By Sarah Mac Donald - 26 January, 2019
At a closing liturgy for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Msgr Joseph McGuinness spoke about justice and the difference between a Christian understanding of justice and other understandings.
Speaking about the theme, “Justice, only Justice, you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20), the Administrator of the Diocese of Clogher said that for Christians “the true meaning of justice is to be found in contemplating the saving and merciful justice of God himself, especially as it is manifested in the person of Jesus Christ”.
Speaking in St Michael’s Church in Enniskillen, he said that we can all agree that justice is a good thing, but what we don’t always agree on is what justice is.
“While we often appeal to justice, it is not always with the best of motives, and we may sometimes be in danger of distorting what its true meaning is.”
Msgr McGuinness said that for some, justice may simply mean the law, and they may believe that justice can be achieved simply by legal means.
But he cautioned against this. “The fact is that laws and legal systems are as fallible as the human societies that create them. Human societies have enacted, and still do enact, unjust laws; laws that permit racial and social discrimination, laws that even allow for the killing of other human beings.”
He added that civil law has often nothing much to say about the rank injustices that often exist in human, social and international relationships.
Though some people may think of justice as the righting of wrong, the danger is that justice may come to be seen simply as retribution, and easily degenerate into vengeance.
“Or we may consider justice to be about equality, ignoring the danger that the pursuit of equality may drive towards a stifling uniformity and lose the richness of diversity.”
For Christians, according to Msgr McGuinness, justice has to be more than striving for just laws, balancing rights or providing charity, good and important as all these things are.
“Justice is not weighing and balancing, as if it could be measured and parcelled out, for justice is a function of love and love can never be measured. And we have to be mindful too that the work of justice precedes the work of charity. Charity without justice is at best condescension and at worst an offence against human dignity.”
Msgr McGuinness said that if the saving justice of God is the model of how we do justice, then our commitment to social justice will arise from our recognition of humanity as a family created by God to live in unity.
“And this, of course, has profound implications for us as Christians, especially when disunity persists even among those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord.”
He underlined that the work of justice is the fruit of love, oriented to the other rather than to ourselves.
“When we do justice, may we do ourselves justice; when we do justice, may we do our faith justice; when we do justice, may we give glory to the God of justice.”