Fr. Dave's Notes

“No Justice, No Peace!”

“If want peace, work for justice.” ​

I will listen for what God, the LORD, has to say;

surely, he will speak of peace

To his people and to his faithful.

May they not turn to foolishness!

Near indeed is his salvation for those who fear him;

glory will dwell in our land.

Love and truth will meet;

justice and peace will kiss.

Truth will spring from the earth;

justice will look down from heaven. (Psalm 85.8-14)

“No justice, no peace!” We yelled this phrase repeatedly on the march I recently participated in. There were lots of us. We were loud. And moreover, the slogan is true: True peace cannot exist in an unjust environment. The Black Lives Matter movement has touched on an oozing, cankerous sore in the American body politic.

If you are a person of color, you know how true this is.

The other phrase, “If you want peace, work for justice,” is part of the social teaching of the Catholic Church and was first uttered in 1972 in a World Day for Peace message. It was spoken by Pope Paul VI and it speaks to the same truth: The daughter of true justice is peace in the land and prosperity for all.  

Peace is a universal desire. Everyone wants peace. But peace is not the same as “good order.” Power and physical might may enforce civil order, but that is not peace. Laws are not always equitable and mere external order can serve oppression.

So where can we find true peace and true justice? I like what Pope Paul VI says in his Day of peace message:

It is difficult, but essential, to form a genuine idea of Peace ...This is the right way to come to the genuine discovery of Peace: if we look for its true source, we find that it is rooted in a sincere feeling for [others]. A Peace that is not the result of true respect for [others] is not true Peace.

And what do we call this sincere feeling for [others]? We call it Justice.

Justice is the fruit of a sincere feeling of respect for others. It flows from the human heart, from the compassion of the human heart. I ask myself, then, what weight do I put on race, religion, gender or economics when I encounter another person? As Paul Wachter puts it, “Is this someone I should care about?” Jesus’ answer to this question is clear from his story of the Good Samaritan.

The answer is yes.

The other side resides in those haunting words from Genesis:

Then the LORD asked Cain, where is your brother Abel? He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4.9)

Again, the answer is yes.

"If you want Peace, work for Justice," the pope said. Justice appears when we respect the other, when we “love our neighbor” as ourselves. It’s about mutual respect. It’s about kinship. Fr Greg Boyle, SJ who has worked for decades with former gang members in East Los Angeles put it this way: “No kinship, no peace.”

Fr. Boyle has a wonderful vision and strategy for finding peace through kinship:

Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. … We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.  (from: Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion)

The challenge of this vision is how it questions the validity of our nationalism, our tribalism, our specious ways of putting people into groups and separating ourselves from those not in “our group.” Sadly, strategizing to serve only one’s own group does not serve the common good. If there is no kinship among us, there is no justice either and there will be no peace.

If this were a TV show, we could wrap it all up by now and go home. Issue resolved. But this is not a TV show and problem-solving takes time. Our social and moral struggle is still on-going.

Fortunately, we need not be discouraged. We have a vision. And a strategy. And, as believers, the consistent company of the Spirit to help us discern our inner presuppositions, biases, and desires while we discern the next step in realizing that vision we have been given:

Love and truth will meet;

justice and peace will kiss.

-Psalm 85.11

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