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To render to each his due

Written by Alain Pilote on Wednesday, 01 January 2014. Posted in Editorial

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the virtue of justice (n. 1807): “Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good.”

Alain PiloteThis short but accurate definition gives us so much to reflect upon. So often we will discuss either the rights of man, or the rights of God, but very rarely will we discuss both at the same time, as if in taking care of the one, we should neglect or ignore the other. And yet, it is Jesus Himself who said: ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:40) If we do not love our neighbor, we do not love God.

In his new Apostolic Exhortation on the joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis surprised many with his denunciation of the actual economic structures (see article on page 4), adding that, as long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved, no solution will be found (par. 202), and any Church community which ignores this problem, risks breaking down (par. 207). This message of “liberation of the poor” plays an integral part in the New Evangelization.

The ones who seemed most alarmed by the Pope’s proposals (even accusing him of being a Marxist!) were precisely those who completely ignore the Church’s teaching on social justice. Because Communism was condemned for its atheism, they wrongly believe that capitalism is without blemish. Only God is perfect: Any man-made system has room for improvement. What the Church teaches is that economic systems should be at the service of the human person, and for this reason, it is hoped that everyone would have access to private property and at least, to the minimum of their basic needs, thus, making every person a true capitalist. (See article page 12.) The problem is that capitalism has been deformed by the financial system.

Some believe that in order for social justice to be attained, it is necessary to tax the wealthy to give to the poor. Certainly this is not the only possible method, or the most desirable. (See article page 28.) What is due to each individual is a dividend based on his or her inheritance of natural resources and human progress.

In his encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Pope John Paul II wrote (n. 37): “Among the actions and attitudes opposed to the will of God, the good of neighbor and the ‘structures’ created by them, two are very typical: on the one hand, the all-consuming desire for profit, and on the other, the thirst for power, with the intention of imposing one’s will upon others.”

A little further down, the Pope adds: “These attitudes and ‘structures of sin’ are only conquered – presupposing the help of divine grace – by a diametrically opposed attitude: a commitment to the good of one’s neighbor.”

Without divine grace we would not have the courage to dedicate ourselves for the good of our neighbor in an egoistical world where, as in the words of Pope Francis, “the globalization of indifference” reigns. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes (n. 180), “To the extent that he (God) reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity.”

Western societies, with all their material wealth, think that happiness and peace is possible while leaving God out…and yet today there is so much sadness, suicide, solitude and isolation. Quebec, in these past few years with its rapid secularization, is a striking example of this. Let us remember the words of Pope John Paul II in a homily given in Montreal on September 11, 1984:

“To replace God is an impossible task. Nothing can fill the emptiness of his absence, neither abundant material wealth — which does not satisfy the heart — nor easy and permissive lifestyles which do not quench our thirst for happiness – nor the exclusive search for success or power for their own sake — nor even technology which makes it possible to change the world but brings no real answer to the mystery of our destiny.”

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis tells us to consider the example of the saints when facing the challenges of today (n. 263): “Let us not say, then, that things are harder today; they are simply different. But let us learn also from the saints who have gone before us, who confronted the difficulties of their own day.”

This is what Archbishop Lacroix of Quebec, on the occasion of the opening of the Holy Door, proposes to us, with the example of all the saints and blesseds of Canada, especially Bishop François de Laval, first bishop of Quebec. (See article page 16.) Let us confront the challenges of our time in order to “render to God and neighbor” their due!

About the Author

Alain Pilote

Alain Pilote

Alain Pilote has been the editor of the English edition of MICHAEL for several years. Twice a year we organize a week of study of the social doctrine of the Church and its application and Mr. Pilote is the instructor during these sessions.


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