Kids have an acute sense of fairness. Younger siblings know the bedtimes and privileges of older siblings and expect fair treatment, while rules are rigorously enforced in any pickup game of football or baseball.
Children just seem to pay more attention to detail in this area. The classic definition of justice is “giving each their due.”
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Somehow, adults can lose this sense of justice, and cultural trends in society do not help in fostering in this spirit.
Let’s start with God. If we believe he made us, gave us all of our gifts and natural talents, isn’t it fair for him to expect at least some gratitude in return? Do we ever thank God for the multitude of blessings that he showers down in our lives? And if he is the ultimate source of our intelligence, creativity and capacity for good, should he not expect that the glory for our actions go more to him than ourselves?
We live in a society that is always demanding rights, but perhaps we need to focus more on our obligations, to God. We can then enter the world of just wages, justice in terms of what children deserve from their parents, equal opportunities while avoiding racial discrimination, and more.
Most of this is fairly obvious and perhaps a helpful reminder, but I would prefer to focus on mercy, a love that goes beyond justice.
Wright Patterson Air Force Base, 1976
Our Boy Scout troop had taken a father-son trip to this illustrious air base, and having a dad as a former WWII pilot made this even more special for me.
As we pulled into the entrance, we noted an old B-52 bomber that had crashed in the woods. The scout master immediately stood up on the bus to announce that nobody should consider even getting close to that plane. If they did so, the punishment would be severe.
I looked at a few of my friends — and, smiling, we began planning our visit to the crash site.
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The opportunity occurred on the second night of the trip, when we were planning a big cook-out and steak dinner. A small group of us excitedly offered to go look for firewood in the woods, and once given permission, we stealthily ran towards the fallen plane. It was getting dark, and once inside, our flickering flashlight made it difficult for us to see the intricate wiring and even the bomb casings that were in the back of the plane.
Then we heard the crunching of rocks on the dirt road and a set of headlights coming up toward the plane. The scout master shouted out, “Boys, I know you are in there. Come out now with your hands in the air.”
He had us march back to camp with our hands in air, like prisoners of war, in front of the borrowed Jeep he was driving. As I marched past my dad, I could not bear to look him in the eyes. I knew how much I had publicly disappointed him.
We were sent to our tents, and our punishment that night was not being allowed to eat the amazing steak dinner and ice cream with our fellow scouts.
The next morning, I looked for my dad at breakfast and sat down next to him in silence. He put his arm around me, looked me in the eyes and smiled softly. He never said a word. He knew this was an innocent prank and he did not see the need to put more salt on the wound.
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Justice through Mercy
Unfortunately, I put my dad’s mercy to the test too often with an errant baseball breaking our neighbor’s window; dirty tennis balls covering my dad’s freshly painted garage wall after an outdoor street hockey game on the driveway; and I would prefer not to mention any more transgressions, so I hope you get the point.
Pope Francis has instituted the Year of Mercy for the Catholic Church. Recently he stated, “Where the Lord is, there is mercy. As we approach the Year of Mercy, let us pray that the Lord helps us understand his heart, to understand what ‘mercy’ means, what it means when he says: ‘I want mercy, not sacrifice!””
God wants to love others through us. Allow his merciful love to work.
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.