion.”
Thus, we must treat all equally, without discrimination, irrespective of their sex, race, color, creed or social status. In particular, we should see to it that women get “their own share of responsibility and participation in the community-life of society and likewise of the Church.”
12. Freedom of Expression
The Church recognizes everyone’s right to suitable freedom of expression and thought. This includes the right of everyone to be heard in a spirit of dialogue which preserves a legitimate diversity within the Church.
Let us examine our attitude towards those who differ in opinion from ourselves. Is it open or closed? While taking all prudent measures to preserve the purity and integrity of our faith, do we at the same time allow for that measure of freedom in research, reflection, and discussion whereby our human understanding of revealed truth is enriched, and the right practical decisions arrived at with regard to contingent, ever-changing situations?
If, after all this, we still find that a difference of opinion exists among us, we should try to resolve it by the dialectic of Christian dialogue. St. Ignatius suggests a form of this dialectic worth considering:
Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s perhaps obscure statement or position than to condemn it. But if he can find no way at all to defend the other’s statement made or position taken, let him make careful inquiry into what the other means by it. And if the latter’s attitude or understanding of the matter seems to be somewhat unreasonable, let him gently and courteously point this out to him. And if this course of action brings no result, let him try all other suitable ways to help the other see things in proper perspective and without misconceptions. …
The form of judicial procedure should give the accused the right to know his accusers and also the right to a proper defense. To be complete, justice should include speed in its procedure.
Do the disciplinary or judicial procedures in the community or institution for which we are responsible safeguard the basic rights of the human person? Do the channels and structures exist whereby even the humblest members of the community or institution may peaceably seek and obtain redress of grievances? Are those accused of violating any law or precept given the opportunity to be heard in their now behalf? Are salutary penalties imposed on those who make false accusations?
III. Areas of Witnessing to Justice
For us Christians, to avoid injustice, to refrain from violating the rights of others, is not enough. This is a necessary first step, and not always an easy one. But we have, in addition, as followers of Christ, a prophetic and eschatological role to play in the world. This role demands that our lives be a living witness, a sign lifted up to the nations, of the message of justice and liberation brought by Christ to men. This applies particularly to bishops, priests, religious, and laymen in positions of trust, responsibility and influence.
There are three principal areas in which they can and must render positive witness: material and human resources, lifestyle, freedom.
13. Use of Material Resources
The first requirement, of course, is to use material resources justly, for the purposes for which they have been entrusted to an ecclesial body or institution or work, and in a manner that safeguards rather than violates human rights. Do we follow this rule within the area of our competence? Are we faithful stewards of Church property? Do we see to it that Church funds are invested in enterprises which make justice a primary consideration?
Then there is the question of Church-owned land, whether urban or rural. The question arises particularly in countries where there is an agrarian problem, and cities where there is a problem of overcrowding. Are these properties lying idle? Even if not idle, are they serving an apostolic purpose which cannot be supported in some other way? Will we promote social justice and social development better by retaining them or by giving them up?
But our reflection must go beyond this. The world today is characterized by a scandalous split between an extremely rich, powerful and overfed minority, and an utterly poor, helpless, under-nourished majority. Faced with such an unjust distribution of the world’s resources, the Church cannot limit herself merely to a just use or administration of her resources entrusted to her.
In regard to temporal possessions, whatever be their use, it must never happen that the evangelical witness which the Church is required to give becomes ambiguous. . . We must certainly keep firmly to this principle: our faith demands of us a certain sparingness in use, and the Church is obliged to live and administer its own goods in such a way that the Gospel is proclaimed to the poor. If instead the Church appears to be among the rich and powerful of this world its credibility is diminished.
In the light of these words, the Church at all levels and the different groups within the Church should seriously examine whether their money, land, buildings and other material possessions are such, and used in such a way, that through them Christian humility and self-sacrifice are proclaimed and the good news of liberation brought to the poor and oppressed.
14. Use of Manpower
We should also reflect on whether we are making, an equitable distribution of our manpower; that is to say, the services which the Church renders through her pastoral, educational, health, community and other works. If priority is to be given to those in greater need, can we justify situations in which a high percentage of our human resources are placed at the service of the well-to-do classes?
Here is matter for reflection not only for churchmen or religious, but also for laymen, particularly those who have been blessed by God with special abilities that can be of invaluable service to the community. It is mainly thanks to the gifts and talents received from God that they have achieved the economic and social position they now enjoy in society. They cannot in any way, therefore, use those gifts or that position to serve injustice, nor use them in an unjust way or only for their own comfort and advancement. Furthermore, they should seriously consider what they can personally do for those members of their community who are victims of injustice and particularly in need of their help and service. The talents and opportunities God has given us are an invitation to render personal service to Christ in our neighbor, particularly the oppressed, the poor and the defenseless.
Our examination of conscience now comes to the life-style of all; bishops, priests, religious and lay people. In the case of needy peoples it must he asked whether belonging to the Church places people on a rich island within an ambient of poverty. In societies enjoying a higher level of consumer spending, it must he asked whether our lifestyle exemplifies that sparingness with regard to consumption which we preach to others as necessary in order that so many millions of hungry people throughout the world may he fed.
As Barbara Ward, one of the resource persons of the Synod, said in a memorable address at one of the synodal sessions: “Challenge us to personal sacrifice, to a modesty of living more in keeping with the demands of local and international justice!” The example of Christian simplicity and moderation in the use of the world’s resources, the need for austerity and sacrifice to achieve peace and freedom, are sorely needed today when the ideal seems to be ever-increasing rates of consumption and the “maximization” of production, income and material comforts.
Man must have a minimum of material goods in order to be. But it is not true that to be more he must always have more. We must learn to be “more” having “less;” we must learn what it is to have enough. This becomes more relevant today when an indiscriminate and selfish use of the world’s resources by the richer nations threatens to cause irreparable damage to the essential elements of human life and to jeopardize the development of the poorer peoples.
Following the example of Christ, the Church should be, above all, the Church of the poor and the oppressed: the agricultural laborers, the refugees, those who suffer persecution for their faith, those deprived of basic human rights, those relegated by the powerful and prosperous to the margins of human society. We must, then, ask ourselves whether our way of life is such that all these people recognize in us the message of love and liberation which Christ brought to the world, whether they can find in the Church hope and salvation.
The poor, the suffering, the disadvantaged, must stand at the very center of our concern. For they need justice as much as anyone else; only they can neither buy it nor impose it. It was left for God to bring the good news to the poor.
But God is not only the God of the poor. He is, in a real sense, God who is poor. For the mystery of the Incarnation has established a special relationship between God and poverty whose meaning goes much deeper than mere compassion. The Scriptures, especially the New Testament, invite us to plumb the depths of that meaning.
God is all-powerful. God has riches beyond our ability to estimate. But He is also a God of justice, who demands that justice be done. If, then, God, all-powerful and infinitely rich, identifies Himself with the poor, it must be because the cause of the poor is somehow identified with the cause of justice.
Christ, the Son of God, empties Himself; assumes the condition of a slave; allows Himself to be unjustly put to death. He does this, not because He tolerates injustice, or considers injustice unavoidable. On the contrary. One of the lessons we can learn from the cross is precisely to realize to what injustices our passion for wealth and power can lead. In Christ crucified we can see what we do to the poor when we are unjust to them. The cross shows the victims of injustice that Christ has made common cause with them, and that it is in him—God made man, God made poor, God put to death but risen from the dead—that they will find liberation, justice and peace.
16. Liberty and Communications
Many are deprived today of political and religious liberty; prevented from expressing freely their legitimate opinions and ideas, and from professing, teaching, and spreading their faith. Faced with this violation of human rights, the Church should not only recognize “everyone’s right to suitable freedom of expression and thought,” but also be herself a model of openness and mutual trust.
We speak often of the need for correct and complete information, for a free and responsible press. The Church should take the lead in providing the necessary information to the public about her own affairs, and in welcoming criticism. In settling disputes and arriving at decisions, she should take into account all relevant evidence.
Secrecy, which is sometimes necessary, should not be identified with camouflage. It should not be motivated by the fear of revealing what we really are, or of being told that we are far from being what we ought to be. Care should be taken, however, that freedom and openness do not degenerate into purely negative or destructive criticism, or into sensationalism and the distortion of the truth.
In this connection all of us, but the laity especially, can do much to ensure that the press and other media of social communication develop the responsibility that necessarily goes with freedom. For one thing, many Christians belong by profession to these service agencies, and so are in a position to promote among their associates that self-imposed discipline according to ethical norms which is so much more effective in making the media an instrument of justice than external pressure or censorship. Then again, capable young people might consider a career in the media not simply as an opportunity for self-advancement but also as an opportunity for service and witness. Finally, as users of media productions, as newspaper readers, television viewers and movie goers, ordinary Christians, by their preferences and options, can certainly contribute something to the healthy development of social communications.
IV. Special Roles in the Church
A. Role of the Laity
17. Liberation for Justice
Giving witness to justice by the example of our lives means, necessarily, acting for justice. It means giving witness by action, by our daily involvement in the promotion of justice, by our active solidarity with the poor, and by our efforts to free man from the oppressions that enslave him.
The most important contribution Christians can make to the promotion of justice is, of course, to bring the reality of Christian justice into their family and professional life, and their social, cultural and political activity. “Everywhere and in all things they must seek the justice of God’s kingdom.”
During the past decade action for justice was conceived principally in terms of socio-economic development: the improvement of the material conditions of life of those who have less than they should have of material goods to live a truly human life. Today, without denying the continuing need for socio-economic development, thoughtful men prefer to regard action for justice as principally liberation:
Liberation, first of all, from the inner constraints, the inner slavery of personal sin and sinful proclivities.
Liberation, next, from the ignorance, the apathy and the fatalism, the narrow and selfish mental patterns and attitudes induced in us by our own sins or by the sins of others.
Liberation, finally, from the unjust economic, social, and political structures, arrangements and procedures which effectively exclude so many people from human development, and even deprive them of the means to acquire this development for themselves. Liberation in this sense obviously calls for some kind of political involvement.
18. The Politics of Justice
Our mode of action for justice will differ according to our position in society and the grace we have received from God. Among these various modes, action in the political field should be considered one of the most effective ways of bringing about a more just social order. As the Holy Father has pointed out:
In the social and economic fields, both national and international, the ultimate decision rests with political power…. To take politics seriously at its different levels—local, regional, national and worldwide—is to affirm the duty of man, of every man, to recognize the concrete reality and the value of the freedom of choice that is offered to him to seek to bring about both the good of the city and of the nation and of mankind. Politics are a demanding manner—but not the only one—of living the Christian commitment to the service of others.
“Politics” is a word of many meanings. It can mean simply the exercise of the rights and duties of citizenship. Thus understood, all Christians are called upon to engage in politics. Or politics can mean the pursuit or exercise of political leadership and power, the kind of leadership and power that is proper to the State. Politics in this sense is a field of action which is specifically that of the laity, it being the vocation of the layman to concern himself with the up building of the temporal order.
Political power is not, of course, a bad thing in itself; on the contrary, it is “the natural and necessary link for ensuring the cohesion of the social body.” However, the pursuit and exercise of political power can give rise to conflict; conflict which is not necessarily violent, and which in our contemporary society is perhaps unavoidable. Because of this, one of the contributions Christians can and should make in the political field is to “bear witness to the Gospel by pointing out that there are sources of progress other than conflict, namely, love and right.”
In any case, membership in the Church-as-People-of-God does not deprive Christians of their rights, nor dispense them from their duties, as citizens of the polis, the earthly city: the nation or state to which they belong. Hence, as the Holy Father says, they must “take” politics seriously, since politics, by the very derivation of the term, is nothing else but the proper conduct according to justice of temporal affairs within the framework of the state.
In the political sphere of action the local Christian community is also called to play an important role:
It is up to these Christian communities, with the help of the Holy Spirit, in communion with the Bishops who hold responsibility and in dialogue with other Christian brethren and all men of goodwill, to discern the options and commitments which are called for in order to bring about the social, political and economic changes seen in many places to be urgently needed.
If we Christians do this, we will necessarily have to confront one of the great problems of our time, the problem of institutionalized violence.
19. Institutionalized Violence
The theme proposed by the Holy Father for the World Day of Peace in 1972 was: “If you want peace, work for justice.” There is no peace without justice. Today, however, in many parts of the world, the established order, or what is called the “establishment”—which claims for itself the function of keeping the peace—in reality supports, maintains, and perpetuates a real disorder, an “institutionalized violence;” that is to say, social and political structures which have injustice and oppression built into them.
In such a situation, to bear witness to justice, to act for justice, may mean to engage in a hard and protracted effort to change such structures. In many countries the changes required are so radical and global in nature that sometimes people speak of revolutionary changes. The word revolution is understood in many different ways. The difference in interpretation concerns not so much the need for structural changes, but rather the nature and extent of these changes and the way in which they will be effected. In any case, for us Christians the only revolution possible is one which, in its objectives and in the means employed to achieve them, fully respects the Gospel spirit and man’s dignity and freedom. The outcome of any structural change should be a true liberation and not another type of oppression.
If there is no peace without justice, neither can there be lasting justice without peace. Both are the fruit of love the love that Christ brought to men. We Christians then are bound to work for the realization of both together, fully understanding that this is a work of extreme difficulty, demanding patient and persevering labor and sacrifice.
20. Public Opinion
The Christian preference for a peaceful approach to the promotion of justice leads us to consider ways and means of moving public opinion in support of justice programs. The Synod rightly points out that a significant number of Christians, struck by the “priority of love in history … prefer the way of non-violent action and work in the area of public opinion.”
Politicians and businessmen know the value of public opinion have learned how to mobilize it, e.g., through the mass media, to achieve their own partisan or commercial objectives. We have not fully realized the possibilities of public opinion as a particularly potent instrument for the promotion of justice.
In contemporary society, particularly in the more developed countries, it is the so-called “silent majority”—citizens in a democracy, stockholders in large business enterprises, the rank-and-file of trade-union organizations, the middle-class families, the “buying public”—that holds the balance of power. Public opinion, it is true, can be influenced and even manipulated by small but well organized and articulate minorities. But it is also true that values, mental patterns and attitudes of this “silent majority” determine to a great extent the type of society in which we live, and its economic, social and political orientation.
The vast majority of people, particularly in the developed world, are not yet sufficiently aware of the unjust conditions in which so many millions live today, of the share of responsibility that they bear for those injustices, and of the need for radical changes on their part if the situation is to improve. This also applies to the wealthy and ruling minorities of developing countries. Here is a vast field for the educational and pastoral action of the Church, and for the involvement of the laity in the promotion of justice, particularly in those areas where, as the Synod points out, most crucial problems of world justice are to be found: international trade arrangements and investment policies; the arms race; the treatment of racial, national, cultural and religious minorities; the extravagant waste of limited world resources; the pollution of the environment.
To choose the non-violent way to fight injustice does not imply in any way passivity or inefficiency. On the contrary, it presupposes a deep Christian commitment to the cause of justice, and a serious search for all those means that, in keeping with the principles that we profess, can best achieve the objectives that we have in mind, such as a change in public opinion or the objection of an unjust situation.
Among the various means being employed today to fight injustice, .to mention only a few, are public demonstrations and protest marches, the calling of strikes to ensure just working and living conditions, the boycotting of goods and services which are provided through unjust means or practices or which are used for unjust or harmful ends. Within certain limits and conditions, these can be legitimate means in the promotion of justice. However, to avoid abuses and greater injustices, before deciding on a particular course of action, a process of discernment is required.
B. Role of the Institutional Church
21. Proclaiming the Gospel of Love and Justice
This brings us back to what we said earlier, namely that the renewal of the temporal order is the proper task of the laity. What then is the role of the institutional Church in the more direct action field?
It seems clear that the Church precisely as an institution does not have a mandate to propose authoritatively concrete solutions to technical problems of the temporal order. This does not mean, of course, that the Church is exempted from the duty of ascertaining the facts of a situation involving justice, of applying the appropriate principles to the facts, and of submitting their findings to public scrutiny. It does not mean that the Church may content herself with simply floating on a high level of abstract principle. All it means is that the management of political, social and economic matters is, as such, the competence of the appropriate political, social and economic institutions or agencies.
This seems to be the meaning of the carefully worded statement of the Synod, that “of itself, it does not belong to the Church, insofar as she is a religious and hierarchical community, to offer concrete solutions in. the social, economic and political spheres for justice in the world.”
What then is it? It is mainly to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel message of love and justice; to denounce existing injustices; and to recall, to keep recalling, the ethical principles and norms that should govern the establishment of a just social order. In this more strictly ecclesial action for justice, bishops, priests and religious can and should take the lead.
Before everything else, of course, the institutional Church should be a source of inspiration, support, and guidance for all Christians actively engaged in the difficult, thankless, and in some instances even dangerous, task of promoting justice. Sometimes the laity, and even priests and religious who are thus engaged complain, with reason, that they do not get the encouragement and support they need from their religious leaders. This is certainly a matter for serious reflection.
It is the part of the institutional Church to invite Christians, both individually and in groups, to dedicate themselves to the promotion of justice and the eradication of injustice. And she has repeatedly done so, most recently through the apostolic letter Octogesima Adveniens and through the Synod of Bishops. Many Christians, for their part, have responded to the invitation courageously as well as prudently, after prayerful discernment, and in close consultation with the ecclesial community or religious group to which they belong. Hence it is only right that the Church, especially Church leaders, should stand solidly behind them, and not abandon or repudiate them when difficulties and conflicts arise, as they almost always will in the struggle for justice.
In certain cases, the institutional Church may judge after careful inquiry that she cannot approve the precise way in which some Christians become involved in the promotion of justice. Even so, it would be good to make a distinction between methods of action which may be imprudent or unacceptable, and the Christian motivation behind the action. That we should always be ready to defend.
Moreover, one ill-advised attack against a particular form of injustice should not lead us to abandon all efforts to remove or reduce it. The injustice should at least be identified and if necessary, denounced.
22. Denouncing Injustice
In the Church’s preaching of the Gospel message of justice and liberation, a denunciation of existing injustices is necessarily implied. What we are concerned with here is not this implicit denunciation, but the explicit, direct denunciation of an injustice and those responsible for it.
This kind of denunciation is sometimes necessary. There are evident injustices in the face of which the Church cannot remain silent, cannot take up a neutral posture. For in some parts of the world today, to be silent, to be neutral, is in effect, even if not in intention, to be on the side of the rich and powerful against the poor and oppressed.
In some countries, for example, the Church is called upon to denounce the injustices committed against those who cannot defend themselves, to be the advocate, the spokesman of the voiceless victims of injustice. The Synod calls our attention to some of them: migrant workers, tenant farmers, refugees, ethnic minorities, persecuted religious groups, political prisoners, and that most defenseless of human beings, the unborn child. Very often it is only the voice of the Church—the voice of bishops, priests, religious, lay people, who know of these injustices at first hand—that can be raised in defense of the silent oppressed and in denunciation of those who oppress them.
Denunciation demands courage—often great courage. For to denounce an injustice will often mean to confront, perhaps to unmask, but in any case to contradict powerful men who control the levers of economic and political power. And Christ our Lord, in the instructions He gave to His Apostles, has warned us what a risky thing it is to be a witness to the Gospel. “They will hand you over to the sanhedrin and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans…. Do not be afraid of them.”
But let us take note of something else that Our Lord said on the same occasion. “Remember,” he said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.” To have courage is not the same thing as to be foolhardy or naive. To be on the side of the poor and oppressed is not necessarily to be always on the side of every cause, every movement, every organization that proclaims itself to be on the side of the poor and oppressed. For there are causes, movements, organizations who apply this label to themselves, but whose remedies for the problems of the poor and the oppressed are simplistic, short-sighted, resulting from an emotional rather than an objective view of the concrete situation, or whose real aim is not justice but power; power at any price, even though it be the blood or the human rights and freedoms of those whose defenders they advertise themselves to be. For Christians to make common cause with them is not to witness to justice but to betray it.
Our witness to justice must be an authentic one. Let us not jump on every bandwagon that comes along. Let us take time and thought to discern where justice really is, not just where it appears to be. To do this, to be “cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves,” will not require less courage. It will require more. For it will mean, sometimes, to be criticized, condemned, attacked, simultaneously or successively, by both sides in a conflict situation: on the one hand by those who, possessing power, use it to protect their vested interests, and on the other hand by those who, not having power, seek to acquire it by any means and at any cost.
We must be prudent, then. But let us remember that prudence does not always mean caution; and it never means fear. There will of course be times when the threat of a greater evil, of disastrous consequences which an intemperate or inopportune denunciation of injustice may have for the very people we are trying to help, will recommend moderation, even silence. But let it be concern for the greater good, not pusillanimity or cowardice, that deters us from denunciation. Moreover, let us be clear on what precisely will be affected by the adverse reaction to denunciation. Will it really be the values we are trying to defend, the true interests of those whose rights we are trying to vindicate? Or will it be merely our own personal or institutional interests, our own social status and prestige?
Again, justice itself demands that before we make a denunciation we make sure of the facts. This is all the more necessary in view of the ambiguity, complexity, and mobility of the human situation today. Hence not only the denunciation itself, but its form and content, should be decided upon after careful inquiry and mature reflection, and in consultation with those of our particular ecclesial community who share a similar concern for justice, who are familiar with the situation, and who are likely to be affected directly or indirectly by the action we take.
Denunciation is a form of correction, but not the only one. It sometimes happens that an injustice can be more effectively eliminated by approaches less public and combative than denunciation. Our Lord Himself calls this to our attention in His instruction on fraternal correction:
If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.
This procedure, with the necessary modifications, could well be adopted in trying to right an injustice.
Finally, we should never allow denunciation to degenerate into abuse, into mere destructive criticism. Christian denunciation must always be evangelical; it must have for its object not to destroy but to save. True, effective denunciation is very often unpleasant. It hurts. But if denunciation inflicts pain, if it stings, it must only be to sting to action, to constructive and speedy action.
23. Symbolic Acts
Closely related to denunciation are “symbolic acts.” These are, in general, acts or gestures made by local Churches, Christian communities, individuals or groups, which do not always offer a definite or permanent solution to a problem of injustice, but which, because or their dramatic quality, can at least contribute to calling public attention to the problem. Symbolic acts, like prophetic witness, are sometimes quite effective in fighting injustice, particularly if they are not simply isolated gestures without any follow-up, but mark the beginning of a change of attitude or of policy, or of a more constructive and carefully worked out solution. Otherwise, symbolic acts risk becoming mere sensation-seeking. Hence, the decision to make a symbolic act should be based on a particularly careful deliberation.
Of a more permanent and organic nature are the so-called “acts of solidarity.” These are made when local or national Churches agree to collaborate on a problem of justice which is beyond the capacity of any one of them to solve. Problems of international justice belong to this category.
24. Planned Action
Besides denunciation, symbolic acts, and acts of solidarity, the Church should be permanently committed to the promotion of justice through its various institutions, that is to say, by planned, organized action institutionally carried out.
In general however, the thrust of the Church’s institutional action today should be in the direction of liberation: speaking up and speaking out for the voiceless victims of injustice, and helping them to free themselves to acquire the means and the opportunity to make their own decisions on how to achieve full human development, and actually to achieve it by their own efforts.
To do this will require, as noted earlier, the changing of unjust and oppressive structures, and hence planned and organized action in the political field. This will be mainly the task of the laity the political field being their proper field of action. However, we cannot exclude the active presence of the institutional Church in one of the most important areas of human endeavor and one of the most relevant from the point of view of the promotion of justice.
Even priests and religious are called upon to play a role in the political field broadly understood, though always in accordance with their specific vocation and charism in the Church. The priest as minister of the Eucharist and of the Word, and the religious because of his or her prophetic and eschatological role, cannot involve themselves in ideological and partisan disputes that would jeopardize their mediatory function, the purity of their message and their apostolic freedom. Their priestly or religious commitment does not, however, deprive them of membership in the polis, or debar them from active participation in the affairs thereof; that is to say, in the process whereby a human community, whether local or national seeks to give expression, through its social institutions, structures, procedures, policies, to its own way of being fully human—which is, after all, the highest and best meaning, as well as the most original meaning, of “politics.”
In the history of the Church examples are not lacking of priests and religious, men and women, who, while deeply committed to their specific role and vocation, have been pioneers in defending basic human rights and freedoms, and in ensuring the promulgation of appropriate laws or the establishment of the necessary institutions to protect them. Christian missionaries often fought to defend the rights of minorities or the interests of the poor against unscrupulous employers, landlords or money-lenders.
Today also in several countries the Church is engaged in fighting against discrimination, in ensuring equal employment and housing opportunities, in protecting association and trade-union rights. These activities, however, are more representative of isolated efforts by private individuals and groups than of a corporate Church commitment. They often lack the planning and co-ordination required to exert an effective influence on public opinion, on government policies or on economic, social and political structures.
There is sometimes a gap between the principles of justice so frequently and so strongly enunciated by the Church and her performance in the action field. A fuller realization by the Christian community of her witnessing role through a process of discernment leading to planned and organized action programs, will contribute to bridging this gap and to rendering the Christian teaching on justice more relevant for the world of today.
C. Contribution of the Religious
25. International Action
Allow me at this point to say a word about the particular contribution that religious can make to justice in the world. We have already spoken of the witnessing function that they are called upon to exercise because of their specific vocation and charism. Religious should not simply “preach” justice but witness to it in their lives and activities.
We have also emphasized the role that, faced with such widely varying situations, the local Christian community is called upon to play in discerning the signs of the times and in deciding upon the course of action which best answers each concrete situation.
However, at a time when the world is becoming more and more a global village and the interdependence and worldwide character of today’s problems is on the increase it would be tragic to limit the witnessing and prophetic office of the Church to the local or national level only.
The Synod devotes a whole section to international action and suggests several areas in which this action could be exercised. Here we would like to stress the important contribution that religious congregations of men and women can make to the promotion of justice in the international field.
To overcome present divisions and inequalities, the state of poverty, powerlessness and dependence in which two-thirds of the human family live, we have to foster an international, global view of man and society. We have to make people realize that international justice, peace and solidarity are essential if we want to survive.
Religious have a special responsibility for developing in themselves and in the Christian communities in which they work an international concern and a worldwide view of today’s problems. Religious institutes “may be removed from the jurisdiction of the local ordinaries by the Supreme Pontiff and subjected to himself alone. This is done in virtue of his primacy over the entire Church in order more fully to provide for the necessities of the entire flock of the Lord and in consideration of the common good.” This concern that religious should have for the good of the universal Church, should be reflected in their dedication to meet one of the most urgent pastoral and missionary needs of our time: to instill in all a true love and respect for the neighbor which will go beyond the narrow limits of one’s own country or culture and embrace the whole of mankind.
Because of their international character, because of the fact that many religious congregations work both in rich and poor countries, in the developed and developing world, religious seem to be ideally placed to witness through their lives and activities to the international dimensions of justice and to promote dialogue, understanding and collaboration among nations.
To answer the Synod’s call to action for justice and the Holy Father’s New Year appeal for 1972, the Union of Superiors General (U.S.G.) and the International Union of Superiors General of women (U.I.S.G.) in close collaboration with the Pontifical commission for Justice and Peace, launched on March 15, 1972, a “Year of Peace through Justice.” The main objective of this one-year program was to create in the religious generalates based in Rome a deeper awareness of the problems of world justice and of the role of religious in that field. We sincerely hope that this program will contribute to making religious more conscious of their specific role to bear witness to justice by their lives and activities.
26. Ecumenical Collaboration
If Christian witness to justice is to be effective, it should be a common witness. We should practice what we preach to others: mutual respect and understanding, solidarity and co-operation. Christians cannot remain divided in their witness. And this not for any selfish or opportunist reasons, but in order to carry out more fully the Church’s mission according to the will of Christ.
Ecumenical collaboration should embrace all the aspects of our witnessing. It should extend also “to the study of the teaching of the Gospel insofar as it is the source of inspiration for all Christian activity.” There is need for serious theological study and reflection to provide a clear basis for the whole range of common Christian witness and involvement in the social field. We should avoid “procedures that are superficial, rash and counterproductive … so that the many good desires and the many promising possibilities may not perish in misunderstanding, indifference and in a false irenicism.”
In the action for the promotion of justice, ecumenical cooperation should generate “first and foremost activities for securing human dignity and man’s fundamental rights, especially the right to religious liberty.”
To defend basic human rights and to promote justice, peace and freedom, we should also collaborate with all those who, though they are not Christians, sincerely and, as the Synod says, “by honorable means” work towards a world more just and more human.
The Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace and the World Council of Churches have greatly contributed to developing this ecumenical collaboration, particularly through their joint Committee on Society, Development and Peace (SODEPAX). The Synod invites the Pontifical Commission further develop this collaboration in common counsel with other bodies sharing the same ecumenical concern, such as the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.
However ecumenical collaboration is not a separate field of apostolate or the concern of a few isolated individuals and institutions, but a dimension of all the Church’s mission. As such it should characterize the individual and corporate involvement of the Church and of Christians at all levels.
To witness to justice is to witness to man’s dignity and freedom and to God’s love for man.
The reason for Christian involvement in the cause of justice should never be worldly ambition or a desire for power or prestige, but a deep concern for man, and for the realization of God’s plan in creating and redeeming him.
The best, the most efficacious, and the most lasting expression of this concern is the way Christians live and act.
It is by the way we live and act that we shall give a witness to justice that compels belief.
It is by the way we live and act that we will move others to join with us in building up a world order based on justice.
To live justice, and to act for justice, we must engage in a process of discernment.
Discernment means reading and interpreting the signs of the times. It means asking ourselves such question as these: In the concrete, existential situation in which we find ourselves, what are the facts that have a bearing on the Gospel message of justice: the liberation of the oppressed, the defense of the poor, the safe-guarding of human rights, the promotion of human development?
What are the efficacious means, in the light of these facts, which will bring about in this particular situation the justice of the Gospel?
What is the plan of action: when do we move, who does what, and what resources, what support should he have to do what he is supposed to do?
Discernment demands conversion. To be able to discern, one must have an open mind and an open heart—a mind and heart open to the Spirit. This means getting rid of attitudes and prejudices that close one’s mind and heart to everything except to the familiar, to what we are used to, to what has “always been done;” and, also, getting rid of attitudes and prejudices that close one’s mind and heart to everything except what is new, what is against “tradition,” what is sensational, what is revolutionary. We must be truly open to the Spirit; and this demands conversion—metánoia.
First, then, conversion, the gateway to which is a searching self-examination to see clearly what we have done and what we have failed to do for justice. Conversion that is both sincere and deep, leading to a reformation of life, to a witnessing to justice not merely by our words but by our lives. It is a reformation of life which enables us to discern, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what must be done to bring about God’s justice, and which impels us to planned, collaborative action to achieve that end.
This is how we shall respond to the call of the Synod for justice in the world, and to the challenge of the Holy Father: “If you want peace, work for justice.”
Today more than ever the Word of God will be unable to be proclaimed and heard unless it is accompanied by the witness of the power of the Holy Spirit, working within the action of Christians in the service of their brothers, at the points in which their existence and their future are at stake.
Justice with Faith Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—II, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980, “Witnessing to Justice in the World,” pg. 79–120.