What is justice? Jesuit, ministry day speaker, explains

Categories: Around the Diocese

Diocesan Ministry Day preview

August 2, 2013, edition
By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully

Justice is often thought of as a vague term in the Pledge of Allegiance or in the court system.

But it is in the mission of the St. Cloud Diocese, deeply rooted in church teaching and a theme for this year’s Diocesan Ministry Day as well.

dmdfatherfredkammerShedding light on one of the four cardinal virtues, Jesuit Father Fred Kammer, former president of Catholic Charities USA and present executive director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University in New Orleans, La., is preparing three talks related to justice for Diocesan Ministry Day.

Father Kammer defines justice in five different ways. As a preview to Diocesan Ministry Day, Father Kammer explained the five definitions and other insights with The Visitor.

Diocesan Ministry Day, also known as “The Great Diocesan Get-together,” will be Sept. 30 at the St. Cloud River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. The day will include prayer, a keynote, learning sessions on a variety of topics, Mass and exhibits. Everyone in the St. Cloud Diocese and beyond is welcome to attend.

Q. The theme for Diocesan Ministry Day is “Hands of Justice.” How would you define justice?

A. In my own writing, I talk about five ways that the church has talked about justice.

One of them is what we call biblical justice, which is the justice rooted in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. It’s the one the bishops talk about in the 1986 pastoral on economic justice for all.

Then there are three classical definitions of justice that come out of scholastic philosophy and theology of the Middle Ages. They were a consensus among theologians, and they really have framed the teaching about justice for the last 500 years. The first is communitive justice, which has to do with justice in relationship to contracts and agreements. The second is called distributive justice, which has to do with how the goods of society are distributed among society as a whole. The third is contributive justice, sometimes called social justice, and it’s about what our responsibilities are for the common good.

I argue that there is a fifth meaning of justice that only became clear in the second half of the 20th century. Structural or systemic justice: it’s the understanding that we have to address the way society is organized, its economical, political, cultural, social and religious structures, in order to create a just society.

Q. What do you think people usually don’t understand about justice?

A. I think the one that they understand the least is the fifth one. The importance of the systemic or structural concept of justice became really clear with Vatican II. If structures in society are unjust, all the charity in the world will not solve the problems of society at large. You have to address not just the individual person who is hungry, but also the structures of society, systems of society that lead people to hunger and that create wide spread hunger. … With the discovery of social sciences, we came to understand economic and social and political structures. Then we came to realize that they had a “down” side and an “up” side. They could help create justice or they could create injustice.

Q. What do you plan to tell the audience at Diocesan Ministry Day?

A. My keynote address is on the document from Vatican II on the church and the modern world and its implications for the church’s life over the last 50 years.

I’m doing two workshops as well. One of them is on changes and challenges in Catholic social teaching, the way it evolved and new challenges it faces. I’m also doing a workshop on immigration reform.

“The Church in the Modern World” is really the major document in modern Catholic social teaching. The later workshop is really how it evolved from Vatican II, and immigration is one slice of the larger picture in Catholic social teaching.

Q. What new understandings do you hope your audience will take home with them?

A. I hope people will understand how [the document] repositioned the church in the center of the public square and made us responsible for human history and as well as what we might have called church history. In there are a whole set of sub themes. One is the importance of dialogue in what it called the church to do: to dialogue with the world and to dialogue within the church. I’m going to use some major examples of how that dialogue took place in the U.S. church history over the last 50 years. Another important theme is centrality of justice to the Gospel. It’s a theme we’re hearing a lot now from Pope Francis.

From my workshop, one important take away is for people to understand how the tradition of Catholic social teaching and Catholic social thought is an evolving tradition. It has evolved in response to new needs and new situations and new insights to the Gospel.

From the other workshop I hope people come away with a sense of how strongly the church has been and is an advocate for immigration reform and what that means, what the contours of that reform should be in the light of the church’s tradition.

Q. How can people begin to address the many problems in the world?

A. I recommend they try to do two things. One is to come in contact with Christ among the poor in some ongoing way, some real human contact. Tutor a child or visit an older person in a nursing home or work at a soup kitchen. There are many ways to do that. It will give you a real feel for what we call charity, hands-on caring for people in need.

The second is to get involved in one social issue that affects people’s lives. If you can connect your hands-on work with your issue work, which I would call justice work, that’s even better. Like if you worked in a soup kitchen once a month or once a week, join a group like the Christian hunger advocacy called Bread for the World. If you are tutoring a child, join a school reform group or if you are visiting an older person in a nursing home, join a nursing home rights group. So you can connect the human face of Jesus in the poor to the issue you’re working on. It will both enliven the issue and make it more meaningful and give you a sense that I’m not ‘just doing.’

For more information on Diocesan Ministry Day, check out www.stcdio.org/dmd or call Janet Brinkman at 320-258-7655 or Deacon Mark Barder at 320-251-2340.

Registration forms are available at www.stcdio.org/dmd. For a hard copy registration booklet or registration questions, call Jan Zylla at 320-252-4721.