Peace, Justice, and Charity
Homily for the Red Mass, October 2016
In the first reading of today’s Red Mass, the Prophet Isaiah underscores the true nature and origin of peace. The Catholic Church, in its
places this truth of the Prophet Isaiah in its proper context for every age, time, and place. It says: “Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity” (CCC 2304).
Saint Augustine in his timeless work
The City of God
calls peace “the tranquility of order” (CCC, 2304). The Prophet Isaiah, the Catholic Church itself, and Saint Augustine are all needed in our own times and most certainly need to be heard by our own government and our judicial and legal institutions. These two institutions exist for a single and complimentary purpose: to promote the common good by enacting and interpreting laws based on objective truth.
Saint Paul in today’s second reading extols a real and truly virtuous life. Again, the Catholic Church in its
places the truth of what Saint Paul speaks in the context of all human interaction. It says: “The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity; it is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves…” (CCC 1827).
Let us look at virtue, charity, and justice not as ethereal notions but as real duties incumbent on us all and specifically as the essential responsibilities of the offices you hold. VIRTUE, simply put, is the intentional and developed habit of doing what is objectively good in any circumstances. CHARITY, is the intentional and selfless acting on behalf of another for no reason except that the other is my equal as a person and is in need of me. JUSTICE, is the constant and firm will to give their due to God and to neighbor (CCC 1807).
The three forms of Justice which apply to all of us and to which you have a most solemn obligation to interpret for the sake of the common good are: commutative, which obliges respect for the rights of the other; legal, which concerns what the other owes the community; distributive, which regulates what the community owes the other in proportion to the other’s contributions and needs.
Perhaps a better way of understanding the essential connection between virtue, charity, and justice and how each not only compliments the others but each infuses the others with a real desire to be more virtuous, charitable, and just is to look at one person who possessed none of these human traits. In fact, he gave evidence that he not only lacked them, he knew he lacked them and he did not care. I speak of Pontius Pilate, fifth prefect of the Roman Province of Judea, the judge, jury, and executioner of Jesus Christ.
Saint John the Evangelist narrates his encounter with Jesus in exquisite detail. As Jesus stood being questioned by Pilate He said: “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (Jn 18: 33) and Pilate answers immediately with what every cynic thinks: “What is truth?” Pilate asks mockingly. He contrasts himself to any person who is humane and recognizes that objective truth uplifts and completes oneself and others as persons.
Pontius Pilate, and all cynics, question the existence of truth itself and the way they insulate themselves to the existence and demand of objective truth is to mock truth itself, and the very possibility of discerning objective truth. In the gospel for our Mass Jesus prepares his disciples for the truth of Who He is as the Savior Who will lay down His life for them, for you and for me, and for every person. It is the Holy Spirit Who will be the guarantor of objective truth because He is the teacher of this truth. The Church tells us that: “The Holy Spirit is the Church’s living memory” (CCC 1099).
I ask the abundant blessings of the Holy Spirit upon all who administer justice as judges, promote justice as attorneys, and teach justice as professors, because Christ taught the identity of the Holy Spirit with truth. It is the Holy Spirit Who teaches us that man-made laws are to be derived from the natural law, otherwise these laws exist for their own sake. A law that exists for its own sake is no law but the cynicism of Pontius Pilate. Priests and lawyers may be sobered by the Parable of the Good Samaritan, for it was a bad priest and a bad lawyer who ignored the man who stood for all of broken humanity. The Holy Spirit who leads into all truth has also given us a living parable about two men who spoke truth to power.
One was a good priest, Saint John Fisher, whose last public words on the scaffold were: “Send the king good counsel.” The other was a good lawyer, Saint Thomas More, who said “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”
Thus the real possibility to be virtuous, charitable, and just is achievable in your lives. It redounds to your personal credit, it sustains and fosters the common good, and you achieve your end which is heaven.