Justice and mercy in equal measure
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Justice and mercy in equal measure

Last Sunday I dedicated my commentary to The Sunday Times of Malta to the relationship between justice and mercy making the appeal that these have to be treated in equal measure. A friend of mine sent me a long and very interesting reaction which I now produce as a guest blog.

“Deus caritas est “, on of Benedict XVI’s encyclical letters, was ten years old on the 25th December. He entitled a chapter 'Justice and Charity' para. 28 (which is another word for mercy). He says that "just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves" (n. 28).

This is why, Benedict insists that one must never forget that "love — caritas — will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love".

Benedict XVI demonstrates that in the world, whatever degree of progress in justice is achieved by politics, there will always be suffering, there will always be loneliness, there will always be inadequacy with regard to the expectations of the human heart. In other words, there will always be a need for charity expressed in sharing and compassion:

"The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person —every person — needs: namely, loving personal concern"

Thus it is not only a question of gaps to discover and filled, but of intelligence and of the execution of public action, in its implementation as an act of justice. The common conviction that just structures would make any charitable work superfluous, in Benedict’s opinion, masks "a materialistic conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live 'by bread alone' (Mt 4:4) — a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human."

This is a reminder that sounds particularly valuable at a time in history when the Church's practice of mercy risks being crushed, deceiving oneself that on the basis of a Promethean conception of secularism the State on its own can successfully attain perfection in justice, or even worse by the manipulation of mercy to the detriment of its perfect counterpart, justice. This would be a fatal illusion. Justice and mercy go hand in hand, each preparing the steps of the other.

So the bottom line is this: just as mercy and justice are complementary, one cannot do without the other, so is the State and the Church in the execution of both. The Church must provide the love that the State does not provide (and is not expected to), especially when it gets entangled in bureaucracy, Treaties, etc.

That is why L-Istrina is such an idiosyncrasy and that is why I don't agree with voluntary work with people in need in government structures like Appogg. There was a call for volunteers only this week.”

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