Charity and justice are frequently set in opposition to one another. Some deride charity as little more than a bandage over social problems. Others scoff at social programs, pointing to the perpetuation of social problems in spite of decades of legislation directed at solving one or another of them.
In his book Doing Faithjustice: An Introduction to Catholic Social Thought, Fred Kammer, SJ explains that charity and justice are intimately related. He explains that, on the one hand, “Service is advocacy; it declares loudly and clearly that persons matter.” He continues, “Advocacy for gospel justice, on the other hand, must be rooted in service, remaining connected to the persons affected by the injustices structured into the systems of our society” (227). Living Catholic social teaching requires both a personal response to human suffering and a structural response that alleviates the causes of human suffering.
Likewise, Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, writes in Becoming Human that justice is “more than just following the law, not hurting people; it also means respecting and valuing each individual” (95). In fact, personal relationships—based in respect and value—with those who stand “outside” the boundaries of our everyday-relationships can provide us with a critical perspective on culture. Vanier explains:
When we ally ourselves with the excluded in society, not only are we enabled to see people as people and to join them in their struggle for justice, to work for community and places of belonging, but we also develop the critical tools for seeing what is wrong in our own society (96).
Vanier acknowledges that holding this perspective is not easy. We “endanger the stability of our inner world” and risk estrangement from our friends and family. Yet, taking and holding this perspective is necessary. “We want to begin to work for change” only “when we cast a critical eye not only on ourselves but also on the group to which we belong” (96).
Gradually, through these relationships, Vanier promises, “As the human heart opens up and becomes compassionate, we discover our fundamental unity, our common humanity” (97). From the perspective of “fundamental unity” and a “common humanity,” doing justice becomes easier and a more just world possible. It begins in person-to-person contact and the development of personal relationships outside our everyday rounds.
See Fred Kammer, SJ, Doing Faithjustice: An Introduction to Catholic Social Thought, Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2004.
See Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1998.
Submitted by: N. Rademacher, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Religious Studies