Someone recently asked me what I understood by the words ‘social justice’. Questions are good. They help us clarify our thinking, and can so often help us name what our heart is trying to tell us.
I don’t think I had tried to define ‘social justice’ before – it was just something that was an integral part of our faith. For me, social justice is commitment to human dignity and the goodness of all creation.
God created woman and man in God’s own image—what an amazing insight into human dignity is that! It follows that social justice is also about right relationships—so that all can know dignity. From the beginning of time there have been human struggles concerning power, status and control. But the world God dreams of is one in which all have human dignity.
So in the scriptures there are strong reminders that those who are poor, oppressed and vulnerable have a special place in God’s heart. Jesus lived out of this understanding. Jesus ate with the ‘wrong kind’ of people. He kept on pointing out what was important in life through how he lived and because he did this he could speak words that summoned people to a new way of seeing, feeling, and responding.
It is no simple task to celebrate Eucharist every week where as a community we break open the word together in the context of our world, and share the bread and wine with the commitment to ‘Do this in memory of Me’.
In 2006 the archdiocesan synod offered a prophetic statement concerning social justice:
‘In 2011 all members of the archdiocese will know and understand that social justice is at the heart of the gospel.’
When we live out of this understanding our communities will be truly vibrant. Many parishes are blessed to have an active social justice group. This does not mean that social justice is only for a few ‘who are interested in those things’! It is a core dimension of the gospel we profess and live.
How this is lived out will differ in each place. Examples from the parishes have included: diverse ways of working for peace and justice; advocacy, education, raising concerns in areas of education, health, justice or the workplace; welcoming refugees; promoting Parihaka instead of Guy Fawkes; fair trade practices; raising awareness about the environment; bi-cultural liturgy; enhancing the role of women; prayer and retreats. Jesus himself is the good model.
Some of his methods brought criticism – it is not always easy to work for change in society and established institutions.
It is time for change in the Archdiocesan JPD office. I will be leaving the position this month. The three years have been a special time of blessing for me in so many ways. I have been inspired by the wisdom and longings of so many in the parishes and with the JPD Commission as you have lived justice, and tried to find new ways of doing so.
I have learnt so much from your enthusiasm and your searchings. I have prayed with you and shared the stories of your lives. Meetings, social justice huis, retreat, social analysis seminars—we have continued together to learn tools and understand the call of the gospel.
Thank you for your commitment and journeys. As long as there is one person who is struggling or in pain, we are called to open our hearts and make a loving response—even if it means doing something we have never done before. We welcome Mary-Ann Greaney who will be continuing in the JPD role. I hesitate to use the term ‘adviser’ as our task is to listen so we can walk together!
As I write we have just been blessed with an excellent scripture seminar facilitated by Sr Barbara Reid op, ‘Communities of hope in a chaotic world’. Social justice grows out of understanding the gospel and growing as communities of friends. Let us continue to make good use of all the opportunities that come our way! The next event in Wellington is eco-liturgy at St Thomas More Church in Wilton, Sunday February 8 at 7.30pm.
Let us listen to the signs of the times, let our hearts be touched by the pain and suffering of others, let our minds and hearts be informed by the gospel and Catholic social teaching, so we may be moved to action for a better world for all.
May we continue to learn from and support one another as we challenge unjust systems that keep people poor and oppressed. This is what God asks of us today, ‘to live justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with God’ (Micah 6:8).