Justice is giving to others what is their due; economic justice is giving to others what is their due economically. The idea of economic justice can be traced back to biblical references. We also find that our brother, Thomas Aquinas, spoke of a just wage in his SUMMA. Most of us were brought up on reading and studying Papal encyclicals such as Leo XIII's RERUM NOVARUM, issued in 1891, and Pius XI's QUADRAGESIMO ANNO, written on the 40th anniversary of Rerum Novarum in 1931. More recently, the United States Bishops issued their pastoral letter, ECONOMIC JUSTICE FOR ALL, in 1986. The Bishops issued a follow up to this pastoral on its 10th anniversary in 1996, A CATHOLIC FRAMEWORK FOR ECONOMIC LIFE. It is in this latter document that we find a most notable statement: "The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy." This letter calls us to conversion and common action, to new forms of stewardship, service and citizenship.
Living out and practicing economic justice has a poor "track record." The reforms that have come about in our economic lives have not been through conversion and change of heart but rather through the results of legislation that needed to be enacted by our governments. Such issues as the right of labor to organize, the minimum wage and the length of the work week are all the result of legislation. The days of providing the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter are now far exceeded by the need to ensure that everyone has an acceptable level of food, clothing, shelter, and health care. Indeed, we also had to legislate that discrimination in the workplace be eliminated and that the workplace be safe and meet the necessary codes as now legislated.
Do we in our ministries, our everyday lives, preach, teach and give pastoral care promoting economic justice? Do we carry out the mandates demanded by economic justice; mindful that it is not a turn on/turn off option, but rather a principle of everyday life as we enter the marketplace, the workplace, or daily economic life?
We need to lead lives permeated with "Economic Justice for All" and carry out the mandate that "the economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy."