Thursday, February 4, 2010


Years ago I read Introduction to Christianity by then-Professor Father Joseph Ratzinger. It is in many ways a model of apologetic writing—a sort of intellectual and more theological version of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.

The Holy Father’s “Message for Lent 2010” has the same markings: a graceful dance between the best of ancient Roman philosophy, respectful use of Judaism’s insights and Scriptural exegesis generally, focus on Jesus Christ, and an understanding of the psychology of the human heart. Not too bad for a message that, when printed out, is significantly shorter than 3 pages.

Perhaps the most striking idea in this message is the way in which “justice,” its formal theme, is turned (if you like) inside out at the end, showing that the justice of God is fundamentally rooted in mercy and love (making a link with his first papal encyclical, Deus Caritas Est). God’s justice, the Pope insists, is the inverse of pagan Roman justice—instead of giving others their due, God gives us what is specifically not our ‘due’—it is the graced action of Love. He writes:

What then is the justice of Christ? …it is the justice that comes from grace… [Christ] bearing in Himself the ‘curse’ due to man so as to give in return the ‘blessing’ due to God (cf. Gal 3, 13-14). …here we discover divine justice, which is so profoundly different from its human counterpart. …Thanks to Christ’s action, we may enter into the ‘greatest’ justice, which is that of love (cf. Rom 13, 8-10).

This is our hope as Christians, expressed in the introductory prayer at the Final Commendation in a funeral rite: we long for that day when “…the love of Christ, which conquers all things, destroys even death itself.”

There will be more on Pope Benedict’s insight into the human heart in the “Pastor’s Corner” for this coming weekend’s bulletin and web-site. But let this be enough for now, and perhaps enough to encourage you to check out the message in full.


  1. I don't know if I am typical or not, but I have long been accepting of the pagan Roman justice - giving to others their due - because it is easy to understand. Emotionally, I want to comprehend the justice of Christ; the intellectual realization is still hard to believe.
    If one stops short of needing a revelation of what happens at death, then an individual might say, 'I've done everything right', so I expect to go to heaven. But, in God's eyes, has that individual done everything right?

  2. to Love isn't always as easy as simply to Love. Sometimes to Love is to do or say what is uncomfortable and unpleasant. I know that Christ bought our redemption (so to speak) out of Love for us. Surely this act of total self giving doesn't mean that we have license to do whatever we want to do. To truly Love, is to sometimes go counter many things of this world, even if it means being rejected.

  3. The Pope makes the observation that the Roman concept of justice ("dare cuique suum," in Ulpian's original Latin) is easy to understand on the surface, until you start asking what is another's "due." Then things get sticky...

    An interesting definition of "love" (from C. S. Lewis) is the steady desire for the good of the other (and willingness to act, for the other's good). This takes in the concept of 'tough love,' presuming of course that we know what is truly "the good" for the other. And it clearly takes in the sacrifice of Christ for us.

  4. Some actions, behaviors can be clearly discerned (without a doubt) and understood as being harmful, not only for those committing the actions/behaviors, but also harmful to those that they may be an influence to, or to those that make look up to them as role models. In other instances, one can clearly see, just flat out evil being carried out against someone or a group of people, such as those truly vulnerable/denfenseless, the oppressed, the cast asides, that are therefore in effect rendered powerless in this world. These are the instances that I believe, that once we have said "YES" to our Lord that He would want us to take a stance against and declare a clear and resounding "NO" to, and pray that those offending hearts and minds will become illumined by the grace of the HOLY SPIRIT. Since I am a sinner, May He grant me the Wisdom/Sight to see and discern the plank(s) in my own eyes.