Reason And Justice

John of the Cross is recorded in The Sayings of Light and Love to have said:

Blessed are they who, setting aside their own pleasure and inclination, consider things according to reason and justice before doing them. In The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross / translated by Kavanaugh and Rodriguez. p. 89.

The word “blessed” = “To be divinely or supremely favored; fortunate. Blissfully happy or contented.”

To set “aside their own pleasure and inclination”. This is a tough comment for middle class and above American citizens. We are not used to doing either of these things. If we want something and it is within our means (sometimes beyond our means), we get it. Simple enough. Just like that. If I am inclined to want a new car, I go out, “work a deal,” and get it. As a middle class American, it’s more likely to be a Honda rather than a Maserati but, hey, it’s a new Honda and I want it.

So John’s recommendation is to “consider things according to reason and justice before doing them.” My current car is a 2015 Honda CR-V but I’ve seen the 2019 and it’s pretty cool — relative to my 2015. Is there something wrong with my 2015? Not at all. It runs just fine. It needs new tires but that is normal wear-and-tear. The need for tires does not justify the purchase of a 2019 model, even though I have the inclination to buy it and that buying it would give me pleasure. I could buy it but it might not be a reasonable thing to do.

Oi! If we raise the issue of buying the new car to the virtue of justice, then things get more clear but less pleasant. I can feel good before my peers for doing something reasonable. But elevating the discussion to one of justice invokes some guilt. That is, what good person/people or entity is not being served if I give into my inclination to buy a new Honda CR-V? Yuck! I “should” set aside my own pleasure and inclination to perform an act of justice? Yuck again! I can tell my fellow workers that I considered buying the 2019 Honda CR-V but decided not to because it didn’t make sense and, although not everyone would agree, they mostly would walk away from the water cooler thinking, “Yeah, for her this makes good sense.”

To tell them at the water cooler that I have decided instead to give that money to Doctors Without Borders will cause some to walk away saying to themselves, “Yeah. Maybe I should do something like that too.” Others will walk away thinking to themselves “I earned that money; I’d buy the car.” Others might walk away thinking,”Wow! I hadn’t thought of it that way.” There are plenty of other reactions but the truth of the matter is that few of them will include giving money to help people who are devastated by the lack of basic human services, such as food or health care, either at home or abroad. There’s a guilt factor there.

So, I guess it’s up to each of us to experiment with this to determine what John meant by “blessed”, if we approach our decisions using reason and the principle of justice.

Plus, this is not a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. It could be. He said many things like this. This is a quote from John of the Cross who is referred to as a “Mystical Doctor.” Indeed, this quote is from the very one who gave us the notion of the Dark Night of the Senses and the Dark Night of the Soul. Hmmm….

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