Pray With the Pope: July 2019
General Intention: That those who administer justice may work with integrity, and that the injustice which prevails in the world may not have the last word.
‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This is a famous quote by Rev Martin Luther King Jr on justice in the world.
Wonderful and inspiring words — but they can give us the false sense that all will be well in the end; we must just exercise great patience.
Rev King’s life of struggle, and indeed his assassination in 1968, underline the fact that we cannot be complacent. He certainly envisaged the necessity of a continual striving for justice.
Is Injustice Winning?
The papal intention also reminds us not to be complacent about the progress of justice for injustice still “prevails in the world”.
Does this mean that injustice is winning? It is impossible to know, of course, but it sometimes does seem as if injustice has the upper hand in our grotesquely unequal world where corruption, violence, vicious rhetoric and lies are in the air we breathe.
On the other hand, there are those great moments in history when we have a sense that justice is on the march and will triumph eventually. The breaching of the Berlin Wall was one such moment.
However, we always need to beware of magical thinking or millenarianism. This world may at times make significant steps towards a vision of the “progress of the peoples”, but these steps never annihilate original sin and nor do they absolve us from “eternal vigilance” and continuous effort.
A line of poetry that springs to mind is from the poet and mystic William Blake as he protested in his poetry against the “dark Satanic mills” of the English industrial revolution: “I will not cease from mental strife, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem, in England’s green and pleasant land.”
Blake would have agreed with the former US attorney-general Eric Holder who made this wise cautionary remark: “The arc bends towards justice, but it only bends towards justice because people pull it towards justice. It doesn’t happen on its own.”
Let’s Shape Justice’s Arc
This is precisely the caution we find in the intention. Unless those who actually administer justice do so with scrupulous fairness and integrity, the arc will not of itself inevitably bend towards that justice which we desire and deserve. On the contrary, neglect might actually bend it in the opposite direction of injustice.
There is a further implication here. We are said to get the politicians we deserve. Maybe we also get the judges we deserve.
Those who administer the law have a responsibility to set a tone of integrity and fairness in our society, but we, the populace, have a responsibility to respond and to help them to do this.
In our own country, they have their work cut out and they need all the help they can get. The legacy of the past has left a poisonous moral environment in which people feel free to shout loudly and demonstrate when their rights are infringed, but are quite prepared to break laws to make their point.
Demonstrations easily turn violent, property is damaged or destroyed, public amenities are razed to the ground, and sometimes people are injured or killed.
Indeed, violence seems to be the default way of solving a problem. We have 55 murders a day. How demoralising is that for the police and the judiciary?
The law is something that someone else must obey. As for me, the thinking goes, if I can get away with breaking a law that I consider to be inconvenient, I will break it.
It is almost impossible to go out in a car and not witness some oafish person flaunting the highway code and endangering the lives and limbs of fellow-citizens. We have a beautiful country, but it is continuously marred and polluted by illegal dumping.
Sometimes one wonders whether we deserve the freedoms we have been given and the lovely land we have inherited.
Let us pray for those whose task it is to create a more law-abiding society of integrity and justice. And let us pray that, through our respect for the law, we may deserve such a society.