With the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who served as a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1993 until her death this past Saturday, our country has been asked once again to examine her values regarding truth, justice, charity, freedom and ultimately, peace.
On Friday afternoon, I was rereading Pope St. John XXIII’s encyclical “Pacem in Terris: On Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity, and Liberty.” It is a demanding document, one that challenges all people and leaders to uphold, safeguard, and promote the rights of every person, with an emphasis on the protection of human dignity and equality among all people. In particular, St. John XXIII is concerned with the relationship of the people with the State and affirms that the great mission of a civil leader should be to form just laws which guard and defend “the inviolable rights of the human person.” The achievement of this, he believes, is intrinsically tied to peace, something which people have continuously yearned for, but have yet to fully realize. He writes: “Peace is but an empty word, if it does not rest upon that order which . . . is founded on truth, built up on justice, nurtured and animated by charity, and brought into effect under the auspices of freedom.”
In any age, but particularly during a time when our country is so divided, it can be tempting to feel hopeless, paralyzed by fear, and by a lack of power. How can I, just one small individual, make a difference? How can I bring about peace? How can I uphold the dignity of every single person, when there are unjust laws in place?
Today’s readings outline a number of ways in which we can live lives built upon truth, justice, and charity:
- Live a virtuous life. Namely, embody the virtues of courage, justice, prudence, temperance, diligence, patience, kindness, humility, faith, hope, and charity. By cultivating within yourself a habitual and firm disposition to do the good, you will perform good acts, give the best of yourself to others, and embolden others to do the same. [Ezekiel 18:25-28]
- “Fairness,” according to human terms, often pales in comparison to the fairness of God. He is radically merciful, forgiving, loving, and just. He can never be outdone in generosity; this is proven over and over again. Aim to be fair, but in the ways of God. [Ezekiel 18:25-28]
- Do not do anything out of vainglory and inordinate pride in one’s achievements. [Philippians 2:1-11]
- Regard others – “even the least of them” – as more important as yourself. [Philippians 2:1-11]
- Look out not for your own interests, but for the interests of others. [Philippians 2:1-11]
- Adopt the same attitude as Jesus; namely, great humility, sacrificial love, and obedience to God’s will. [Philippians 2:1-11]
- Strive for unity, particularly within the Christian community, so that together, with God we may be united in mind and spirit. [Philippians 2:1-11]
Embracing this mentality requires a daily commitment. We will fail — usually multiple times a day — but if we vow to live in His light, to follow His ways, we will influence those around us. Perhaps, we will never see peace achieved in our lifetime, but together, we will move closer to it. We will mold future generations to be stewards of his grace, to hunger and work for justice, to be leaders who uphold the dignity of every person, to be lawmakers who create just rules which promote unity and peace.
And, eventually, God-willing, when we come face-to-face with our Creator, we will finally understand what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God, and to know the peace of Christ.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me; /teach me your paths, / guide me in your truth and teach me, /for you are God my savior.
This piece was originally written for Bishop Guertin High School’s Reflections.