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Homily in Rome

Deuteronomy 16:18–20

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has gathered us together to face each other and to walk for a moment side by side here in the Eternal City where—according to the ancient adage—“all  roads lead.” The encounter is not only an occasion of rejoicing; we recall that our mission is to examine our relationship with God our Creator and with each other. In carrying this we are led by the theme of this year’s Week of Prayer regarding the duties of the judges, taken Book of Deuteronomy: “Be just and fair.”

Thea ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle claimed that humans have a natural tendency to desire the good. For Plato, the Greek word ‘dikaiosynē’, usually translated as ‘justice’, had a broader meaning, more akin to the modern idea of morality itself. The message of the Book of Deuteronomy commands “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone” (Deut. 16:19–20) and speaks us about values, virtues and the axioms of law that not only judges, but also every one of us is obliged to observe in our daily lives.

The roads leading to Rome and the Roman road network were designed for the efficient transfer not only of military personnel and equipment, but ideas as well. Many conquerors traveled these paths. What then could justice mean when it was no longer linked to a warrior’s search for honor? This is likewise asked in the ancient Greek drama, especially in the Oresteia.

Justice is one of those strange things that one appreciates when it is missing. In the attitude and climate of our societies, we are in favor of justice, but the focus seems to be more to oppose injustice. Today, calling someone unjust, is a common and powerful way to present a moral objection. In addition, today various privileges appear to be strongly emphasized instead of justice.

Different eras have outlined different definitions of justice. The German theologian and philosopher, Meister Eckhart, who received great attention during his lifetime in thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, taught, “For the action of the just man has justice as its goal, and this goal is identical with the just man.” During the Middle Ages, especially inspired by the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, the cardinal virtues that helped to order and perfect the appetites, were highlighted. In modern times, justice has become part of human rights and is considered as universal humanistic criterion, which in turn functions as the yarn of Ariadne inside the labyrinth of contemporary pluralism. Nevertheless, even if prudence, justice, courage and temperance may be the hinges of moral life, beyond them lie three theological virtues, which brings us, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, together today: faith, hope and charity.

Cardinal virtues help us to be good in this world, but the theological virtues prepare us for the next world. Theological virtues permit us, according to Apostle Peter, to glimpse at the world to come and to “participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Today it is comforting to remember that the Son of David is much more powerful than any of the Romans or the rulers who traveled with the military forces these Roman roads. The Roman roads brought Pax Romana, a Roman peace that kept the war at bay. The peace brought by Jesus transcends human understanding. It is joy, it is love between people, it is caring, it is diakonia and philanthropy.  It is internal serenity and establishes a calm stability in the relationship of man and the outer world. It means, above all, that every human being has dignity, no matter who or what they are.  “Lord […] preserve my life according to your laws,”  says Psalm 119 (Ps. 119:156). We are all called to a shared responsibility for the common good.

When I think of the call of Moses to be just, I sometimes wonder if we really take note of the things that are happening around us, in the world that surrounds us? What is the state of honesty, justice or human rights in today’s world? Are we ready to spread them on the table of our life for evaluation? How open—or how closed and unwelcoming—is the table at which we sit? Scripture tells us that we are God’s synergos, co-workers. We are God’s fellow workers so that He can work in and through us. So, whatever we are doing, all our activity has to be God working in and through us, so that by what we do, people come to know God, to know Christ, to know how boundlessly and totally we are loved by God. We can show this by being his instrument. In that case, we will act and live fairly and justly. The degree of synergeia should thus be understood as a criterion of justice. People know that when we are not working in synergy with God, no matter how many meals we serve to them, no matter how big and open our table is—they know when we are doing everything out of love. And when the good things are done without love, our measure is not worthy of God, as it is said in the Sermon on the Mountain “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2)

His Holiness pope John Paul II insightfully said that the roots of the Church are in the revelation of God to the people of Israel. Pope Paul VI, in a 1968 speech, stated that the foundation of justice is the religion that declares that all people are the children of the same Father and therefore brothers. It is in this light from the ancient and distant Holy Land that we still hear the enthusiastic voice of the psalmist proclaiming to us the greatness and mercy of the Lord.

I conclude, therefore, as I began, referring to the Roman roads. The Roman roads have transported much. They led a number of apostles to the world: St. Paul to the Areopagus in Athens, St. Peter here to Rome and St. Andrew to Constantinople. As Christians, we are not called to travel roads in the world as conquerors, but to love and give our lives for the life of the world. In such context the cross and resurrection appear in the best light as an encouragement and challenge now and henceforth. Amen.





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