This [social] order rests on two virtues, justice and charity. […] Justice has its limits, but charity has none: pressed by the command to do to others the good desired for one’s self, which is infinite, the lover of mankind will never feel that he has done enough for his fellows till he has spent his life in sacrifice, and died, declaring “I am an unprofitable servant.”

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Frederic Ozanam, “History of civilization in the fifth century,” Chapter I: Of progress in the ages of decline.

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Reflection:

  1. Human justice has its limits, its deficiencies, its “injustices” within justice. This does not need much argumentation. How can we admit that there are justices of different kinds, one for the powerful and the rich, and another for the poor and the needy? Are we so naive to continue thinking that, today, justice is the same for all? All we need to do is look at reality: the crimes perpetrated by the powerful hardly have repercussions, while many other are stuck in prisons without the money to pay good lawyers.
  2. In Christian thought, charity equals love. Unfortunately we tend to equate charity with alms. And this is a serious mistake.
  3. Charity is the principal commandment of the Christian: “To put [Jesus] to the test, one [of the Pharisees] put a further question, ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’  Jesus said to him, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too.’ (Mt 22:35-40). These commands, which already appear in the Old Testament (eg, Exodus 20:1-17 and in Leviticus 19:18), are similar: that is, alike. You can not understand the one without the other.
  4. Neighbor —the whole Gospel clearly states— is every man or woman, friend or enemy, to whom we owe respect, consideration, esteem, and whom we offer our hand without judgments. Love of neighbor is universal and personal at the same time. It embraces all humanity and is concretized in the one who is at your side.
  5. Frederic asks us to “spend our life in sacrifice” in favor of others, and to do this “for love.” He asks us, in a definitive way, to go far beyond the justice of men, and base our existence on the unique, but double, mandate of Jesus Christ. Unique, because he who loves God and loves his neighbor fulfills the whole law. The Ten Commandments are summarized in two, which in the end can be synthesized in one: love.
  6. All this forces us, too, to fight for a more just world, to work for a justice equal for all. We can not disengage from the world, and we must collaborate to make it more just and fraternal.

Questions for dialogue:

  1. Love and charity: are they the same? In my life, in my environment, are they treated in the same way, are they synonyms?
  2. How do we try to promote justice?
  3. Do we strive to live it following the style of St. Vincent, with patience, discretion, moderation, tolerance?
  4. If we happen to have to suffer for it or to be misunderstood, how do we live it?
  5. Are the poor always the privileged of our action?
  6. How attentive are we to the people, the situations, the most disadvantaged social groups?
  7. What commitments do we have with agencies working for justice and acting in the structures of development?
  8. Our lifestyle, our possessions, our way of acting, our choices: do they reveal a close solidarity with the poor?
  9. Are we personal and community creative? Disinterested? Committed?
  10. How and with what do we combat the “structures of sin” that oppress man?

Javier F. Chento
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