Before moving into the reflection on the virtue of justice I would like to share a quote I just came across regarding judgment. Since the previous reflection was on the virtue of prudence which entails the exercise of judgment in life I thought this quote quite relevant and also well-written. It is taken from the book Lost in Transition by Christian Smith, Kari Christoffersen, Hilary Davidson and Patricia Snell Herzog.
When it comes to moral matters, many Americans hear the words “to judge” or “judging” in the very negative sense of condemning, castigating, disparaging, or executing. To judge is this sense is to be self-righteously superior, hypercritical, and judgmental. And that itself seems morally wrong – we think it is wrong, in fact. Some may even call to mind the command of Jesus Christ, “Do not judge lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1). But “to judge,” of course, also has other important meanings. It can mean to assess, discern, estimate, appraise, weigh, evaluate, and critique. All of that can be done with great humility, openness, reciprocity, care, and even love for the idea of the person being judged. Judging in this sense need not be self-righteous, condemning, triumphalist, or destructive. But making moral judgments in this second sense seems almost inconceivable to most emerging adults today…
But inconceivable does not mean impossible and it is a fair question to ask why does making moral judgments in this latter sense “seem” inconceivable and is that a true estimation? I would contend that it is not. Judgment does not have to necessarily imply judgmentalism and judgment is required to successfully navigate life.
Now, on to the virtue of justice… It is helpful to note that the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance are human virtues that are open to being refined by grace. In being human virtues they are acquired and strengthened by human effort and they are the “fruit and the seed of morally good acts” (CCC #1804). One does not have to be a person of faith in order to have a developed understanding of the cardinal virtues and to live a life guided by prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.
Where prudence is the virtue that “disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance” (CCC #1806), justice is the virtue that directs our will into proper action. Once, we have figured out the good to do then, in justice, we are called to do it. This applies both to those daily mundane situations of our lives as well as the extraordinary events that we may experience and that can potentially greatly shape our lives. But, it is important to note here an important aspect of living the virtues: it is those daily, mundane choices for virtue that strengthen our will to be ready to make the choice for the good when the moment is critical and urgent. In faith, we believe that yes, all things are possible with God’s grace; but it is unlikely that one who has not practiced the virtues continuously will have the moral fortitude to do “the right thing” when the stakes are high. God’s grace cooperates with our free will, it does not overwhelm it.
It is because of this continuous nature of living the virtues, that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is comfortable in stating, “The just man (or woman), often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his (her) conduct toward his (her) neighbor.” (CCC # 1807) The word “habitual” is a key marker in this understanding of the just person and, I believe, it agrees with our own experience. We would not call someone just who is good one day or in one situation and not good the next day or in another situation. Virtue implies consistency.
The virtue of justice challenges us to continuous right thinking and uprightness in conduct. By doing so it also implies that this continuous nature is, indeed, possible to achieve in life and it also aids in determining the lack of justice when it is present. For example, when you hear someone talking negatively about another person or disparaging another person or even group of people, is it not normal to wonder what the person says about you when you are not around? We immediately recognize the inconsistency and would not define this person as a just person but this assessed recognition is possible only because the just life (by which we measure, evaluate and contrast this inconsistency) is possible. There are just men and women and if one were to ask why they are said to be just, I think we might be hard-pressed to point to just one specific instance.
A just life does not fall neatly into a thirty minute TV sitcom, five minute YouTube video or a short sound bite. A just life is demonstrated and achieved only over time and in various circumstances, but it is recognizable when present and when it is authentic it speaks volumes.
Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. (CCC # 1807)