I'm coining a new phrase - Personal Mercy Warrior ("PMW"). I came up with it to juxtapose another phrase most of us today are all too familiar with - Social Justice Warrior ("SJW"). I think I'd rather be a PMW than a SJW. Let me explain.
SJW's are all the rage these days (no pun intended). Turn on the TV or log on to the internet for five minutes, and you'll see countless stories about protests, marches, and speeches against various societal inequalities in the areas of sex/gender, race, economics, etc. Many of these SJW's devote their entire existence to correcting these inequalities solely through group identity and macro, governmental solutions. From their media-built pulpits, they scream about how men are oppressing women, whites are oppressing people of color, and the rich are oppressing the poor. "Justice," the SJW's say, demands radical change and action!.
One thing you rarely hear at a SJW rally, however, is any serious discussion of mercy. That is a shame, because justice and mercy cannot exist without one another. They are two sides of a coin. Without mercy, justice becomes tyrannical. Without justice, mercy becomes mushy, sentimental and, in the end, incomprehensible. For many SJW's, however, mercy has been subsumed within--even swallowed up--by justice.
I've been thinking and praying a lot about God's mercy lately. The depths of God's mercy are unfathomable. When you boil it down, the entirety of Sacred Scripture (both the Old and New Testaments) is really just one long distillation of God's mercy towards us. As part of that exercise, I've been reading St. Pope John Paul II's 1980 Encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy). It is a beautiful exploration of God's Mercy and how both the Church and each individual can manifest that mercy in the world. I think it is safe to say that when he wrote the encyclical in 1980, the future Saint had never heard the term "social justice warrior." But you would never know that from reading the document. Like most Saints' writings, Pope John Paul II's thoughts here are timeless and prophetic. Several passages address the interplay between justice and mercy, at times as if he was writing directly to the modern SJW crowd.
First, the Saint recognizes that justice, in and of itself, cannot bring about meaningful change in the world:
The experience of the past and of our own time demonstrates that justice alone is not enough, that it can lead to the negation and destruction of itself, if the deeper power, which is love, is not allowed to shape human life in its various dimensions."
Shortly thereafter, he explains how modern "human opinions" misunderstand mercy in both idea and practice, therefore leading to the exclusive focus on justice:
These [human] opinions see mercy as a unilateral act or process, presupposing and maintaining a certain distance between the one practicing mercy and the one benefitting from it, between the one who does good and the one who receives it. Hence the attempt to free interpersonal and social relationships from mercy and to base them solely on justice.
I have no doubt that today some SJW's see their efforts as a work of mercy. And, to be sure, helping those that are oppressed can be a great act of mercy. But by focusing on group identity and large-scale, government solutions--to the exclusion of the individual--it becomes all too easy, as John Paul II says, to maintain "a certain distance between the one practicing mercy and the one benefitting from it." No matter how much I may identify or sympathize with a victim group, I can truly love only a person. I can only show mercy to an individual. Yet, "true mercy is, so to speak, the most profound source of justice." Building on that, the Saint then goes on to discuss what many SJW's today fail to understand:
Mercy that is truly Christian is also, in a certain sense, the most perfect incarnation of 'equality' between people, and therefore also the most perfect incarnation of justice as well . . . However, the equality brought by justice is limited to the realm of objective and extrinsic goods, while love and mercy bring it about that people meet one another.
Equality! Now there's something we can all get on board with (SJW's especially). But, as John Paul II explains, the pure justice practiced so often today limits equality to "objective and extrinsic goods." Again, only mercy and love allow us to meet another person face to face--to see the image and likeness of God within, and treat the person with the dignity flowing from that. The Saint then concludes:
Thus, mercy becomes an indispensable element for shaping mutual relationships between people, in a spirit of deepest respect for what is human, and in a spirit of mutual brotherhood. It is impossible to establish this bond between people if they wish to regulate their mutual relationships solely according to the measure of justice.
To be clear, I'm not saying that certain inequalities and victims thereof do not exist. Nor am I saying that the idea of "social justice" (at least as understood and developed within the Social Doctrine of the Church) is not a necessary and often useful endeavor. What I am saying though, and truly believe, is that only through showing mercy and love to the individual, rather than seeking solely justice for a group, can we bring real change to our fallen world. Of course, St. John Paul II expresses this better than I can:
Society can become ever more human only if we introduce into the many-sided setting of interpersonal and social relationships, not merely justice, but also that 'merciful love' which constitutes the messianic message of the Gospel.
So, through the inspiration and intercession of St. Pope John Paul II, let us be PMW's instead of SJW's, especially during this time of Lent. May we personally (P) seek out the downtrodden and less fortunate in our midst instead of simply decrying social wrongs. May we show mercy (M) to each individual we encounter instead of demanding merely justice for a group. And may we be warriors (W) for this personal mercy, fighting to win souls for Christ, rather than faux warriors for bumper sticker justice.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." (Matt. 5:7)
Saint Pope John Paul the Great, pray for us!
God love you.
(Pictured above, Image of Divine Mercy from St. Faustina Kowalska, painted by Eugene Kazimierowski)