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Basic Justice

Fr. Roy CimagalaBy Fr. ROY CIMAGALA
September 21, 2009

LIKE love and freedom, justice is a big word that means many things to many people.

It has suffered so much stretching that it often appears distorted, warped and made use of. Its basic element is forgotten under so much clever overlays, questionable leavenings or sheer malice. Sometimes we are not even aware of it.

These distortions and selfish use of justice, of course, generate their own drama that leads us to extended conflicts, usually framed within the arena of the inconsequential aspects of the issue, but not the root of the issues itself.

There’s often much ado about nothing. Only self-interests are disturbed, feelings strained, biting discord generated. The higher common good is ignored, the bigger picture neglected, blinding passions revved up.

They remind us of what St. James says in his Letter: “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.” (3,16-17)

What is this basic element, or the nucleus of justice? It is none other than an abiding sense of what we owe to others – first to God, then to others. Our main problem is that when we see others, we tend to think only of what they mean or have to do with us.

Instead of others-oriented, we are self-oriented. This is a predicament we have to be more aware of, so we can be properly guided and reminded of our duties. We need to continually indulge in certain exercises to put us in the right track. Hopefully the proper attitude becomes second nature in the future.

Let us examine ourselves: What do I think every time I see a person, or consider a person in my mind? If it’s duties we owe to them, then we are starting to live justice. If we get stuck in the externals and, worse, pursue thoughts about how they can mean to us, we are taking the wrong turn of the crossroad.

We also need to realize ever deeply that justice is an always concern. We don’t think of it only when big problems – usually causing us some discomfort – erupt. It has to be a permanent attitude which we put in active mode both in ordinary and extraordinary situations. It should never be allowed to sleep.

Obviously, all this will depend on an objective law of right and wrong, good and evil. This law just cannot be generated from within oneself. It has to come from outside us – more correctly, from above us, God himself.

Thus, we need to understand that justice can only be properly lived if there is an abiding relationship between a person and God, between a society and God, between our legal system and God, etc.

For sure, this is going to be a dynamic relationship which can admit some errors and confusion. So we need to give allowance to these possibilities. But if it is earnestly pursued, I’m sure we can see the true face of justice.

Short of that, let’s not deceive ourselves and say we have justice. We will never have justice. At best, we can have an appearance of justice, which can be worse, since it will be a very treacherous kind of justice.

Sad to say, this is what we have aplenty. Without a strong mooring on God, we go about trying to have justice in our own conflicting terms. Things can get worse when the media come in, since another agenda alien to the original intent of justice can be pursued.

The recent Simala controversy is an illustrative example. I suppose all parties involved have a point to make, as in all other controversies. When the media joins in, usually already with a defined, if hidden, bias, the picture which in the first place is not supposed to be seen by all, gets more muddled.

I wonder what kind of justice will be achieved here. Just the same, some good can always come out. In this particular case, I’m happy that allegations about gay presentations within the shrine are emerging, so that these anomalies can be corrected, if painfully.

In one Christmas clergy party (not in Cebu), I was devastated to see a priest, who acted as the emcee, dressed as a girl with wigs, screaming make-up and revealing off-shoulder gown. Some bishops were there, and a good number of the laity also.

This kind of jest is simply foul!