Peace, justice, and responsibility
A few weeks ago, we assembled to worship God and to pray for the repose of the soul of George Floyd, our brother by virtue of his being created in the image and likeness of God. As people of prayer, we prayed for the consolation of his family and friends.
We also prayed for peace and the end of injustice and racial enmity and discord in our community. We asked God for His mercy to bring about our conversion as individual persons and as a community from sins of injustice that result in chaos and evil. We pray for those entrusted with the responsibility of protecting us from injustice through upholding the law.
The commandments to love God and love your neighbor cannot be separated. This means I cannot truly love God without loving my neighbor, nor can I truly love my neighbor without loving God. Truly loving my neighbors means respecting them and treating them justly, which begins with the humble recognition that none of us are God. God has designed us to need Him and to need each other, with our authentic diversity and our common human nature.
As the bishops of the United States state in Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love — A Pastoral Letter Against Racism: “Racism arises when — either consciously or unconsciously — a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard. When this conviction or attitude leads individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat, or unjustly discriminate against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity, it is sinful. Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice. They reveal a failure to acknowledge the human dignity of the persons offended, to recognize them as the neighbors Christ calls us to love (Mt. 22:39).”
As children of the one true God, the God of all people, it is required of us to live by rightful authority for the sake of justice and love; we also have the obligation to hold those entrusted with this rightful authority to be accountable in accord with justice and love. When those who possess the responsibility of authority betray that trust, they harm society as well as an individual created in the image and likeness of God. It is incumbent upon us to not be indifferent but to be accountable ourselves for justice, and to hold those who have violated the trust to be accountable in law with such just remedies that include due process befitting human dignity.
When we see betrayals of this trust, fear and anger are inevitable. We can be tempted to react by tearing down legitimate authority and acting in lawlessness and violence. We as a people of faith must make use of more than fear and anger and make use of the path of a system of justice, not simply a system of laws and procedures that are the edicts of the powerful, but rather a system of justice that is established in a recognition and respect for human nature that provides for a morality that is both compassionate and binding, and, more importantly, turn to God for enlightenment and encouragement. If we rely only on fear and anger, we attack the authority of law that protects the vulnerable and each of our neighbors. If we choose the path of indifference, we undermine the authority of law that is intended to serve justice and not simply the status quo that too frequently assaults the vulnerable, who should be safeguarded.
Radical calls to defund the police are not reasonable and are frequently part of a strategy by activists to destabilize our society through playing upon the fears of many of us. We especially need the police to protect the order of the common good and to safeguard those who are most prone to be the victims of crime and injustice. The men and women of our police departments require our prayers and support because of the responsibility entrusted to them to act reasonably and to keep the peace in emotionally charged situations at great risk to themselves. Training in protocols and practices are not enough. A formation anchored in right reason and reinforced by transparency and community involvement and support are needed to prevent us from suffering greater injustices of racial enmity and mob rule. Pope Saint Paul VI said it well on January 1, 1972, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, “If you want peace, work for justice.” This does not mean that justice is something that other people possess to give me in exchange for my letting them live in peace. Justice and peace are interdependent, and each require law and accountable authority and the contribution of everyone — of every person and of every community.