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The Divine Justice of St. Patrick



03/17/2024

 

Micah 6:8 O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

 

We are pursuing the various virtues that God has given to us; reflections of Divinity that are within each of us, qualities that are part of who we are and are available to us to use and express. The virtue I want to examine this week is ‘justice’.

 

As virtues go, justice is not all that popular, primarily because of our limited interpretation of its meaning. We tend to think of justice as retribution or punishment. But justice is more than laws and rules. Justice refers to a standard of rightness and involves giving each person their due. It is based on ethics, morals, and equality for every human being, and is comprised of impartiality, accountability, being ethical, equitable, and fair. Biblical justice, or Divine Justice, reflects God’s righteous and impartial character.   

 

Often, all we hear is the part about being held accountable, and that is certainly part of justice. But the virtue lies in acting justly, thinking the right way, God’s way, which involves aligning our thoughts with Divine principles of truth, love, and order. Romans 12:2 teaches: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”


It is God’s will that we live justly. In Isaiah 1:17 we are taught: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Jesus expects us to live justly. In Matthew 23:23 we are told: “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.”

 

This is so human. We tend to do the easy things and convince ourselves that we are doing God’s will. But we set aside the tough things and convince ourselves we are doing enough. About 60 years BCE, Roman philosopher, Cicero, taught that there are two kinds of injustice: one is when someone inflicts wrong; the other is when someone can, but does not, shield someone from the wrong someone is inflicting. Says Cicero, “…he who does not prevent or oppose wrong, if he can, is just as guilty of wrong as if he deserted his parents or his friends or his country.” James 4:17 echoes this: So, for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin. This applies to every action, word, attitude, and thought.

 

Justice is not just something we witness; it is something we participate in. The Roman author, Seneca the Elder, lived from 54 BCE – 39 AD, and wrote, “It is a denial of justice not to stretch out a helping hand to the fallen; that is the common right of humanity.”

Jesus taught this lesson and told the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate the point.  A man is attacked and left on the side of the road. A priest and Levite, representatives of the man’s own social community, pass by without offering help. It is a Samaritan, a man of a culture that is despised ethnically and religiously, who helps. The Samaritan rises above the cultural and religious differences, acknowledges the man, and treats him with compassion, dignity, and equality – as a child of God. This is acting justly.

 

Today we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. As in many holidays, St. Patrick has two perspectives: spiritual and secular. From one view, the saint is a caricature of Irish blarney, a light-hearted guy used to decorate commercial marketing schemes and Hallmark cards. This side celebrates the day with parades, green rivers, Irish music and dancing, wearing something green, drinking green beer, Guinness and whiskey, eating corned beef and cabbage and Irish Soda Bread. It is all good fun.

 

On the spiritual side we see St. Patrick much differently. The real Patricius was a 5th century missionary who helped bring Christianity to Ireland. As we recall, Patrick was born in Roman Britain and was a victim of human trafficking when was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland. While enslaved, he turned to Christ and found solace in prayer.

 

He managed to escape slavery and return to Britain to reunite with his family. But God was calling him to return to Ireland. His mission was to move beyond mere religious conversion and to transform Irish society. He opposed the oppressive practices of the Druids and challenged the existing power structures. His teachings emphasized compassion, forgiveness, and love for all, regardless of social status. He sought liberty and justice for all. His compassion extended to the marginalized and vulnerable. He defended the rights of women, advocating for their dignity and protection. His pursuit of justice included caring for the poor, orphans, and victims of violence.

 

St. Patrick’s legacy transcends religious boundaries, and he is celebrated by both Catholics and Protestants. His life exemplifies resilience, forgiveness, and a commitment to justice. While the issues Patrick faced differ from today’s, his principles of compassion, defense of the vulnerable, and quest for justice resonate throughout history to our souls today.

 

Patrick rose above the world through the Grace of God. He sought justice for the people of Ireland, through the whispers of Spirit. It is how God reaches our hearts as well. Are we listening?  

 

God has written His law upon our hearts; there is an innate sense of what is right and just within us. We feel it as a nudge trying to get us to behave in a certain way. CS Lewis said this God-given sense of justice is “a moral law which we did not make and cannot quite forget even when we try and which we know we ought to obey.” To obey this inner command, begins with our thoughts and focus. To think justly leads to acting justly. To act justly results in becoming more just, and the more just we become, the more Christ-like we become.

 

As our relationship with Christ deepens, it is my prayer that we develop a clearer social conscience and more easily enter dialogue with others on how to make our world more just and humane. Through our maturing relationship with Spirit our minds are renewed, and our hearts transformed. God wants us to know that our mission, much like St. Patrick’s, is to become, through the Grace and guidance of God, the shapers of a new pattern for this world, marked by justice and love, mercy and wisdom. As Psalm 106:3 tells us: There is joy for those who deal justly with others and always do what is right.

 

It is my prayer that as we turn within to our moments of prayer, we listen for God’s still small voice whispering, “Come inside, beloved. Do what I have written on your heart and feel my joy.”

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