Justice vs. Charity

Many people agree that we do not live in a just world. Why? Because everyone’s not treated fairly, things just don’t work out for everyone, the wrong people win court battles, and millions of people are starving. So, do we live in a just world?

Well what is justice? It means being able to get what you deserve. Food, health, shelter included. Does everyone in the world have those things? No, unfortunately, so the answer is no, unfortunately, the world is not just.

“Expecting the world to treat you fairly just because you are a good person like expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian and don’t eat meat.” It just doesn’t work that way. But does that mean we should stop being good people?

In the Catholic religion, Justice is one of the four cardinal virtues. It is the moderation between selfishness and selflessness.

So what can we do to be less selfish? Ok, let’s give all of our money away to a charity. That’s great, but there’s a major difference between the formal meaning of the world “charity” and the word “justice”.

Charity is social service. Charity provides direct services like food, clothing, and shelter. Charity addresses problems that already exist. Examples of the works of charity in action are homeless shelters, food shelves, clothing drives, emergency services. The order of nuns that Mother Teresa started is called Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa did charity; she gave wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor.

However, Justice, is this month’s virtue, and it has a different focus. Justice is social change. Justice promotes social change in institutions or political structures. Justice responds to long-term needs. Where charity addresses a current problem, such as hungry people in the streets, justice is directed at the root causes of social problems. Justice addresses the underlying structures or causes of these problems – basically, making sure the mess isn’t made to begin with. Examples of justice are legislative advocacy, changing policies and practices, political action.

So, overall, understand that we need BOTH charity and justice. They’re two ends of a spectrum of living out our faith.