Saturday, February 16, 2008

Making justice our aim

"Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool" (Isa. 1,16-18).

I have fully recovered from Thursday's Go-Gofest. It did take almost two full days. This brings me back to the subject of Lent, the Church's springtime. Lent is about change, about blossoming, about becoming individually and together what God created and redemed us to be. This means, as we are exhorted in the reading from Isaiah, which is the reading for Lauds today, making "justice [our] aim". In that regard I have been focusing a lot recently on the issue of immigration. I would like to shift gears and shine a bit of light on our system of justice, that is, our courts, etc. As with immigration, I do not claim to be an expert. However, there are experts, women and men who daily work for justice, whose work is not just a way of earning a living, but a contribution to humanity. One such person is attorney Ron Yengich, who is Utah's best defense attorney. Ron is also a parishioner at The Cathedral of the Madeleine. In fact, it was Ron who reminded me, by giving me a holy card, of the anniversary last fall of the election of Il Papa Buono to the Chair of St. Peter.

Ron Lafferty, left, and Yengich review Lafferty's
murder case in Provo courtroom in September 2002.
(Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News)
In the most recent issue of our diocesan newspaper, the Intermountain Catholic, there is an article by Barbara Stinson Lee, the paper's editor, on Ron and his work. While encouraging anyone interested in justice to read the entire article, I want to post the beginning of Ron Yengitch (sic): Why We Defend the Guilty:
"Criminal Defense Attorney Ron Yengitch (sic), a member of Cathedral Parish, has a forgiveness story. It involves a woman whose son was killed by one of Yengitch's (sic) clients. During the sentencing phase of the trial, the victim's mother was given the opportunity to speak. Instead of railing against the perpetrator of the terrible crime, she spoke instead of healing.

"'She told the judge my client had apologized and that putting him in prison for life was not going to help her heal,' Yengitch
(sic) said. 'It wouldn't bring her son back.'

"Courtroom scenes like that happen periodically, Yengitch
(sic) said, and they are graced moments.

"'People think jail or prison time is a slap on the wrist,' he said, in an interview with the Intermountain Catholic. 'There are no slaps on the wrist in the American justice system any more. There are kicks in the crotch or slaps on the back of the head. Then, there are actual executions, but there are no slaps on the wrist'".

This last observation should give us all pause, especially in light of our faith, in light of what God's word tells us. I think of the movie Office Space, a film I like a great deal. When the main characters realize that their illegal activities, ripping off the company for which they work, are in danger of being discovered, they begin to worry about their punishment. When Michael Bolton begins to consider what their judicially mandated punishment would be upon their convictions, he laments loudly about being sentenced to serve time in "a federal pound-me-in-the-a** prison". Of course we laugh on cue. I can think of two films that might be educational, even formational, in this regard as we move through Lent: American Me and American History X. I give fair warning, these are not easy films to watch, let alone to digest.

Returning to the IC article, Yengich insists that "[s]howing mercy does not mean we are taking guilt lightly." He reminds us of something important right at the heart of Catholic moral theology with a real world example: "guilt is often relative to circumstances. Who is the drug addict and who is the supplier? Most people sell drugs to supply their own habits. What would happen if we, out of mercy, offered treatment?" Hmmmm . . . I wonder. I worry about Christians who think getting what is deserved is what justice is all about. It is not. Such an idea is contrary to God's justice. After all, dear brother, do you really want what you deserve? I can tell you that I, for one, do not, either for you or for me. I frequently throw myself at the mercy of the heavenly court. Thank you Jesus.

Indeed, we are washed clean in baptism and cleansed again and again through reconciliation, of which penance is but a part. I am so thankful for, not to mention awestruck by, Christians who serve, who daily exercise the ministry (i.e., diakonia) proper to our baptismal vocation, which is confirmed in our anointing with sacred chrism, also known as Chrismation. Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, tells us that lay Christians "are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.

"What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature. . . the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer"
(par. 31- emboldening and underlining mine). Put simply, the laity do all God's heavy-lifting in the world. On this view the most important role of the ordained is to give support and encouragement to the laity in their ministry of sanctifying the world.

Il Papa Buono, pray for us.

Over on Cahiers are two more posts relative to this topic: Immigration: A Catholic Response and Barak Obama and the language of hope.

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