Social Justice - A concept or an imperative?

In the June 30 issue of Angelus, Fr. Ron Rolheiser poses a challenge to us all, religious “believers” and “nones,” citizens from one end of the conservative/liberal spectrum to the other, folks from each and every country in the world, regardless of race or gender.  Rolheiser’s premise- being good-hearted is not enough. In a world filled with injustice toward groups so varied and vast in number, it would be a challenge to find anyone who isn’t concerned with some social justice issue. Most people consider themselves to be charitable; in-so-much as they are generous in some capacity toward others in need and feel compassionate about the plight of those is less desirable circumstances. Rolheiser states the crux of the issue this way, “Individual goodwill alone doesn’t always make for a system that’s fair to everyone. And it’s precisely on this point where we see the crucial distinction between charity and justice, between being good-hearted as individuals and trying as a community to ensure that our social, economic and political systems are not themselves the cause of the very things we are trying to respond to in charity.” 

So what does social justice mean and what does it require of us? According to Rolheiser it means that as Catholics we have an obligation to go beyond private charity and work in some capacity to affect the actual public policies that create the inequities at the heart of social justice issues. Concisely put, “And so we are often good-hearted enough that we will, literally, give a needy person the shirt off of our back even as we refuse to look at why our closets are overfull while some others don’t have a shirt.” Jesus was a man of action who walked the walk, as the saying goes, right up to the point where he literally walked up the hill at  Calvary to his own crucifixion. How about us? Are we willing, as Rolheiser stipulates that we must, let our goodness and light shine publicly too? 

Full text of this topic in Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s column “In Exile” is available in the June 30 issue of Angelus, the print platform of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Angelus News.

Rhiannon Jensen