The Importance of Justice in Priestly Formation

by Bryce Lungren

On the evening of Monday, November 7, 2011, Mount Angel Seminary moral theologian Abbot Peter Eberle, OSB, gave a conference on justice to the MAS student body, which included both diocesan and religious seminarians.  The conference was the second talk given on certain virtues that are critical to priestly formation.

The first of these Monday evening conferences was delivered by Monsignor Richard Paperini on the virtue of prudence.  Two more talks will be given next semester by MAS formation directors.  Fr. Terry Tompkins will speak on the virtue of humility and Fr. Rory Pitstick will address the virtue of patience.

Abbot Peter, who is also the Director of Human Formation at MAS, said he thought “these conferences are timely and a good way to get at living a moral and authentic priestly life.”

In the cafeteria before the conference on justice began, seminarian Dan Steele said he looked forward to Abbot Peter's talk because Abbot Peter always "brings new light to things in homilies that I didn't think you could get more out of it."

In St. Joseph's Chapel, where the conference was held, Abbot Peter divided his talk into three main parts.  The first he labeled the "mega" questions concerning justice.  These are the Church teachings on peace and social justice.  He concluded that "the Church starts from human dignity as the beginning for giving each person his due."

The second point of his address focused more on what he called "micro" issues of the virtue of justice for seminarians and priests.  Abbot Peter said that "lack of common courtesy in public discourse disregards the dignity of others, it wounds, and ultimately it is unjust.  A corollary of courtesy is kindness."  Dan Steele thought his insight into the virtue of justice was "real practical."

Abbot Peter's third section, which he called his "epilogue," was actually longer and more detailed than his other two points.  In this section he discussed whether anger was a just or unjust emotion.  He said that "anger has something to do with justice if it is used rightly.  But sometimes we use it wrongly; then justice suffers."

Abbot Peter cited John Cassian, a 5th century Desert Father, who argued "that anger almost never is justified."  Seminarian Andy Ruperto found this very interesting because he happened to be studying Cassian in one of his theology classes at the time of the conference.  Cassian's extreme view of anger aligned more with the vice of wrath.

The other extreme of anger that Abbot Peter said was unjust was that of apathy.  Abbot Peter quoted the 13th century Doctor of the Church Saint Thomas Aquinas who "went so far as to say a lack of anger can be a sin because it indicates a failure to engage on the part of our will."

Abbot Peter referenced the pericope in Mark's Gospel when Jesus heals the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath as a "wonderful example" of just anger.  Abbot Peter said that in this scene "He doesn't lash out at those folks in the Temple, in Chapter 3:1-6 of Mark, with whips or with violence, but he doesn't back down either.  He does what has to be done; he loves, he restores the man to wholeness, he does what is right according to God's justice.  This is a good example of anger that is correctly focused.  It has justice as its object and love as its root."

Andy Ruperto liked Abbot Peter's reference to the healing in the Temple as an example of just anger.  It was an example Andy had never thought of before.

Fr. Terry Tompkins appreciated Abbot Peter's treatment of what Fr. Terry called "holy anger, a.k.a. righteous indignation" as a form of justice.

After Abbot Peter's talk on the virtue of justice, those present in St. Joseph's Chapel concluded the Monday evening conference with Night Prayer.