Igniting Our Values
Igniting Our Values

March 13, Friday

Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice

Phil Warren spent 30 years with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. His reflection, rooted in the story of Jesus and the money changers, invites us to consider our participation in the idolatry of economic injustice.

Scripture Readings

Sunday Readings - Week 3

EX 20:1-17
1 COR 1:22-25
JN 2:13-25



A procedural note: our reflections and prayers will refer to the Sunday readings for the week, not the daily readings.

Daily Reflection

False Gods and the Promotion of Justice
by Phil Warren

Sunday’s Old Testament readings spell out the Ten Commandments — the “thou-shalt-nots” that have formed the bedrock moral code for countless generations of Jews and Christians. The first of the ten is “You shall not have other gods besides me.” The issue this law addressed — people literally worshiping gods other than the One God — may no longer impel us. But, still, false gods are everywhere. The story of Jesus driving money changers from the temple points to one of our modern false gods: the valuing of wealth and material possessions above everything else.

I’m a lawyer. I worked in the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division for 33 years. My job was to enforce the country’s laws against collusive and monopolistic business practices that harm U.S. consumers. I put people in prison for rigging bids and fixing prices — the most egregious violations of the nation’s competition laws. The people I prosecuted were often modern-day moneychangers, motivated by greed; bending rules and cheating, gouging their customers, all to make excessive and unfair profits. At sentencing hearings, we often argued that the conduct of antitrust defendants was in many ways more reprehensible than that of more traditional criminals. Our defendants were usually people who had been given every opportunity in life. They were well educated. They were accomplished. They held powerful positions and were paid well. But their conduct was no more than fraud and theft. All too often, they caused far more financial harm to their victims than did more traditional blue-collar criminals.

Economic inequality in the United States has increased dramatically in the past decade. Around the world, economic inequality remains a problem of immense proportions, fueled by societies that have elevated wealth to the status of a god. Nowhere is that problem greater than in the United States.

The Jesuit admonition to serve faith and promote justice can lead us to work for economic justice. I was fortunate in my professional life to be able to prevent powerful business interests from preying on consumers. There are many other ways we can work to promote economic justice (short of picking up whips, overturning tables and driving people from the temple). Certainly, we all can work to restore the balance between the material and spiritual parts of our lives. A worthwhile task this Lent might be to reflect on promoting economic justice by preventing the material things in our lives from overwhelming the spiritual.

Los idolos y la promoción de justicia
Por: Phil Warren

Las lecturas del Antiguo Testamento del Domingo deletrean los Diez Mandamientos — los “No harás” que han formado el cimiento del código moral para incontables generaciones de judíos y cristianos. El primero de los diez es “No tengas otros dioses aparte de mí.” El problema que esta ley tomó en cuenta — gente literalmente adorando a otros dioses en vez de adorar al Único Dios — puede ser que haya perdido vigencia. Pero, de todas maneras, los dioses falsos están en todas partes. La historia de Jesús expulsando del templo a los cambistas de dinero, señala a uno de nuestros falsos dioses modernos: la valoración de la riqueza y la posesión material por encima de todo.

Soy abogado. Trabajé para el Departamento de Justicia de los Estados Unidos en la División Antitrust, por 33 años. Mi trabajo consistía en hacer cumplir las leyes del país, en contra de la colusión y de la práctica de monopolio en los negocios, causando daño a los consumidores de los Estados Unidos. Mandé gente a la cárcel por aparejar ofertas y fijar precios — las violaciones más escandalosas de las leyes de competencia de la nación. Entre la gente que procesé, encontré, muy a menudo, cambistas de dinero modernos, motivados por la codicia; quebrando reglas y estafando, especulando con sus clientes, y todo esto, para obtener excesivas e injustas ganancias. En las audiencias de sentencias, muchas veces argumentamos, que la conducta del acusado era de muchas maneras, más reprensible que la de los criminales más tradicionales. Normalmente, nuestros acusados eran gente que habían tenido todas las oportunidades en sus vidas. Eran educados y exitosos. Tenían profesiones con poder y eran muy bien remunerados. Pero sus conductas no fueron más que fraude y robo. Muy a menudo causaban más daño a sus víctimas, que los tradicionales criminales con poca educación.

La desigualdad económica en los Estados Unidos, ha incrementado dramáticamente en la última década. Alrededor del mundo, la desigualdad económica permanece como un problema de inmensa proporción, alimentada por sociedades que han elevado a la riqueza a un estatus de dios. En ningún lugar, este problema es peor que en los Estados Unidos.

La admonición jesuita de servir la fe y promover la justicia, nos conduce a trabajar por la justicia económica. He sido afortunado en mi vida profesional, al haber sido capaz de prevenir la depredación a los consumidores, causada por poderosos intereses lucrativos. Hay muchas otras formas de trabajar para promover la justicia económica (sin levantar el látigo, volcar las mesas o expulsar a la gente del templo). Ciertamente, todos podemos trabajar para recuperar el balance entre los aspectos materiales y espirituales de nuestras vidas. Una tarea que valdría la pena en esta Cuaresma, sería reflexionar acerca de la promoción de la justicia económica, evitando que las cosas materiales de nuestras vidas abrumen lo espiritual.

Phil Warren graduated from Jesuit High School in Sacramento and Santa Clara University. After graduation, he served in the Peace Corps in Guatemala for two years. He then went to UCLA Law School. After graduation, he worked for a year at the Center for Law in the Public Interest in Los Angeles and for 33 years at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. He now practices law at a private firm in San Francisco.


Blessed Trinity,
you are three persons in one holy union,
the fullest possible example of community,
sharing in all power,
constantly fired by the love of each other.
We are creations of that love
and called to respond in creative ways
both personal and collectively.
Give us ways to deeply engage the world around us;
to know you and to serve you.
By helping us to love like you
we will love deeply enough to seek justice
for all created things.

L. Giordano


Some of my students have been shocked to learn that material aid to the poor and disadvantaged is biblically not a matter of sentimental and paternalistic good will but of strict duty and justice. Before the call of God, there is no such thing as a right to a certain standard of living.
: James P. Hanigan

To be wealthy and honored in an unjust society is a disgrace.
: Confucius

Three quarters of Americans think that “God helps those who help themselves” actually appears in Holy Scripture. This notion, which is at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin. Franklin’s “truism” is not only non-biblical; it’s counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the Gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor.
: Bill McKibben



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