Always distinguish.


The Readings for the 16th Monday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

You have been told, O human, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

AT TIMES the entirely orthodox language of the Church sounds rather like the language of the world. It’s not that the Church is too close to the world: rather it’s just that the world has come close enough to the Church to try and confuse Christians. This is dangerous and we need to be on the lookout at all times. Lest “even the elect might be deceived” (Matthew 24:24). Today is one of those times and the “almost worldly language” is do justice.

First, let’s say what it is.

The Hebrew phrase used in Micah is asot mishpat. Asot means “to do” well enough, but mishpat does not mean Justice or righteousness. It does mean judgement. The LXX (ποιεῖν κρίμα poein krima) and the Latin Vulgate (facere judicium) carry this meaning as well. Do a judgement or, more to the point, make a division. Almost every English translation puts in here something about “justice”. And while the way to that idea is clear in the words “division” or “judgement”, there is a direct route from the choice for “justice” to being tripped up by the world.

The world has a decidedly different idea of “justice” than God and worse, the world’s idea of Justice is always changing. At the present time, “justice” in the world includes the right to murder innocent lives in the womb, to help them die later in life, and to deny any meaning to the words “man” and “woman”, or to our bodies. That’s “justice” in the world now.

Needless to say, that’s not acceptable to Christians: God’s law is the deciding factor for what is “just” or not. But, again, that’s not what this verse is saying.

When the late Robert Christian, OP, was consecrated as Auxiliary Bishop for our Archdiocese he gave a brief thank you talk at the end of the service. During that talk he used a phrase that I instantly committed to memory (because it seemed so important). Later I learned it was a very traditional part of the Dominican teaching and theological repertoire, often attributed to St Thomas Aquinas:

Rarely affirm, seldom deny, always distinguish.

It’s that last bit about distinguishing that gets to the heart of what is intended by Hosea by mishpat: it’s not “do justice” (and especially not in the au courant sense of “there is no truth, everyone is right”). Rather it’s an adjuration to distinguish between the things that are important to our final end (that is, for our salvation) and to be able to move forward as needed.

On the most recent episode of Clerically Speaking Fr Harrison pointed out that we often answer ideological questions by jumping to the opposite ideology. Alternatively, if someone has bought into an ideological form of Catholicism, everyone with whom one disagrees is clearly from the opposite ideology. You can see this on the Bird App as people accuse brother and sister Catholics of being Nazis and Marxists. While there are a few of each, certainly, it seems evident that “when I point one finger at you I’m pointing four back at myself.”

So we have to learn to parse things out. To distinguish.

When someone is using a given ideology – Fr Harrison used Gender Ideology in his example – rather than simply jumping into reaction formation, we may want to try and understand what has caused the other person to go so far afield. When they ask for “justice” we want to distinguish between sin and sinner, between what we can legitimately do (with a goal of bringing about a mutual conversion to a deeper faith) and what we cannot do that would involve damning all parties involved.

During my RCIA class, someone asked our teacher if they were required to believe all these dogmas before they became Catholic. In my newbie state I was disappointed that the teacher took 45 mins to say “not really”, but in the fullness of the answer, we are required to assent to them. It may take a lifetime to reach full faith in them. There’s ongoing growth in the faith and one needn’t be perfect to become Catholic.

We need to learn that the real goal of any human relationship is not to “be 100% right and argue the other party into submission” but rather – walking humbly with our God – to bring everyone (ourselves included) closer to God’s Kingdom one step at a time. We need to distinguish the path and through mercy, that is, God’s Grace, we can come forward together.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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