Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What Is Justice?

Bonasera kissing the hand of Don Vito Corleone
As a Roman Catholic priest, I often hear the confessions of people seeking God's absolution; yet, I have a confession to make. In 1972, when I was halfway through law school, several of my classmates and I took a study break to see Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather.' In the opening scene of the film, Bonaserra, an undertaker,seeks a favor from Don Corleone. Bonaserra's daughter, a recent victim of violence and attempted sexual assault who nonetheless retained her honor and virtue, convalesces in the hospital. The undertaker wants the Don to kill the two young men who tried to rape his daughter. He implores Don Corleone for justice-that is, revenge. The Don reminds Bonaserra that his daughter is still alive and that murdering the perpetrators would not bejustice. The Godfather and the undertaker compromise: the two boys responsible for the assault will suffer as Bonaserra's daughter has. Don Corleone and Bonaserra agreed that making the attempted rapists suffer as their victim had was justice. Was that justice? More importantly, what is justice, and what is the role of the Christian academy regarding it?
Link (here) to read the full essay entitled, Realizing a Mission: Teaching Justice as Right Relationship at The St. John's Law Review by Fr. Robert John Araujo, S.J.


Katy Anders said...

What a fantastic article. I've printed it up and have it waiting for after work.

That area where God's laws and man's civil laws converge or diverge is always fascinating to me. Thanks for this one!

TonyD said...

This article was quite a pleasant read...Thanks again, Joseph.

I particularly liked reading that God's judgment is "transcendent".

While God is transcendent, that does not relieve us of our duty to try to reach good judgments. Quite often, things in this world are described as evil, when, in fact, they are not. We are not able to conceive of the depth of God's commitment to our lessons and His commitment to values such as "love your neighbor". Those commitments often create things which we routinely describe as evil, yet are good from God's perspective.

So we cannot accurately emulate God's judgment, and we should not try. We don't know the lessons for each individual involved and we don't know the planning which has gone into a particular situation. Further, we cannot see the array of good and bad outcomes that unfold from particular thoughts or actions.

Perhaps what is most missing is the counterpoint -- Justice is quite often unimportant. The context of lessons, values, future outcomes, and community usually outweigh justice. This can be hard to understand from this existence because there are so many who ignore genuine community and individual values. As a result, we fall back on things like justice and truth to try to overcome the real evil created by those who ignore real values.

I hope that I am speaking to a small audience who is reading this. For most people, the message that justice and truth are of extreme importance is still an appropriate message. And, for them, the punishments of ignoring that message will be made quite real.