08 February 2013

On Preaching Justice

This semester, I am enrolled in "Catholic Social Ethics."  Part of the requirement of the course is to create three "blog posts" throughout the semester and upload them to the class' website.  What follows is my second post.

Toward A Fundamental Groundwork of Preaching Justice

            The particular and unremitting difficulty of preaching justice, are actually “difficulties.”  What’s more, the terms used to describe the goal, namely “preaching” and “justice,” are the subjects of no small expressions of discontent in recent days.  For starters, the very idea of “preaching,” has become the subject of review by the bishops – that is to say, what is happening in our homilies (Anything?  And if so, is it good?)?  Secondly, multiple questions regarding the nature justice have been raised in such mutually exclusives manners so as to solidly prevent any conclusions from being reached.  When speaking of justice to Catholics one will likely be presented with obstinate filibuster until your idea of justice is completely and utterly coterminous with mine. 

            With this in mind, the real problem in preaching justice, I’d propose, is not necessarily the difficulties presented by Walter Burghardt in “Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters,” which appears as a chapter in a 1987 book from Paulist Press entitled Preaching: The Art and the Craft.  Burghardt’s concerns are actually secondary, not in the sense that they are unimportant, but rather that there currently exist greater barriers to “preaching justice.” Plainly put: (1) there are not many opportunities to preach at the moment (because, preaching requires both a speaker and a listener!); and (2) the very idea of justice is largely amorphous, rooted in personal experience, with little regard for the Natural Law (and, obviously, its transmutation through the “growing end.”) 

            How may one respond to these problems?  I’d suggest three particular points.

The first suggestion draws upon Burghardt’s reminder that the person at the pulpit possesses the particular advantage of the “captive audience.”  If the homilist preaches about justice, he must provide opportunity for feedback, the airing of questions, comments and outright rejoinders.  This is all the more important in our current situation.  In fact, this should likely take place prior to or simultaneously with, the preaching of justice.  Opportunities must be created in parishes wherein parishioners possess the ability to work through matters of justice in an open, yet moderated forum.  This especially goes for young adults: we don’t like being preached at; we dislike no one asking for our perspective even more.

            My second suggestion has to do with what I originally stated as the second difficulty with “preaching justice,” that is, our definition of justice.  Unless the Church begins to speak cogently about human rights, so as to actually define more appropriately what is a right and what it is not, justice will forever be held hostage by the beholder. The Church is all too often backed into a corner where it can only claim “X bad – don’t do that!” instead of explaining with all necessary calmness why one thing or another should or should not be done.  Of course, such an effort would presume that preachers recognize the difference between what one ought to do and what one has the right to do in a pluralistic society.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must heed Burghardt’s warning about the preacher himself manifesting a commitment to justice.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul presents himself as a particular example of imitating the Crucified One.  Do our preachers have the same amount of confidence in their own commitment to justice?  And if they do, is it rightfully placed? This final piece is the object upon which any preaching of justice will rise or fall: in a post-modern world, only a preacher who himself possesses and manifests justice will be considered a worthy preacher of justice.

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