On the meaning of Social Justice

The beatitudes and justice

On 30 March, 2006 Gerard Moore spoke on the beatitudes and justice. This talk was sponsored by the Catholic Social Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

A beatitude is not the fulfilment of a promise. Rather it is a declaration of something that is already true, even if it not seen or comprehended. The beatitudes of Jesus have this quality. They are not simply future promises of what will happen, nor are they meant to reveal new teachings or truths. Rather their intention is to surprise the hearer about what already is in place, about what already is known. As such they are reminders to the hearers of how God is already seeing and acting and judging.

One of the most interesting and fruitful interpretations of blessed are the poor in spirit is one that explores the possibilities inherent in ‘spirit’. Spirit implies our awareness, our thinking, our consciousness. To be ‘poor in spirit’ has a sense of consciously and intentionally thinking through the actual condition of human beings as we are in this world. It is to stand before the poverty, misery, violence, pettiness and corruption that over and over again afflict the living and loving of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. It is to know that while I eat, others are hungry, that while I sleep, others have no shelter. It is to recognize that we humans spend more on guns than education or hospitals or mental health. If we are ‘poor in spirit’ we have no choice but to be aware of injustice, pollution, exploitation.