Justice Can Flourish through Politics

July-August 1999

A Theologian Outlines Six Steps the Ministry Must Take in Its Search for Justice

As CHA embarks on its goal to build a national consensus on the need for healthcare for all, we must not forget the link between spiritual life and politics — not political parties, but polis, the "human city," asserted Rev. Martin E. Marty, PhD, director of the Public Religion Project at the University of Chicago. The search for justice is a daily venture as well as a long-term plan, he said. "One does not wait three years, find a magical spiritual and prophetic consensus, and then start putting it into action. One 'lets justice flourish' in personal, Catholic, institutional, and national life, now and constantly, while working to build consensus."

Citing Psalm 72 as the source for the assembly theme, Marty pointed out that the psalm was originally to a king. Since we no longer live under a monarchy, "for whom in our prayer and our prophecy are we asking that justice be effected, so that it flourishes?" For the answer, he said, "Look around you. Sixty-one percent of our citizens are outside the range of healthcare, and even those who are covered may not have just coverage."

Marty outlined six steps in the search for justice that will enable it to flourish through us as a nation. "First you must discern — see — the situation of the needy and oppressed." After discernment, "Prepare the soil," Marty urged. Before we build consensus, we acknowledge God as the source of justice and humans as his stewards. We recognize, in Pope John Paul II's words, "dignitatis humanae," and that healthcare is essential to the realization of human dignity and justice. We must also see that the search demands dialogue with others — conversation, not argument. Then we are ready to plant the seeds of justice.

The vital role religion plays in society then cultivates an environment in which justice is allowed to flourish. "Religion brings to political and policy discourse not only reason, but elements that religion nourishes as people make decisions: intuition, memory, community, tradition, hope, and affection [in the sense of an 'affective' life together] as part of its role in society." But we must also counter that which inhibits the flourishing of justice: the idea that religion plays a marginal role in America's secular society, or that Americans' spirituality is too individualistic for them to work for the common good and justice. It is incorrect to call ourselves a strictly secular society, Marty said. "We are a religio-secular society. We are seeking" spirituality. We may be individualistic, but "our web of affiliations is strong, and building community is absolutely essential if justice is to flourish."

Finally, we must nurture justice as it flourishes, by looking for renewal in its sources; through criticism, including self-criticism; through witness and gesture; and through immediate action along the way.

Politics, the work of the "human city," works through many elements to let justice flourish, Marty concluded. It works through the individual; through the institutional voice of the Church; through agencies of the Church, such as CHA; through society, in consensus building; and through the rest of life. But politics has its limits, too: the eternal, and that which transcends even justice.


Copyright © 1999 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Justice Can Flourish Through Politics

Copyright © 1999 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.