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Political programs cannot achieve justice and equality, Pope says in Lenten message

February 04, 2010

In his message for Lent, Pope Benedict XVI cautions against a purely secular approach to achieving justice in society.

While Jesus "surely condemns the indifference that even today forces hundreds of millions into death through lack of food, water and medicine," the Holy Father writes, nevertheless "distributive justice does not render to the human being the totality of his due." Man seeks for something much more-- for salvation-- which can only come through Christ and his Church.

The Pope's annual message takes its title from St. Paul's letter to the Romans: "The justice of God has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ." Pope Benedict begins with some reflections on the meaning of the word "justice." He notes that the most common definition involves giving every person his due. But a problem arises immediately, he notes: "What man needs most cannot be guaranteed to him by law."

Efforts to achieve justice through the force of human law cannot succeed, the Pope says. The radical impulse to eliminate all oppressive structures, hoping thereby to bring a just and equal society, is doomed. The Pontiff explains: "Injustice, the fruit of evil, does not have exclusively external roots; its origin lies in the human heart, where the seeds are found of a mysterious cooperation with evil."

The goal of the faithful during Lent, the Pope writes, should be to root out the evil in their own hearts. This effort requires humility, because Christians must acknowledge that they cannot change the world-- or even change themselves-- by their own powers; they must rely on the help of their Savior. Christians must be determined to pursue God's justice, not their own.

The Christian who is determined to answer God's call will indeed work for justice in society, the Pope continues: "God is attentive to the cry of the poor and in return asks to be listened to: He asks for justice towards the poor, the stranger, the slave." But the Christian recognizes that his own efforts to help others are guided by God. He concludes that the justice to which St. Paul refers is "the justice that comes from grace, where it is not man who makes amends, heals himself and others."

At a Vatican press conference introducing the Pope's Lenten message, Hans-Gert Poettering, the former president of the European Parliament, observed that the Pope "has indicated that a secularly radicalized form of the idea of distributive justice that is decoupled from faith in God becomes ideological." He added: "As a politician, I would like to add: We have experienced in collapsed socialism where this thinking can lead to."

Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, the president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, agreed. He told the press conference: "Whoever dedicates deeper study to the Church's contribution in favor of peaceful understanding among human beings will soon discover that the problem of just coexistence cannot be resolved only though worldly interventions."


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  • Posted by: New Sister - Feb. 04, 2010 6:53 PM ET USA

    His message for Lent is superb - definitely read the full text!