Justice education in Catholic schools
Catholic school communities engage in the mission of the Church in the world through daily active living of the Gospel and by teaching for, and witnessing to, justice, peace and ecological conversion "Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world is a constitutive dimension of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church‘s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation”.
World Synod of Bishops, Justice in the World, 1971, #6
A Christian sense of justice is grounded in the person of Jesus Christ. By his action and teaching Christ united in an indivisible way the relationship of people to God and the relationship of people to each other.... In his preaching he proclaimed the fatherhood of God towards all people and the intervention of God's justice on behalf of the needy and the oppressed (Lk6: 21-23). In this way he identified himself with his "least ones", as he stated: "As you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40)
World Synod of Bishops, Justice in the World, 1971, #31
According to the Christian message, therefore, our relationship to our neighbour is bound up with our relationship to God; our response to the love of God, saving us through Christ, is shown to be effective in his love and service of people. Christian love of neighbour and justice cannot be separated. For love implies an absolute demand for justice, namely a recognition of the dignity and rights of one's neighbour. Justice attains its inner fullness only in love. Because every person is truly a visible image of the invisible God and a sibling of Christ, the Christian finds in every person God himself and God's absolute demand for justice and love.
World Synod of Bishops, Justice in the World, 1971, #34
Justice in Scripture
Justice is a key theme that pervades Sacred Scripture, both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Justice focuses on the establishment and maintenance of right relationships. When justice is pursued, there is hope for the future. Christian affirmation of the reign of God in the world is an expression of Christian hope and conviction that justice and peace will prevail in our world. Christians believe that the reign of God is both here and not yet here. This Christian realism sees positive signs of justice and peace in our world, while recognising the countersigns that have still to be overcome.
The Old Testament
In the Old Testament, justice is seen as integrally linked to the Covenant relationship between Yahweh and the people of Israel. Fidelity to the Covenant is not simply seen as a matter of offering sacrifice and burnt offerings and being scrupulously observant about details of ritual law and custom. More importantly, fidelity to the Covenant involves compassion towards the widowed and the orphaned. Fidelity to the Covenant entails fellowship and sharing with the poor and the marginalised. The rich and the powerful are to have a particular concern for those who are poor and marginalised and to redress injustice. The prophetic literature is particularly eloquent about justice, often predicting dire consequences for the people of Israel where injustice and oppression of the poor, the marginalised and the weak prevails.
The New Testament
In the New Testament, Jesus, in continuity with his Jewish heritage, exhibits a particular solidarity with the poor, the weak and the marginalised. Matthew and Luke underline this solidarity in their infancy narratives, where Jesus is born into lowly and tenuous circumstances, worshipped by common shepherds and forced to flee the oppression of the powerful and the rich in the person of Herod. In his ministry, Jesus heals the sick, engages in table fellowship with the marginalised and the outcasts, confronts the powerful and the wealthy when their behaviour is oppressive of the poor, overturns the tables of exploitative money changers in the Temple in Jerusalem the centre of religious and economic power and authority for the Jewish people and is crucified with a criminal on either side. The New Testament Scriptures record how the early Christian communities sought to model themselves on Jesus by integrating into their life a like passion for justice and a Christlike concern for the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised.
The social teaching of the Church and its action for justice and peace, are founded in Scripture and the person and teaching of Jesus. Catholic social teaching asserts and endeavours to uphold the inalienable dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God. The Church, through its communities and organisations around the world, works with all people of good will to promote justice, peace and ecological sustainability at both a local and global level. The church promotes in word and action a preferential option for the poor; political and economic rights for all; promotion of the common good; political participation and the rights of local communities in decision making; economic justice; stewardship of the earth; global solidarity and the promotion of peace.
Spiritual and corporal works of mercy
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Corporal Works of Mercy are charitable actions by which Catholic Christians are called to come to the aid of the neighbour in bodily necessities (CCC #2447). The Corporal Works of Mercy are:
Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologiae, faithfully records and describes the spiritual works of mercy. Like the corporal works, the spiritual works illustrate ways Christians are able to demonstrate charity to others. The Spiritual Works of Mercy are
The Prayer of Examen is a form of prayer that was developed by Ignatius of Loyola in the 15th Century, the founder of the Jesuit Order of priests. During his personal conversion Ignatius jotted down those exercises that helped him in his faith journey. Ignatius named The Examen as the central exercise of Ignatian spirituality which is to help find God in all things.
Through The Examen we come to know God’s love for us more deeply, gradually becoming more aware of God’s presence in everything. The Examen provides a mirror which reflects God’s active presence in our everyday lives.
The Examen may be prayed at the end of the day, at the end of the week or at the end of a term. Students participate in the ‘Prayer of the Examen’, a reflective prayer with a particular structure. Students could focus on a lighted candle that may be used as a symbol of God’s presence in the group, while being guided through the following prayer of the Examen.
Steps of the Examen
Charity v. Justice
The Two Feet of Love in Action
Charitable works and social justice have been called the two feet of Catholic social teaching. Charitable works meets the immediate needs of persons and families. It treats the symptoms of social problems. Charitable works calls forth a generous response from individuals and responds to particular situations. Social justice changes social structures that attack human dignity, oppress people, and contribute to poverty. It focuses on the rights of people, addresses underlying social causes, and works for long term social change. Pope Benedict XVI expresses it in this way, “The church cannot neglect the service of charity anymore than she can neglect the sacraments and the word. Charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as ‘social charity.’” Catholic Social Teaching Scripture Guide, Unites States Catholic Bishops Conference
Justice in the Christian tradition
Catholic social teaching, like much philosophical reflection, distinguishes three dimensions of basic justice: commutative justice, distributive justice, and social justice. Source (#68)
Commutative justice calls for fundamental fairness in all agreements and exchanges between individuals or private social groups. It demands respect for the equal human dignity of all persons in economic transactions, contracts, or promises. For example, workers owe their employers diligent work in exchange for their wages. Employers are obligated to treat their employees as persons, paying them fair wages in exchange for the work done and establishing conditions and patterns of work that are truly human. Source (#69).
Distributive justice requires that the allocation of income, wealth, and power in society be evaluated in light of its effects on persons whose basic material needs are unmet. The Second Vatican Council stated: "The right to have a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one's family belongs to everyone. The fathers and doctors of the Church held this view, teaching that we are obliged to come to the relief of the poor and to do so not merely out of our superfluous goods". Minimum material resources are an absolute necessity for human life. If persons are to be recognised as members of the human community, then the community has an obligation to help fulfil these basic needs unless an absolute scarcity of resources makes this strictly impossible. (#70)
Justice also has implications for the way the larger social, economic, and political institutions of society are organised. Social justice implies that persons have an obligation to be active and productive participants in the life of society and that society has a duty to enable them to participate in this way. Source (#71)
Ten themes can be identified in scripture pertaining to justice:
Some key themes of Catholic Social Teaching
Dignity of the Human Person
This is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Human beings are created in the divine image and have an inherent dignity which must always be upheld. Human life is therefore sacred.
The Common Good
Human beings are not only sacred but social – we become human in relationship to others. Community has to be built up and organised in such a way that the dignity of all is maintained. The community has to be fair and just, and allow the participation of everyone in the enjoyment of the goods for Creation.
Human beings constitute one human family, no matter the differences. ‘Loving your neighbour’ has global dimensions in an interdependent world.
Preferential Option for the Poor
Poverty is unjust; the needs of the most vulnerable in society should be the responsibility of all.
Reaching the poorest and most marginalised often requires greater effort in discovering where they are to be found. That might mean additional resources of time and money.
Stewardship of Creation
We are called to show respect for all of Creation – people, animals and the environment.
All people have the right to participate in decisions which affect them. The role of the government and others working for justice is to assist citizens in fulfilling their responsibility to others. Promoting subsidiarity means functions of government should be performed at the lowest level possible, consistent with participation above. When the lower level cannot respond, then it is for the higher levels of government to intervene.
Jesus' "New" Law
From a Church perspective, the moral law is the work of Divine Wisdom. This wisdom is Biblical and outlines God’s prescribed ways of being and acting for human beings who wish to live a moral life. It also warns of the ways of evil, which turns people away from God and a moral life. Law is a rule of conduct enacted by competent authority for the sake of the common good. The moral law presupposes the rational order, established among people for their good and the good of creation and the Creator. There are different expressions of the moral law and all of them are interrelated: eternal law, natural law; revealed law (for Christians comprising the Old Law and the New Law, or Law of the Gospel); and finally, civil and ecclesiastical laws. Eternal law is the source of all law that comes from God. Natural moral law and its principal precepts are expressed in the Decalogue. It expresses the dignity of people and determines the basis for each person’s fundamental rights and duties. The application of the natural law can vary greatly according to place, time and context. However, even in the diversity of culture, the natural law remains as a rule the one that binds people among themselves. The natural law provides moral foundation for building community and is a necessary basis for civil law.
Reflective (prayer) journalling
Reflective Prayer Journals can be a very helpful way for students to engage with prayer. They can use them to write or draw their thoughts, feelings, prayers or reflections. Teachers could encourage students to write or draw about how they feel, whatever is on their mind or anything that they would like to talk to God about. Guidance can be given to students in the form of stimulus e.g. images, words, scripture, or by providing sentence starters.
Some possibilities for ‘sentence starters’ include:
Teachers may like to provide students with the opportunity for prayer through journal writing at significant times e.g. after a particularly difficult friendship issue, a world disaster, a sad occasion or a tragic event in the community.