by Fr. Dave Kelly, C.PP.S., Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied…Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Mt 5:6,10).
One way to define righteousness is striving to be in right relationship with self, one another, and God. So according to the Beatitudes, we can expect both satisfaction and persecution.
We seek to live within a restorative justice philosophy. Restorative justice is all about relationships—right relationships. It is seeking to be in right relationship both with youth and families, but also with stakeholders and systems. I tend to have more patience with the youth because I know where they come from and the struggles they have to endure each day. I can be less patient with systems—the correctional system and other large bureaucracies. Whether it is with the youth or with systems, striving to be in right relationship can be difficult, and one realizes that the kingdom of God is not yet!
In this election season, adversarial rhetoric is everywhere. All the media outlets promote the “one against the other” stance, a message that seems to be pervasive amongst politicians. If that were the end of it, I could live through this season of political joisting that has come to define our system. But that same stance—“you have to lose for me to win”—seems to creep into many relationships and divides the community.
I stood alongside a kid in juvenile court a couple days ago who admittedly had broken some rules of his home confinement. He had gone somewhere when he was supposed to be in school. So the battle ensued between the state’s attorney and the public defender. They asked questions and searched for answers, but not once did they ask the kid, his father, or me—even though we had some of the answers. Everything was about the kid, but no one addressed him until they took him into custody. To add insult to injury the judge, in locking him up, scolded him for not following the rules. The kid had no opportunity to speak. Ironically, they didn’t even have his name right. He told me that when they put the id band on his wrist in the detention center, he tried to tell them that wasn’t his name. “They just said I was a liar.”
Walking back to my car (without the kid) I thought that if I could only get them to sit down and hear each other’s truth, each other’s story, then perhaps we could get to the real underlying issues. But the system
does not allow for that, and now the kid, his family, and the community have lost the opportunity to restore relationships, to change things, and really make a difference.
Another young man, Tommie, was expelled from school. He had a bb gun and was shooting across the street. Unfortunately, he was close to the school near here and a teacher was driving by and thought he was pointing a gun at her. She called the police and he was arrested. Someone called me, so I went to the scene and had a chance to talk to the police. The officers were incredibly polite and engaged—something that rarely happens. So Tommie was charged, not with a gun, which would have been the norm, but with misdemeanor assault, a much less serious case.
Three tragedies took place here. First, Tommie was arrested and has a court date. Second, the teacher still believes that one of her students pointed a gun at her. She is from the suburbs and this is her first assignment in the inner city, and now, undoubtedly, she is afraid. Third, the relationship of understanding that could have occurred has been lost. What remains fresh is the hurt. Everyone feels victimized, without power.
What if our goal was to be in right relationship with one another? What if the courts, the schools, and other systems really tried to create an environment where people had a chance to tell their story?
There is a story about an office in the Department of Child and Family Services. Its workers were frustrated at people’s unwillingness to keep their appointments. Chaos and anger were always on display in the waiting area. The Child and Family workers could be heard making demeaning comments—and there were many comments that were directed back at them. Then something unusual happened. The workers decided, after a listening session with some of their clients, to have appointments Monday through Thursday, but Friday would be first-come, first-served. The result was a dramatic difference. Those who were able made their appointments, and those whose lives were more unstable or unpredictable came on Friday. They knew they may have to wait, but they did so knowing they would be seen, and the Child and Family workers knew what to expect. All because they took the initiative to listen to those they serve and include them in the process.
It seems Pope Francis is trying to emphasize just that: first and foremost we need to strive toward an environment of inclusion that will allow us to celebrate who we are as the people of God. Rather than starting with the issues, which is often divisive, we seek first to be in right relationship with one another. We can continue to hold our convictions and seek to persuade others to our side. However, we conduct ourselves in the context of Shalom—living in right relationship.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied” (Mt 5:6).