My fiancee and I were talking the other day about the push towards more of a “social justice” approach to Lent that came up in one of our local parish homilies. The position of fasting was downplayed in favor of almsgiving, or of volunteerism.
In the Bible, Jesus shows tremendous solidarity with the poor and the marginalized, and actively pushes his disciples to care for them. It’s easy to think that we ought to give primacy to this dimension-after all, it is what Jesus did.
But society in the first century was very different from our world today. Women held extremely low status in Jewish culture at the time-a widow was probably a third or fourth class citizen. As was a child, making an orphan a very low rung on the ladder. Same with the blind and the lame. The call of Jesus was to care for people who would not be cared for otherwise.
In today’s culture, this rift still exists, but it is far less severe. While helping the poor, marginalized, and downtrodden is important (and as Catholic Christians, it is what we are called to do-this is our call), this can’t lead to a forgetfulness of God.
Fasting used to be commonplace, and social programs were rare. Now the opposite is true.
I don’t like the term “social justice.” Intrinsic to the nature of justice is a social dimension. Justice is the virtue by which we give to other persons according to their due, which necessarily is social in nature. It makes one wonder why the term “social” is tacked on the front so often these days.
Instead of social justice, let’s just focus on justice, which will lead to almsgiving for those that are marginalized, as well as prayer, fasting, meditation, and praise for God. If we can get the last part right, we will be on the path to true justice, freedom, and equity for everyone and everything will fall into place, both for us and for our fellow man.