January 14, 2001
volume 12, no. 14
"Commitment to Liberty and Justice"
Wednesday General Papal Audience in Paul VI Hall

1. The voice of the prophets, like Isaiah's, which we have just heard, resounds repeatedly to remind us that we must make efforts to free the oppressed and make justice prevail. If this effort is lacking, the worship given to God is not pleasing to Him. This is an intense appeal, expressed at times in paradoxical terms, as when Hosea refers to this divine saying, also quoted by Jesus (Cf Matthew 9:13; 12:7): "For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts" (Hosea 6:6). With striking vehemence, the prophet Amos also presents God turning His gaze from us and not accepting the rites, feasts, fasts, music, and supplications, when a just man is sold for money outside the sanctuary, a poor man for a pair of sandals, and the head of the poor is trampled on like dust (Cf 2:6-7). Hence, the invitation is unreserved: "Rather let justice surge like water and goodness like an unfailing stream" (5:24). Thus, the prophets speak in the name of God, refusing worship isolated from life, liturgy separated from justice, prayer detached from daily efforts, faith devoid of works.

2. Isaiah's cry: "Cease doing evil, learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow" (1:16-17), echoes in the teaching of Christ, Who admonishes us: "If you bring your gift at the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24). At the end of the life of every person and at the close of the history of humanity, the judgment of God will be based precisely on love, the practice of justice, and assistance to the poor (Cf Matthew 25:31-46). In face of a community plagued by divisions and injustice, as Corinth was, Paul reaches the point of calling for the suspension of Eucharistic participation, asking Christians to examine their own conscience first, so as not to be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (Cf Corinthians 11:27-29).

3. For Christians, the service of charity, linked consistently with faith and the liturgy (Cf James 2:14-17), efforts for justice, the struggle against every oppression, and the safeguarding of the dignity of the person, are not expressions of philanthropy motivated solely by membership in the human family. Instead, they are choices and acts that have a profoundly religious inspiration, they are true and proper sacrifices that are pleasing to God, in keeping with the affirmation of the Letter to the Hebrews (Cf 13:16). Particularly incisive is St. John Chrysostom's admonishment: "Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not neglect it when it is naked. Do not render it honor here in time with silk fabrics, and then neglect it outside, where it suffers cold and nakedness" (In Matthaeum hom. 50,3).

4. "This deep and varied trend, at the basis of which the contemporary human conscience has placed justice, gives proof of the ethical character of the tensions and struggles pervading the world. The Church shares with the people of our time this profound and ardent desire for a life which is just in every aspect, nor does she fail to examine the various aspects of the sort of justice that the life of people and society demands. This is confirmed by the field of Catholic social doctrine, greatly developed in the course of the last century." (Dives in Misericordia, 12). This endeavor of reflection and action must receive an extraordinary impulse from the Jubilee itself. In its Biblical source, this was a celebration of solidarity: when the trumpet of the Jubilee year sounded, everyone returned to his own property and his family, as the official text of the Jubilee states (Cf Leviticus 25:10).

5. First of all, the lands alienated by various economic and family issues were restored to their former owners. Therefore, the Jubilee year allowed all to return to an ideal point of departure, through a bold and courageous work of distributive justice. The dimension, which might be described as "utopian," is evident, and is proposed as the concrete remedy to consolidate privileges and abuses: it is the attempt to inspire society toward a higher ideal of solidarity, generosity, and fraternity. In modern historical co-ordinates, the return to lost lands could be expressed, as I have proposed several times, in the total cancellation, or at least reduction, of the international debt of poor countries (Cf Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 51).

6. The other Jubilee endeavor consisted in allowing slaves to return free to their families (Cf Leviticus 25:39-41). Poverty had subjected them to the humiliation of slavery, now the possibility opened up before them to be able to build their future in freedom, within their families. For this reason, the prophet Ezekiel called the Jubilee year "year of liberation," that is, of rescue (Cf Ezekiel 46:17). Deuteronomy, another biblical book, calls for a just and free society in solidarity with these words: "There should be no one of you in need. If one of your kinsmen in any community is in need... you shall not harden your heart and close your hand" (15:4,7).

    We must also look to this goal of solidarity: "Solidarity of the poor among themselves, solidarity with the poor, to which the wealthy are called, solidarity of workers and with workers" (Instruction of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Christian Liberty and Liberation, 89). Seen in this way, the Jubilee that has just ended will continue to produce abundant fruits of justice, liberty, and love. (ZENIT Translation) ZE01011023

For past Papal Pronouncements, see THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS Archives

January 14, 2001
volume 12, no. 14

Return to Front Page of Current Issue