It is incredibly fun to watch my nieces and nephews grow up. As with most of us, two of the first things they were taught were to say were “Thank you” and to share their toys with others. We all innately sense something wrong when these two things do not happen, even though it is a process — sometimes a slow one — for children to learn.
We sense an injustice when someone — child or adult — receives something without expressing gratitude or when they selfishly hang on to what is theirs to the exclusion of others. What we are sensing in these cases is injustice. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, justice is the habit of the will to give to each person their due. Justice establishes right relations between people. This is important because as humans we never are “siloed” off from others. We find ourselves as part of many different societies of various sizes: the family, parishes, trade unions, a city and the Church among many others. Every action we take is relational; it affects someone else whether we see it immediately or not. The virtue of justice governs these actions so that we can remain peaceable and foster harmony in each of the societies to which we belong. Thus, justice is incredibly important.
It is no wonder that as we celebrate the second Sunday of Advent that our readings for Mass are full of talk about justice. The prophet Isaiah speaks of the coming Messiah as having justice as the band around his waist as he judges not by appearance nor decides by hearsay but rather judges the poor with justice. The response for our psalm is “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever.” It continues by saying that the Messiah shall “govern with justice,” “having pity on the lowly and poor.” Our readings might make us view the coming Messiah as a sort of social justice warrior and indeed he — Jesus — is, but in the most fundamental and important way possible, a way that must not be overlooked.
You see, the fact that the Messiah comes to bring justice in myriad ways implies that he needed to fix an initial injustice, an injustice done by man in his relation to God. This is what we see in the story of The Fall in the Book of Genesis. The original sin committed was an act of injustice, of not giving God his due. Because of sin in our world, we are alienated, broken in our relations with God, other people, Creation and ourselves.
If we are not justified in our relationship with God, it is incredibly hard to live in justice with those and the world around us. To right this wrong, the Messiah came to offer us the opportunity to live in justice with God and so too with our neighbor. For our part, the first step in this process of justification is listening to our Gospel from the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Repent!”
This repentance leads one to piety, reverence for God. By inclining the Christian to offer easily and joyfully true worship and obedience to God, piety perfects all of justice in us. The one ordered to God in piety can then orient themselves to all others rightly. For this to happen, the practice of being meek of heart is crucial. To be clear: meekness not weakness. To be meek removes obstacles to justice and piety. As we seek to live justly and in right relation with God, we are called to be meek of heart, imaged in the relations between predator and prey that Isaiah speaks of this Sunday: “The cow and the bear shall be neighbors … the lion shall eat hay like the ox … the baby shall play on the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.”
To be meek is the mark of the person justified by God and so able to render onto others what is their due: first to God, then to others, Creation and himself or herself. May the coming Messiah, who comes with justice, heal us and bind us closer to him to heal our often very unjust world.
(Father Andrew Rauenbuehler is parochial vicar at Our Lady of Victory Parish and chaplain at Assumption High School, both in Davenport.)