The power of justice and mercy

Much in our world is changing. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened our awareness of how rapidly things can change. In a short time, we have had to recalibrate, adjust and adapt to a “new normal.” Social interactions are being adjusted and transformed and we’ve had to learn how to be close to one another while keeping physical distance.

Similarly, the killing of George Floyd and others seem to have awaken a commitment to justice and peace that seeks transformation in our personal lives and systemic structures in the Church and society. Protests that have taken place in our neighborhoods, cities and world, while evoking different responses, speak to the need for visible signs of deep personal and structural conversion that can lead to greater racial justice, equity and reconciliation.

While change and transformation is not new, the intensity of these recent events has garnered global attention and responses. For us in the Catholic community, these recent events have also challenged us to re-examine more closely the virtues of justice and mercy in our daily way of life. More to the point, the health and economic disparities of the COVID-19 crisis and the tragic deaths of people of color in marginalized communities have reminded us, again, of the work still to be done to eradicate the evil and sin of racism lingering in our hearts and social structures.

As we navigate through these difficult, painful and changing times, I suspect that each of us will continue to discern responses that use our own virtues and the collective wisdom of Catholic teachings and spirituality.

Indeed, Catholic spirituality of justice and mercy helps with ongoing conversion, change and transformation. The wisdom stories we hear and tell one another are clear: “But now, come back to me with all your heart, fasting weeping, mourning. Tear your hearts and not your clothes and come back to Yahweh your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love” (Joel 2:12-13). Truly, much of our responses necessitate a returning of our hearts back to God, trusting that His mercy and fidelity will guide our steps along the way.

In opening wide our hearts to God, our individual responses also find common purpose and hope. As St. Paul reminds us, our common lot is more than our individual human brokenness and sin (Romans 5:20). Furthermore, our humble supplication and lamentation in these painful times will not go unanswered (Psalm 51:2). Now, more than ever, we need to hold on to God’s generous faithfulness, remembering that we do not stand alone in our distress and trials (1 Corinthians 10:13).

With us stands the great cloud of witnesses, holy men and women, encouraging us to throw off everything that weighs us down and to keep our eyes fixed on Christ, who brings to perfection the justice and mercy we so eagerly desire and seek (Hebrews 12:1). Undeniably, their perseverance in Jesus Christ and witness to us is an unequivocal reminder of what God is asking of us in these uncertain times: “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).

Let us keep walking closely to God and one another, especially now when we may be feeling tempted to draw apart.

F. Javier Orozco

First published July 23, 2020 in the St. Louis Review