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It may seem an inappropriate time to be reflecting on this Beatitude as so many people are jobless and the economy is at its worst in 40 years. However, it is in just such circumstances that the lowest on the financial ladder suffer the most.

The biblical idea of justice is fidelity to the demands of a relationship; fidelity to the Covenant with Yahweh and commitment to the community. The prophet, Jeremiah, writes that the experience of striving for justice is an encounter with God. Reflecting on the correct way to govern, he asserts that ‘true knowledge of God involves dispensing justice to the weak and the poor.’ (Chapter 22:13-16). In Psalm 72, too, praise is given to those rulers who ‘defend the afflicted and save the children of the poor.’ The author adds something that is very appropriate to the flagrant unethical actions of late, “From fraud and violence he shall redeem them.”

South African Dominican, Albert Nolan, suggests that in the New Testament compassion is the interiorisation of justice. Jesus is concerned about a person’s interior motive for doing justice, not out of a sense of duty or from guilt but out of love. Compassion is the motivating force that drives us on to do justice spontaneously, willingly, and with perseverance.

Compassion, in the words of the late Henri Nouwen, means being CUM SOLO with another, at one with the other in his or her pain. We take as our model, Jesus, who took upon himself our human condition and gave us the possibility of eternal justice.

There are blocks to being a person of compassion with a thirst for justice. Here are three.

  • Prejudice. Pre-judging another on the basis of their color, culture, sexual orientation, economic status, or anything that makes them ‘other’ to me is a block to my heart and thus to love. Prejudice is a form of moral blindness.
  • Lack of personal contact with people who are poor or oppressed, either locally or globally, keeps me isolated in my own world, unaware of the depth of their suffering and the causes of it.
  • A lack of humility and the acknowledgement that the success I have is not just the result of my hard work. Luck plays a role too. Lucky for where I was born, for the opportunities I have had to develop my God-given talents, for the ‘breaks’ that went my way. Without that self-knowledge, it is easy to fall into the thinking that “if the other really wanted to succeed, he or she could.”

As we begin the New Year, perhaps we could ask ourselves how to grow in living this Beatitude more fully. We recognize the good we are doing while asking God to heal us of any form of moral blindness, that we may be people of compassion with a passion for justice.

(January 2009 Newsletter)


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