People need people

By

21 Aug 2022

Social Justice Sunday emphasises the importance of relationships in a world that helps human beings to flourish.

Social Justice Sunday is celebrated this year in Australian Catholic Churches on 28 August. It complements the United Nations Day for Social Justice in February. The theme of the latter is to encourage formal employment. This is based on a contract that gives security to employees, a just wage, and protection under the law. The hazards involved in casual and part-time employment have been evident in Australia during the Covid epidemic. The insecurity and low pay workers in aged homes and the health service contributed to the spread of the virus and deaths in homes for the aged.

Social Justice Sunday also has its theme. This year it focuses on violence, and especially violence within families. The day also invites us yearly to reflect more broadly on what a world would look like if it cared for all its people. It gives the central place to the dignity of each human being. To do this forbids us from treating individuals or groups of people as dispensable, as marbles to be counted, and so able to be disregarded when they stand in the way of other people’s interests.

Social Justice Sunday also emphasises the importance of relationships in a world that helps human beings to flourish. We depend on others for our life in this world, for our education and all the things that shape our work and our lifestyle. We have a corresponding responsibility to take into account the good of all our fellow human beings in our actions and in all our institutions.

This commits us to reflect on our wealth, our lifestyle, our work, our investments and to ask how other people are affected by them. Our first task is simply to notice the patterns among the way in which we live, and to ask ourselves whether they reflect the way in which we want to relate to others. If we take every opportunity to travel by air for work and holidays, have investments in coal and gas, and hate greenies we might ask how this lifestyle and these attitudes respect the poor who will be most affected by climate change, and whether we might want to change it. Then we might ask how we can encourage in our society a serious response to climate change.

This attitude of taking responsibility for our society is opposed to a thin account of human life. This is one that emphasises individuals and their choices, believes that the central relationships between people are those that bring them together in the pursuit of individual wealth and satisfaction, and disregards any concern for the common good. It considers that the good of society is only achieved through the working of a free market composed of competitive individuals.

We need to commit ourselves to the message of Social Justice Sunday – to take into account the good of all our fellow human beings in our actions and in all our institutions.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ is an editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications
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