Sistine Chapel ceiling

God gives life to Adam

Right relationship with God and with others is the heart of justice

In the opening prayer, or Collect, on Sunday, we hear, “Grant us, Lord our God, that we may honor you with all our mind, and love everyone in truth of heart.” With our “Amen” we join in this prayer of worship for God and love for all men and women. The Collect is one of three short prayers that punctuate the Mass. The others are the Prayer over the Gifts, said shortly before the Eucharistic Prayer, and the Prayer after Communion. Often these prayers offer powerful insights into social justice concerns. In this case, the Collect reminds us of the importance of being in right relationship with God and others. As Blessed Pope Paul VI said, “We grow to our full stature only when we enter into a right relationship with God and with others.”

Justice requires a right relationship with God and others

The Greatest Commandment

Sunday’s Collect expresses the essence of Jesus’s ministry of justice. It reflects his teaching when asked, “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” Jesus responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” Grant us, Lord God that we may honor you with all our mind. But Jesus went further. “The second resembles it. You must love your neighbor as yourself. Grant us, Lord God, that we may love everyone in truth of heart. Then Jesus makes plain that this is central to his teaching. “On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too.” Mt. 22: 36-40 (NJB). Jesus thus presents a right relationship with God and others as the heart of just living.

God is in relationship with all human beings

Jesus’s response comes from Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Pentateuch. Moses tells the people:

Listen, Israel: Yahweh our God is the one, the only Yahweh. You must love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Let the words I enjoin on you today stay in your heart.

Dt 6: 4-6 (NJB). This commandment is Israel’s duty under the covenant established by God.

If, throughout your lives, you fear Yahweh your God and keep all his laws and commandments, which I am laying down for you today, you will live long, you and your child and your grandchild. Listen then, Israel, keep and observe what will make you prosperous and numerous, as Yahweh, God of your ancestors, has promised you, in giving you a country flowing with milk and honey.

Dt. 6: 2b-3 (NJB). Thus, Moses enjoins God’s chosen people to love God totally and without reservation. If they do this, they are in right relationship with God. God then will be their protector and provider. But Moses warns that there are  consequences of falling out of this right relationship as well.

Do not follow other gods, gods of the peoples around you, for Yahweh your God among you is a jealous God; the wrath of Yahweh your God would blaze out against you, and he would wipe you off the face of the earth.

Dt. 6: 14-15 (NJB).

The Yahweh that Jesus reveals to us, Abba, seems less mercurial than the God of Deuteronomy. Nevertheless, Jesus affirms that a complete love for God is the greatest commandment. Nothing more important than remaining in right relationship with God. Thus, we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind.

Humans are social creatures, in relationship with each other

“[A]ll [humans] are called to one and the same goal, namely God Himself. For this reason, love for God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment. [T]he love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor ….” Gaudium et spes (GS) ¶ 24. By their innermost nature, humans are social beings. Unless they are in relationship to others, humans can neither live nor develop their potential. GS ¶ 12.

But a right relationship among humans does not always exist.

[Humans] are often diverted from doing good and spurred toward and by the social circumstances in which they live and are immersed from their birth. To be sure the disturbances which so frequently occur in the social order result in part from the natural tensions of economic, political and social forms. But at a deeper level they flow from [human] pride and selfishness, which contaminate even the social sphere. When the structure of affairs is flawed by the consequences of sin, [humanity], already born with a bent toward evil, finds there new inducements to sin, which cannot be overcome without strenuous efforts and the assistance of grace.

GS ¶ 25. Ruptures in a healthy relationship with others result in many evils. Violence, poverty, hunger, disease, indifference – these are but a few such evils. And only by being in solidarity with one another, can we hope to overcome these and other social ills.

Humans are caretakers of God’s creation

A right relationship with God and with other women and men implies a right relationship with non-human creation. As Saint Pope John Paul II wrote, humans “have a certain affinity with other creatures.” We are “called to use them, and to be involved with them.” We thus “have a certain affinity with other creatures: [we are] called to use them, and to be involved with them.” Our first parents were “placed in the garden with the duty of cultivating and watching over it, being superior to the other creatures placed by God under [their] dominion. But at the same time [humans] must remain subject to the will of God, who imposes limits upon [their] use and dominion over things.” Sollicitudo rei socialis (SRS) ¶ 29 (citations omitted).

Recently, Pope Francis wrote:

The created things of this world are not free of ownership: “For they are yours, O Lord, who love the living” (Wis 11:26). This is the basis of our conviction that, as part of the universe, called into being by one Father, all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect.

Laudato si’ (LS) ¶ 89.

Our relationship with nature reflects our relationship with other humans

Indeed, Francis teaches us that a right relationship with the created world cannot be separated from our relationship with others.

[W]hen our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one. It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is “contrary to human dignity”.

LS ¶ 92.

Jesus restores humanity’s right relationships

Jesus “had one aim in view when He undertook the mission of mercy which was to endow mankind with the rich blessings of supernatural grace. Sin had disturbed the right relationship between man and his Creator; the Son of God would restore it.” Mediator dei ¶ 1. Recent history shows that sin has disturbed our right relationship with others and with nature. Jesus is our mediator for reconciliation of these relationships as well.