It comes up over and over and over. Justice or mercy? Judgement or compassion? Sometimes things get really confused, and we start talking about "objectivism" vs. "subjectivism," or even about "truth" vs. "love."
Edith Stein had the best comeback for that one: "Do not accept anything as truth that lacks love," she said, "and do not accept anything as love that lacks truth. One without the other is a destructive lie."
It's been explained over and over and over. Real justice and real mercy don't contradict each other. We so evidently get nowhere by endlessly pitting a caricature of "judgmental" against a caricature of "pastoral."
But the other day I was reading Salt and Light, a Q & A with Benedict XVI--whose birthday was yesterday--when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger. His approach to what you might call an apologetics of judgment was different from all the rest. It appeals in a unique way to those who are concerned with this-worldly justice--without, of course, going squishy or Truth and Goodness.
Here's what he says about the Day of Judgment:
There must...somewhere, somehow, be a settling of injustices, the victory of justice; that is what we are awaiting, at least. Nor are Christ and His judgment a victory for evil. No, He is a victory of the good, and, in this sense, the fact that God is righteous and is the judge is profoundly good news.
There's a caveat, it's true. The news may be good, but it won't necessarily be pleasant to put into action. He concedes:
Naturally, this good news puts me under an obligation.
And then comes my favorite sentence:
But when I conceive of the good news only as self-affirmation, in the final analysis it is meaningless; there is an anesthetization going on somewhere.
And then, in a masterful conclusion, he ties together the concerns of "traditionalists" and "social justice warriors" alike:
For this reason we must become familiar again with the dimension of judgment precisely with a view to those who suffer and those who have received no justice but who have a right to it--and then also agree to put ourselves under this standard and to try not to belong to the doers of injustice.
We all need to sustain a lively concern for "those who suffer and those who have received no justice but who have a right to it"--and we all have to uphold the standards of objective truth and falsity, good and evil--and here's the tricky part--without giving ourselves a pass. I'm going to quote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn here--not for the first time--because he says it so well.
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
The trick is to affirm real, unchanging standards of justice and injustice and "to try not to belong to the doers of injustice." It's so much easier to just define ourselves as the just ones because of the side we're on. Then, too, we have to resist the lure of that "anesthetization"--the kind that makes us numb to our own evil, and the kind that makes us numb to the sufferings of "those who have received no justice but who have a right to it." (Pope Francis also has a lot to say about "anesthesia.")
Getting beyond the silly headlines and pulling out of the anesthesia can both be laborious. But in the end, the Day of Judgment is good news.