A Mission Moment: Hunger for justice

By Rev. Timothy Brown, S.J.

During Lent the Rev. Timothy Brown, S.J., assistant to the president for mission integration, will share prayers and other reflections related to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

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I read recently a reflection on the meaning of justice from lgino Girodan, a member of the Italian parliament. He used the Beatitudes and after that Beatitude, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice for they shall have their fill,” he said, “Justice is to the Christian what food is to the hungry, and drink to the thirsty.” Apply your senses to that, especially your sense of taste. Justice is to the Christian as what food is to the hungry and drink to the thirsty. One who is hungry eats to the last crumb. One who is thirsty drinks to the last drop. The desire for justice must be no less than starving for it. Just as every day there is a need of food, so every day there’s need of justice.

The Beatitude implies that unhappiness resides not so much in the lack of justice as in the scant appetite women and men feel for it. That sort of goes back to the old days when they made us feel still guilty about a lot of things. And I told the students, I don’t want to make you feel guilty about what we have, but I want you to think about that and be careful when you talk about justice and when you think it and what it means. What does it mean to be hungry? To hunger, desire, strive, and have you really had the need to do that. And how can I help, how can we walk into a community where that is the stark reality, even for a week, is that really a good thing to do. To walk humbly.

There is a point in which that meditation, that appetite for justice, that hunger, that starving may not be something personal; I’ll give an example. Fortunately we’re using a book and I think it is a great book for the first year students coming in a few weeks. The book is called Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol.

Amazing Grace is a book about the hearts of children who grow up in the South Bronx, the poorest congressional district of our nation. The children we meet through the deepening friendships that evolve between Jonathan Kozol and their families defy the stereotypes of urban youth too frequently presented on TV and in newspapers.

“How old would you like to live to be?”
The 13-year-old named Anthony says, “That’s easy, 113.”
“That number is quite exact. How did you decide on that?”
“Well, I’m 13 and I’d like to live another 100 years.”
“Why exactly 100 years?”
“I would like to live to see the human race grow-up.”
The boy gets up abruptly from the bench, starts to pace around, and peers into the garden and says, “Mr. Jonathan, I committed sins.”
And still standing behind this tree, behind Kozol.
Kozol says, “Big sins?”
“Big enough.”
“How big?”
“Well, not murder, but I did some things I’m not supposed to do.”
“Anthony, what sins did you commit?”
“I’ve taken food I wasn’t supposed to have,” he says.
“Are you hungry sometimes?”
“Yes.”
“What do you eat for dinner?”
“Oatmeal.”
“Hot oatmeal?”
“No cold.”
“With milk?”
“No, plain.”
“Do you like it?”
“S’not bad.”
“What do you do if you are so hungry?”
“I go to my grandmothers or I come here to church where we get food.”
“Have you ever stolen food?”
“Yes.”
“Did anyone see you?”
“You think no one sees but someone sees.”
“You feel guilty when you do this?”
“Yes.”
“What do you do?”
“I pray to God to forgive me.”
“Do you think that God is angry when you do this?”
And he comes out from behind the tree and he answers Kozol like this, “If someone commits a sin, God turns his back on you because God is disappointed, feels sad. But if you ask God for forgiveness, it’s as if you’re knocking on God’s door, hello wake up it’s me. Are you still mad?
Then God may turn to you again and give you forgiveness.”
“Do you forgive people who hurt you?”
“I try, but I’m not as strong as God. If I had the power, I would give everyone a second chance.”

Find more reflections from Fr. Brown posted throughout Lent here.

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