Thinking Anew – ‘Have a care for justice, act with integrity’

 “Above all else, John Hume would like us to honour his name by being people of justice and peace.” Photograph: Pacemaker

“Above all else, John Hume would like us to honour his name by being people of justice and peace.” Photograph: Pacemaker

 

The first reading in tomorrow’s liturgy, written approximately 3,000 years ago, needs to be shouted from the rooftops.The first sentence in the reading from the Prophet Isaiah goes: “Thus says Yahweh: Have a care for justice, act with integrity, for soon my salvation will come and my integrity be manifest.” (Isaiah 56: 1)

After the ammonium nitrate explosion in Beirut last week there was a consensus among the Lebanese population that such a devastating event did not just happen. It is generally believed that the body politic in the country is not what it should be. I have been twice in Lebanon on work assignments and have been impressed with the idealism of the people and the beauty of their capital city. It’s important to remember that Lebanon is home to over 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Sadly, corruption weaves its multifaceted web in myriad situations. Seldom if ever is anything in life black and white.

The death of John Hume has reminded us of the work he did in bringing about peace in Ireland. At his funeral Mass in St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry Fr Paul Farren mentioned some of John Hume’s characteristics and his great achievements. The Gospel read at the Mass was the parable of the Good Samaritan and Fr Farren pointed out that John never passed a person in trouble. I think above all else John Hume would like us to honour his name by being people of justice and peace.

I’m often intrigued when I hear about the controversies that tend to gain ascendancy in different religions and in different Christian faiths. It is striking that social justice and all its aspects seldom seem to cause a stir, especially within religious leaderships. Recently the archbishop of Portland in the United States, Alexander Sample, advised people to stay at home, suggesting that they disengage from the current Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Catholics taking part in the demonstrations have been critical of his stance.

Yes, the churches produce fine documents on many aspects of social justice, but I think it’s fair to say that in the general perception of people, church leadership is far more reticent to speak on matters of social justice than, say, on matters of sexuality. The Catholic church, of which I am a member, is better known for its stance on sexual matters than on social justice. We proclaim loudly that it is a “mortal sin” to commit adultery. When did you hear a bishop or priest say that it is a “mortal sin” to underpay an employee or to overcharge a tenant, or worse, hound a family out of their home for the sake of getting a more profitable tenant? When did you ever hear of a priest being “defrocked” for not taking the side of the marginalised or those abused and degraded by the powerful and wealthy? Never?

Are the churches as forthright in preaching a gospel of social justice as they are in preaching on sexual morality? We know the answer to that and blaming the media solves nothing.

Isn’t it interesting that Pope Francis, who regularly asks pertinent questions about our attitudes towards the terrible inequalities in the world and matters of justice in general, attracts so much criticism from his own bishops and cardinals?

However, it is impressive to see that a third of the Brazilian bishops in an open letter have criticised the Bolsonaro government. “The cause of the storm is a combination of an unprecedented health crisis and a disastrous collapse of the economy and tension striking the foundations of the republic, brought about largely by the president, producing a deep crisis of politics and governance.”

A moment of hope?

I’m with Francis in preferring a church that never stops talking and preaching on matters of social justice.

John Hume is recognised around the world for his work concerning issues of peace and social justice. There is little point in vilifying the body politic in Lebanon or praising John Hume unless we strengthen our resolve to become people of justice, if we are to be saved, as the Prophet Isaiah bids us in tomorrow’s liturgy.

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