On Martin Luther King, Jr. and Justice

“Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.”
“IN ANY nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from Birmingham Jail

Most often we equate justice with law. Actually, justice is prior to law. To do justice is not to do so because some law demands it of us. The deeper understanding of justice can be found in the historical root of that word. Its origin comes from a word that means a “sacred formula!” Justice, then, is a formula for doing what is truly and purely right.

Laws exist because injustice has come into our world, i.e. we do things that are destructive as opposed to doing those things which create, enrich and fulfill. Laws are correctives but would not be necessary if we understood the true nature of justice and lived our lives according to the prescripts of justice. Law doesn’t have a soul. Justice does!

On this day to honor a man who knew the true nature of justice we are all asked to consider:
Justice…towards G-d
Justice…towards family, friend, “neighbor,” and even enemies
Justice…towards ourselves [yes, toward ourselves!]
Justice…towards whatever lives, e.g. is it “just” that some aspect of creation cease to exist because of our “want” without regard for the implications beyond ourselves?
Justice…towards the earth, the air, the water….

As to our Community of St. Vincent de Paul, each and every time each of you does more than fulfill an obligation or comply with a regulation you bring the full force of justice to life with its genuine power to create and transform. For each of your acts of justice, we all owe you our deepest gratitude.

— Fr. Ray

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