I’d never really considered plastic surgery; but there it was: a television offer you really couldn’t refuse — unless, of course, you thought about it.
It was the deserve part that eventually made me wince. What if I really did get the plastic surgery I deserve? If I was going to go under the knife, I finally decided, I’d much rather have the plastic surgery that I want rather than the plastic surgery I deserve. After all, who knows what might happen if I got what I really deserve? That’s a chance I’m not willing to take.
In the last few weeks I’ve learned that I deserve a BMW, as well as compensation for medical conditions I don’t yet have, and rewards for things I’ve not had the time to do. When you finally realize all the stuff you’ve missed out on, you want to scream that “life’s unfair.” And as any child will gladly tell you, “there’s no justice in the world.”
Actually, when it comes to the lack of justice in the world, those kids may be on to something. Justice is, in fact, very elusive. It’s something we strive and work for, and just when it seems within our grasp it slips away. And just when people achieve some sort of justice, it turns out not to satisfy them for some reason.
One of the problems with justice may be that it’s a noun, but it’s an abstract noun. You cannot quantify it. You cannot point it out on the street and say it’s three feet by four feet by five feet. It has no color, and you can’t order up a pound of it, as we learned in The Merchant of Venice. It’s amorphous, like happiness and contentment; and justice is more on the order of an aspiration than a solid achievement. And even though we pass laws to implement justice, we always seem to need just a few more laws to get there.
One of the other problems with justice is that we usually want it applied to other people. We want people punished for what they did — and rightly so. We want come-uppance and poetic justice for people we don’t like. And of course we want justice in remote places where we can’t be blamed for the injustice — like in the Middle East and Darfur. We can get some excellent exercise pointing fingers at those places, but at the end of the day no one can say it’s our fault.
It struck me recently that Saint Benedict never urged his monks to get all worked up about justice in far away places. In fact, there was plenty of need for it right at home. Monks sometimes didn’t get along (true). Some monks had good health while others didn’t (true). Some had cushy jobs or scarcely seemed to work, while others had to clean up the barns (true). Some had winning personalities and others were cranks (all too true.) In short, life in the monastery was unfair pretty much all the time, and for Benedict that made it as good a place as any to work for justice.
But who should be the object for our efforts for justice? Well, it would be nice to dedicate your life to imposing justice on your brothers and sisters, but it seems to me that the best place to begin is with ourself. I certainly don’t want others to spend one minute trying to make me just, so I may as well go and do it for myself. So how do I strive to be just?
For one, it never hurts to lift up the sad and lonely in our midst. It won’t kill me to listen to someone who’s often ignored. It won’t cost me much at all to be grateful to those who make my life possible. Maybe the guy who cleaned the bathroom or did the dishes was only doing his duty, but it won’t ruin my day to thank him for what to many is an inconsequential act. It is inconsequential, until the day it doesn’t get done.
All these suggestions are merely a good start. But at bottom is the realization that our neighbors endure a lot of things they don’t deserve — as do I. But to become a just person is a worthy goal, and a necessary one if we are going to create viable communities.
And when we finally become that just person, then I can put in a claim for those other things I’ve always deserved. And I won’t be that piggy about it either. I don’t need them all. I don’t need compensation I’m entitled to, because I don’t really want the disease. And I don’t really want the plastic surgery, mainly because I fear I will get exactly what I deserve. But I definitely will take that BMW that I’ve always deserved. That’s justice I can live with.
Notes from Saint John’s
+On October 15th I celebrated Mass and gave a presentation to the area members of the Order of Malta in San Francisco. I spoke on the recently unveiled piece of papyrus that — according to non-scholars — shows that Jesus was married. My thesis was simple. While the media may claim that it changes our understanding of Jesus forever, in fact its true significance in the public arena lasted about one afternoon.
+On October 18th the monks and many friends gathered for the funeral of our beloved confrere, Fr. John Kulas, who died after contending with Parkinson’s Disease for many years. For most of his career Fr. John taught German at Saint John’s University, and in the monastery he served for several years as the formation director for the junior monks. Fr. John was a dedicated linguist and scholar, and his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Minnesota was an important contribution to the history of Catholicism in Minnesota. The title speaks for itself: “Der Wanderer of St. Paul: the First Decade, 1867-1877: A Mirror of the German-Catholic Immigrant Experience in Minnesota.”
My fondest personal memory of Fr. John dates to the summer after my ordination as a priest. In a concentrated effort to learn German before beginning graduate school that fall, I took a summer course from Fr. John in the town of Krems, outside of Vienna. The highlight was our trip via a VW van to the Abbey of Metten in northern Bavaria, from whence many of the first monks at Saint John’s came. Metten was a great experience, and we returned once more before coming home to Minnesota. But we also vowed to take the train the next time.
+On October 19-20th we celebrated the inauguration of Dr. Michael Hemesath as the 13th president of Saint John’s University. On the 19th we were treated to an address by Fr. James Heft, SM, the president of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at the University of Southern California. The next day Bishop John Kinney of Saint Cloud presided at the Eucharist that preceded the inauguration. The latter was quite festive, and it gave many of us the chance to dust off and don our colorful academic robes. It was a nice change from basic black.
+On Sunday, October 21st, following the Eucharist, the monks of Saint John’s processed to the statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, which gazes out over Lake Sagatagan. A friend of mine pointed out that the statue had already been inscribed with Saint, and wondered why it might have been so, long before she was canonized on the 21st. It would be nice to say that we monks knew all along that she would be so honored. But the fact is that in 1956 the parish of Saint Olaf in Minneapolis donated the statue to Saint John’s. So they get the credit for such prescience.