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Posts Tagged ‘Justice’

I really have been trying not to over-rely on Youtube videos recently.  But in his commentary on Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, Bishop Robert Barron offers a beautifully succinct presentation of the cardinal human virtues.

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Noah Poster

Links: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

I went to see “Noah” on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  Fortunately, the movie ended soon enough that I could enjoy a nice, leisurely walk outside afterwards.  After seeing this movie, I looked on the beauty of the trees, the birds, and the sunlight, reflecting on God’s sustenance of all things, with greater joy and gratitude.  In this final installment of my commentary, I want to talk about why.

Noah6Let’s have a look at some pretty bad timing: After deciding that the human race must end with him and his family, Noah (Russell Crowe) learns that his son, Shem (Douglas Booth), and his beloved, Ila (Emma Watson), are having a child.  As patriarch and leader aboard the ark, Noah makes a firm decision: If the child is a boy, then he will replace Noah’s youngest child as the last man on earth.  If it is a girl — if it is a fruitful female human being, capable of bearing new life — he will have to kill her.

In spite of the entreaties of his family, Noah will not be moved.  He believes firmly, based on a process of discernment, that this is the will of the Creator.

“This gives me no pleasure,” he says to his wife. “But it is just.”

From that point on, there is an atmosphere of darkness, tension, and impending doom upon the ark — and I sincerely hope everyone who sees this movie feels it.  I certainly did.

Think about this from an existential perspective.  It is one thing to be facing catastrophe and death.  It is one thing to be uncertain whether we will survive or not.  It’s even one thing to intuit that we will not survive whatever ordeal we are facing.

But it is quite another when we come to understand that we should not be spared.

It is not simply, as a materialistic atheist might argue, that there is no real reason for man to be saved.  It’s worse than that.  Rather, it is right that we should die.

Our hearts yearn for life, and our instincts are geared toward survival.  So what do we do when we come to the sobering realization that there is absolutely nothing in justice to plead our cause?

Our hope rests in the…well, in the hope that the Creator will exercise mercy, that He will give us another chance.

Noah and Family

And this is exactly what happens at the end of “Noah.”  When he tries to carry out the execution of the baby girls, Noah finds that he cannot do it.  When he looks at their faces, he feels nothing in his heart but love.

That’s where it starts.  Then the waters of the Great Flood recede, and the family is given a new start on dry land.  And at the very end, in an impressive cinematic display, a rainbow — the sign of God’s Covenant with the world through Noah — fills the sky.

God has chosen mercy.  They know not why, but they know it, and can be glad.

Of course, the Gospel tells us why…

Christ Crucified by VelazquezThe Creator Himself, in the Person of the Word, foreseeing human sinfulness, determined from before the creation of the world to take on our human nature and, in His innocence, to take our guilt, shame, and curse upon Himself.  This He did on Calvary about 2,000 years ago.  The consequences we have earned for ourselves, He suffers in our place.  Having risen from the dead and ascended to the Father in heaven, He, the “spotless victim,” now advocates for us, always pleading that God be glorified in mercy.

As a cradle Catholic, I knew this; but it never really touched me to the core until I saw this movie (which is, no doubt, informed by the larger Old Testament narrative of which it is a part — a story of God’s unwavering faithfulness to His children even in the face of their unfaithfulness).

Now, at last, I truly understand how the greatest witnesses of the Faith could endure so much suffering and martyrdom throughout the years and still remain joyful.  We have been forgiven.  No one who turns to God in sincerity will be turned away.

I’ll say it again: We have been forgiven!  Let us strive to understand what that means.

Images from Wikipedia

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To combat evil… is to fight with love for all men, including those who are less good. It is to put goodness in relief, so as to make it more attractive, rather than to propagate evil by describing it. When the occasion presents itself to call the attention of society, or of authority, to some evil, it must be done with love for the person to blame, and with delicacy. Do not exaggerate; do not go into detail about the evil any more than is necessary to remedy it.

St.Maximilian_Kolbe-St. Maximilian Kolbe, quoted in the book “Forget Not Love” by André Frossard

Image from Wikipedia

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A couple movie trailers I recently saw drew my attention to an ever popular trend in cinema: The “revenge movie.”

Two movies in particular have caught my attention — the above-advertised “Escape Plan” and Spike Lee’s “Oldboy,” a “Count of Monte Cristo” type thriller about a man (Josh Brolin) who embarks upon a quest of vengeance against the people who imprisoned him for 20 years.

On television, we have the ongoing and very popular series with the very name “Revenge.”  So I think we can say that this is by no means a fringe trend.

Our fascination with revenge comes from our primordial sense of justice — that is, of right order, of the setting-right of what has gone wrong.  That sense of justice is God-given and good.

But like much that is God-given, our sense of justice has become corrupted.  Revenge is a perversion of justice born of our fallen nature, which is the result of Adam and Eve’s Original Sin.

The essence of Original Sin (and all sin, in the final analysis) is that man has turned away from God, and as a result humankind’s relationship not only with God, but also with one another and with all creation is adversely affected.  Man turned in on himself,* becoming ego-centered, defensive, self-seeking, and hostile to any perceived intrusions on his own interests.

And so when he is legitimately wronged, it will be like a light punch on a badly bruised arm.  He will amplify it manifold.  If someone breaks his arm, he will want to break both of his opponent’s arms.  If his opponent steals his car and crashes it, he will want to steal his opponent’s car and crash it into the latter’s house.  If his opponent punches him, he will want to kill his opponent.

You get where I’m going with this.  When the fallen ego has found itself dominated by another, it will not only want to “even the score,” but then also go further to assert its dominance over the other.

By the way, this is what the Old Testament is getting at when it calls for “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”  Many of the nations surrounding Biblical Israel were in the habit of punishing offenders excessively.  The purpose of the aforementioned law was to curb these draconian practices, limiting punishments so that they were proportionate to the offenses, and no more.

SermonOnTheMountOf course, this was but preparation for the coming of Christ, who has given us a much more radical law:

But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)

True justice is restored through humble witness to the truth and through mercy.  As for vengeance…well, Gandhi said it well: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Christians should always remember the words of St. Paul:

…you have approached…Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel (Hebrews 12: 22-24)

For the blood of Abel cries out for vengeance, but the Blood of Christ cries out for mercy.  Only in that Blood does mankind have hope.

*As I’ve noted before, here the term “mankind” and the accompanying male pronouns are used in the generic, unisex sense.

Image from Wikipedia

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Youtuber Brett Fawcett offers some inspiring thoughts on the George Zimmerman trial and verdict.

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In the past couple weeks, two very momentous happenings took place.

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013First, Pope Francis released his first encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”).  This was an encyclical begun by his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, to which he added some of his own personal touches.  For those who are interested in reading, a link to the full text will be provided at the bottom.

Zimmerman,_George_-_Seminole_County_MugSecond, America got the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, who was arrested in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year.  Much to the dismay of many, he was found not guilty.

I can’t, of course, say for sure if it is providential that the release of “Lumen Fidei” and the Zimmerman verdict coincided.  But I do have some thoughts.

First of all, as far as the verdict is concerned, we must remember something crucially important about the justice system: Guilt must be established beyond all reasonable doubt.

Such guilt was not established in the case of George Zimmerman.  There was simply not sufficient evidence that he racially profiled Trayvon Martin or that what happened was cold-blooded murder as opposed to self-defense.

But we may ask, what if Zimmerman actually is guilty?  What if, in spite of all the evidence we have available, what happened was murder, and Zimmerman got away with it?

This, I think, is one of the many areas where being a person of faith provides great assurance.  If human institutions of justice fail, those without faith are left with little or no hope; but those of us who believe can afford to take heart:

Is not [recompense] preserved in my treasury, sealed up in my storehouse, against the day of vengeance and requital, against the time they lose their footing? (Deut. 32: 34-35)

God is a God of justice.  No crime is ever left unpunished.  Even if a person is ultimately redeemed in Christ, restitution for all wrongs must still be made.

Here, we can bring “Lumen Fidei” into the discussion.  In this great document, we are given a proper understanding of what faith is.  Contrary to what some would say, faith is neither the rejection of thought or reason in favor of blind adherence to an unproven principle nor indifference to the realities of the world and present circumstances on the grounds that “God will make it all better.”

Faith, says Pope Francis, is about learning to look at life, the world, and oneself from a whole new perspective.  Being drawn into a personal relationship with a personal, omnipotent, all-knowing and all-loving God, history and everyday life take on a whole new light.  The horizons of existence expand beyond what we could possibly have imagined.

More specifically, we come to share in the perspective of God Himself in the “shared knowledge which is the knowledge proper to love” (quoted from the encyclical).

Trayvon_Martin_shooting_protest_2012_Shankbone_11It is just this sort of faith perspective that allows for hope and tranquility even in tragic and troubled situations.

We have, I think, seen something of this Christian perspective in Trayvon Martin’s parents, who have urged their supporters not to give into violence regardless of the verdict.  Moreover, Trayvon’s mother publicly made it clear that though the verdict was disappointing to her, her faith in God has not been shaken.

I think perhaps the Pope and the Martins would have a lot to talk about at lunch sometime.

Lumen Fidei Full Text:
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20130629_enciclica-lumen-fidei_en.html

Photos from Wikipedia

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First of all, Happy President’s Day!

Now, to business…

Part 1 was more in-depth than this post is going to be — this time I just want to look at some basic elements of leadership that distinguish good leaders from bad, as exemplified by Ned Stark and Joffrey Baratheon.

Again, please be aware that there are some spoilers here.

JoffreyWe covered bad kingship in our look at Joffrey’s father (though not his biological father, as we soon learn), Robert.  But unlike Robert, whose bad kingship is characterized more by a sort of laziness, Joffrey is a full-on tyrant whose mode of government is cold, deliberate, calculated force.

He, too, is a figure of the entrenched ego, but carried farther in the direction of its extreme.

Ned-Stark-Sean-Bean-Traitor

Ned Stark stands out as a good leader.  He is not perfect, by any means, but the way he exercises authority is exemplary and praiseworthy.  That he is not dominated by his own ego is suggested to me by the dungeon scene, which occurs after Ned is arrested on a false accusation of treason.

Rather than betray his honor, Ned is ready to die a warrior’s death.  True, he does end up acknowledging Joffrey’s kingship in order to save his family; whether or not this was the right decision can be debated, but his interest is clearly other-oriented, not self-oriented.

In any case, Ned has no interest in betraying his conscience to save his life.  He explains to Varys the eunuch that a soldier “knows how to die.”

Christians are called to die daily to selfishness by imitating this kind of detachment:

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it (Luke 17:33).

That’s precisely why Joffrey’s rule is one of terror and force: It’s all about him.  From his perspective, his ascent to the throne is not about service to the Seven Kingdoms, the protection of his subjects, or any transcendent principle.  It’s about his own exaltation, his own glory.

Eddard_1x01

Concern for the greater good on Ned’s part is further evidenced by the quality of mercy.  Ned is just, but he is no stranger to clemency.  In this he shows the depth of his magnanimity.  A true leader will be concerned about the common good, not his own aggrandizement.

And sometimes, the best way to serve the common good and to restore order is to reach out to perpetrators with the opportunity for redemption.

JohannesPaul2-portrait

In his great book “Go in Peace,” Pope John Paul II had this to say about the relationship between mercy and societal well-being:

Forgiveness neither eliminates nor lessens the need for the reparation that justice requires, but seeks to reintegrate individuals and groups into society, and countries into the community of nations.  No punishment should suppress the inalienable dignity of those who have committed evil.  The door to repentance and rehabilitation must always remain open.

Joffrey

The ego, however, cannot take such chances.  As far as it’s concerned, the only good enemy is a dead enemy.

Meanwhile, the good leader will give his neck to his enemy rather than betray his innate sense of what is right.  So we can say that even in death, Ned Stark triumphs over Joffrey Baratheon.

Image of Pope John Paul II from Wikipedia; others obtained through a Google image search.

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