One of the most keen insights into the human person that St. Ignatius of Loyola developed in his Spiritual Exercises is that of our divided existence. Not only are we divided internally, as described in the “Meditation on the Two Standards,” but more obviously we are divided one from another. This division takes up almost the entirety of the Bible, beginning with the “first family.” Not only did Adam and Eve sin, but at his first chance Adam threw Eve under the bus: “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.” Nice touch to passively-aggressively blame God by pointing out how Eve got there in the first place.
The second of the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) of the Society of Jesus focuses on this very issue as it ties together the mission to bring about justice as well as reconciliation. Adam and Eve, and after them their son Cain, and after Cain all of us, are living in a constant need for reconciliation because we are either the perpetrators or the victims of injustice on a daily basis. St. Thomas Aquinas defined justice as “a habit whereby man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will.” His 20th Century student Josef Pieper distilled this definition down to the belief that justice was “the ability to live truly with the other.”
Both definitions come together in this second UAP. We live “truly with the other” when we are constantly and perpetually willing what is due to her or him. Those mentioned in this UAP - “the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated” - includes everyone with whom we have ever interacted as well as ourselves. All are, in one way or another, poor, outcasts, violated. Understanding the universal nature of our own sin, no matter how much we have been mistreated by others, allows us to work for justice only within the context of reconciliation.
It is easy to divide the world into the haves and the have nots, the powerful and the powerless, the 1% and the 99%. It is much more difficult to see the world as broken along lines that don’t make it into the headlines or onto easy slogans. St. Teresa of Calcutta spoke of this difficulty on a number of occasions, especially when - unlike so many who confuse virtue signaling with courage - it was to an audience not very open to her message. Typical of her insights was the following:
We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.
All too often it is the homes of the haves, the powerful, and the 1% that have produced offspring of incredible poverty, and they also need to be cared for with justice and reconciliation. Just as we are called not to judge those who are the obvious victims of injustice because we don’t know what brought them to where they are today, so too - and for the very same reason - we are called to withhold judgment from those who we perceive as the perpetrators of injustice.
It would be difficult to find a person who is not guilty of the injustice of judging those who are perceived to be the most egregiously selfish and narcissistic among us. It would be even more difficult to find someone who doesn’t justify that judgment. We look at the downtrodden and preach the Gospel message “judge not,” yet we find no real contradiction when we immediately turn to those in power and pronounce them worthy of burning in hell.
The Ignatian Year is the perfect time to take a step back, focus on what Ignatius himself said, and on how the Society he founded is calling us to practice what he preached. Learning to live truly with the other - no matter who that other is - is quite a difficult first step, but one that is necessary if we are to help create a world where the Gospel is lived out, a world where justice and reconciliation are never separated from each other.