I have a friend who lives in the same res hall as I do, and we also share the same calculus class. She hates calculus; she is a music major and she just wants to get her math requirements over with and has no problem with doing so with a D. She doesn’t really study, she doesn’t take the class very seriously, and she only does the minimal amount of work on the assignments. I work extremely hard in this class; as math is not a strong subject for me, I still need to put in a lot of extra effort to get my A. I probably spend more time studying and getting extra help for calculus than any other class and I take the assignments very seriously. So, imagine if, when grades are posted, that I get my A and the instructor decides that she likes my friend and doesn’t want to punish her for disliking math so she gives her an A, also. How would I feel? The word “unfair” comes to mind. Instead of saying it’s unfair or not fair, I could also say the result of our grades was also unjust or not “just”.
When we think about justice, we think about the law, or God, or even our parents dishing out punishment that is rightfully deserved because of our actions. Justice is served when the bad guys get their just desserts. But that is justice in action. What exactly is the nature of justice? What makes justice right and deserving of being sought, be it by man or God? The Catechism defines justice as “the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor.” Let’s go back to me and my friend. A nihilist or an objectivist, for example, might say “Megan, what do you care? You got your A. Don’t worry about her grade.” But thinking about what the Catechism says, we need to remember the objective of justice. In this case, it is our instructor who is wronging both of us; she is failing to give what is due to me because she is discounting my work by demonstrating that the end result of my efforts is the same as the end result of my friends lack of effort. Justice is not only punitive toward the offender, it is an example for those who make the effort to not offend. Those who do wrong get their due through punishment and those who do right get their due, in part, by reward and lack of punishment.
There has been a lot of Christian hand-wringing in the last 24 hours over the concept of justice. We need to be careful to separate Eternal justice and Earthly justice, of course, but there is no question that Osama Bin Laden’s fate yesterday was a just result for his actions. It may seem simplistic to say that it would be unjust for those of us who avoid terrorist murder sprees to see him be allowed to live, but that doesn’t mean it’s incorrect. It is just that those who do bad are punished be it death for those who do bad in an act of war, Hell for those who offend God, or a bad grade for those who offend calculus. Reward and lack of punishment, Heaven, and a good grade are the opposite ends of this virtue that I think we sometimes misunderstand.
Reading the title of this post, people may assume that I am about to write about the Church’s sex abuse scandals. At school and back at home, my circle of friends consists mostly of serious Catholics who are also near my age (18). The abuse scandal, I assure you, is the least of our concerns and the last thing that drives a wedge between us and the Church. What does bother us is not the making of a few disturbed priests and duplicitous Bishops. We are unsure of if what we see is the pronouncements of a loud minority, or the Church reflecting what seem to be current shifts in the attitudes of Americans in general. What I am talking about is a politicization of the Church in the same manner that has undermined American Protestant evangelist churches. I see, sadly, more and more Catholics who seem to be more concerned about the words of the President or some other politician than the words of our Lord.
The Cardinal Newman Society tasks itself with keeping track of speakers at commencement ceremonies that do not fully adhere to Catholic teachings. This year, the Society proudly announced that 95% of speakers were sufficiently Catholic to warrant the Society’s approval (after the fact) as speakers. The absurdity of the fact that they actually keep track of this notwithstanding, the most famous example of the politicization of the Church, and commencement addresses came last year at my University, when President Barack Obama spoke at our commencement. The President did not speak of abortion or any other matter that even came close to co-mingling with Church teaching. He spoke to the graduates of their future and the nation’s future. But the fact that he supports abortion apparently means that Catholic institutions should act as though he doesn’t exist, even those that have a history of inviting Presidents to speak. Those offended by the invitation have dishonestly tried to use arguments about ceremonial honors (which are bestowed on virtually all speakers at graduations) as a rationale. Many also claimed that the lack of opportunity for a dialogue is the problem, but many also have used the exact opposite argument in their objections. What is left is petty, partisan politics. These objectors simply do not like the President so they, disgustingly, decided to hijack graduation, a day that was supposed to belong to our Class of 2009, to score political points.
You are going to lose us if you keep this up. I mean you, the laity who seek to use our Church in this manner and the Bishops who give their consent. We will never leave Christ and we will never leave Peter, but we will leave you. We are not asking the Church to change for us, we are telling you to stop using the Church as a proxy for a political party. Speak up about Church teaching on abortion, but do not presume to think we are so stupid as to think that watching the President speak at graduation will cause us to magically become “pro-choice.” Stop the arrogance, stop the rhetoric, and give us some respect. Your intellectual dishonesty is blatant, your attempts to claim that you are merely upholding Church teaching are self-serving. Leave the partisan politics out of our Church, and out of our school.