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March 17, 2014

Traditionally, there are four marks of the true Church – it is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. However, the 1970 world Synod of Bishops added a fifth mark. By saying that justice is a constitutive dimension of the Gospel, the synod in effect said the true Church is also known by its proclamation and living out of God's justice.

This is a good thing, but it can also be problematic. For just as the Church is not united and its members often lack holiness, relations among baptized believers are sometimes unjust.

This is most apparent when there are imbalances of power or when power is abused.

So, what does one do when one sees apparent injustice, say, in one's parish? The first step is to confront injustice head-on. The alleged abuser must be taken to task. Relevant parties should come together and name the injustices they believe have occurred. This essential step is the one that most often gets skipped. It is easier to gossip about alleged wrongdoers with one's friends, create factions or run to the bishop.

Yet, reconciliation cannot occur without a meeting between the perpetrator and the aggrieved. The perpetrator will not change if there is no dialogue with his accusers.

St. Paul wrote some of his letters precisely to deal with dissensions in local churches. For Paul, unity was paramount and had to be preserved even when some members of the community sinned grievously.

"I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1.10).

Immediately after saying that, Paul turns his attention to the cross, which is "folly to those who are perishing." The implication is obvious – there are times when one should sacrifice one's interests or desires for the unity of the Church. To Christians, the cross is not folly, but "the power of God" (1.18).

The cross calls us to be resilient – to rise above the harm done to oneself. One needs to be careful here because some people have experienced great trauma and, resilient though they may be, the effects of such trauma are deep and lasting.

Yet, it can be too easy to categorize ourselves as deeply traumatized, to make ourselves victims rather than survivors. Instead of dwelling on our own pain, we may need to rise above that pain for the sake of the common good.

Power should never be abused, and injustice should never occur. However, unity within the Church should never be broken.

What are we to do when those principles collide? Jesus counselled patience. Be careful about uprooting injustice "lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them" (Matthew 13.29). Strive first for unity.