Sunday, December 4, 2011

What is “charity” and what is “justice” for a practicing Catholic?

Msgr. Marvin Mottet, Diocese of Davenport, explains it this way: It takes two feet to walk and to keep our balance: one “justice,” the other “charity.” One foot is focused on institutional change, the other on direct service.

Without both feet, we lose balance. When I served on the National Committee of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, I saw an application from Bread for the World: they weren’t passing out food baskets or running soup kitchens, but working for institutional change—addressing public policies that could relieve hunger and poverty. I said, “This is what we are all about.”

If we use only the first foot (direct service), we could make matters worse by fostering dependency. If we use only the second foot (institutional change), we might become too far removed from the realities of the situation.  A true Christian lifestyle requires of us that we live in solidarity with those in need and come to their assistance in emergencies. We cannot isolate ourselves.

Direct service can provide us with the data needed for institutional changes. It is sometimes classified as “charity.” Institutional change is “working for justice.” There can be no love without justice. If we really love, we will work to change structures, systems, laws, and policies that are harmful to people.   

Read Msgr Mottet's full article at

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