Javert is the man of natural virtue, of natural justice. He quells the riot because it is the right thing to do. But he will not cut any slack for a community that lives in the grip of poverty. He serves order, but he looks down on the rabble around him. He doesn’t feel he has anything in common with them. His authority is feared rather than respected.
What has yet to emerge from the Ferguson riots is a powerful voice that transcends the shouts of “my good” and “my truth,” calling all involved to give up their individual claims on the truth in order to embrace “the first truth and supreme good.” That is not easy in a country that increasingly believes that religion should stay in one’s house and not emerge onto the streets. Well, this is what relativism looks like on the streets, and it is ugly.
I have only driven through St. Louis. I do not know the lay of the land. I am also pretty darn white. I can only begin to imagine the experience of growing up black in American or anywhere else. But, as the Roman poet Terence said, “I am a human being, nothing human is foreign to me.”
Only mercy and forgiveness on both sides will get us anywhere. Javert couldn’t handle mercy. He couldn’t give it and, when it was shown to him, it drove him to suicide. His problem was he stopped at the stars, the natural order of things, which are all ordered to God above. Unless we willingly go beyond our truth and our good to God who is the first truth and the supreme good, we will forever remain barricaded inside our shackled hearts.
I don’t know exactly what message Cardinal Rigali will deliver on August 24. But Pope Francis exhorts us all to go beyond the natural order, even beyond narrowly conceived justice, to the grace and mercy of God himself, beyond the riots, beyond the barricades, beyond the stars.
Dr. Edward Mulhollandis Assistant Professor of Classical and Modern Languages at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.