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Chapter 6: Love, Justice, Mercy, and Social Responsibility


While the most basic Christian responsibility toward others is to love them, it is not always obvious what that requires. This chapter clarifies the question.

Jesus teaches that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, and love of neighbor is love of every human person. Jesus also teaches that we should love enemies as God does: we should seek reconciliation with them and not condition love upon their repentance; but we should not condone their wrongdoing.

Christian love exceeds the limits placed on other human love by hopelessness, indifference, individualism, and even death. Jesus’ command to his followers to love one another as he loves them is truly new, and communion in Jesus is the source of this Christian love. But Jesus’ commandment to love does not limit love to fellow Christians; it reaches out instead to all people. It is violated by hatred and evildoing toward others, though most kinds of sins against others admit parvity of matter.

Justice refers to several distinct realities, and there are narrower and broader concepts of justice. Still, some theories of justice are simply false, while some widely accepted accounts of justice—for example, that it consists in fulfilling agreements or in objective equality in exchange—are inadequate, even though in some cases they do point to useful standards. The principles of justice are moral rectitude and fairness.

Rights are not additional principles of justice but, rather, its consequences, and so rights are not treated as basic in Church teaching. The Church’s teaching on rights mainly concerns natural rights.

A morally good life must be not only individual but communal. Communal responsibilities are generated by moral principles. The common good, understood in terms of basic human goods, and the good of each person are not at odds; instead, the common good and the individual’s good include each other. But the common good of the new covenant community is a special case which takes priority over the good of each person and over every other common good.

In the present-day situation, secular humanism undermines social order; and the roots of sin—pride, avarice, and pleasure seeking—take special forms which account for the negative features characteristic of our culture. Individualism and collectivism, unrestrained capitalism and state socialism, have competed for political and economic dominance. The Church rejects the extreme elements of these approaches and supports private property together with social responsibility and a free economy together with the necessary public assistance for families and intermediate groups.

Justice and mercy are related, but mercy goes beyond justice by overcoming injustice, and must be practiced by Christians. Even so, mercy does not cancel out the objective requirements of justice. Works of mercy are works of love, and sometimes Christians should forgo rights for the sake of mercy. Peace is the fruit of justice which includes mercy.

Although Christians are not called to establish the kingdom of God on earth, still they should integrate social responsibility into their vocations. This includes promoting social justice and adopting a life-style consistent with social responsibility. One should act on behalf of justice in specifically Christian ways.