Monday, August 5, 2013

Think Globally, Act Locally

"That's a 'first-world' problem."  This helpful reminder has become one of my favorite phrases of late.  It's not only challenges me to put some of my own stress and anxiety into a broader context, but it also exhorts me to think more deeply about the real problems people face both in 'developed' nations and around the world.

We all hunger for a meaningful and rewarding life.  Yet isn't it so easy to get so caught up in the privileged quest for self-fulfillment that we overlook all those who simply go hungry each day?  We all thirst for truth and authenticity.  And yet isn't it difficult to remember the millions who simply thirst for clean drinking water? 

Mother Teresa famously named one of our real "'first-world' problems":  “The spiritual poverty of the Western World is much greater than the physical poverty of our people. You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don’t know what it is."

It's time to recommit to living out both the spiritual and the corporal works of mercy.  It's time to set aside some of our petty "'first-world' problems," which are so often accretions of our extreme materialism and individualism; it's time to confront our legitimate "'first-world' problems" and to expand our awareness of real human needs around the world.  In short, it's time to remember that "thinking globally and acting locally" should be woven into the fabric of a Catholic world view. 

The word "catholic," of course, means "universal."   Ironically, however, this third mark of the Church often strikes people as being exclusive, or narrow, or parochial.  But to be Catholic is to let the Lord draw us out of our indifference or self-sufficiency and so be connected to the "whole," even as we walk our particular paths of discipleship.  It is to belong to a specific local Church, and yet to live in communion with the Church universal.  It is to encounter the infinite love of God, in and through the concrete realities of our prayer and worship and witness.
To be Catholic is to meet and follow Jesus in and through the Church.  After all, Christ is the one and only Concrete Universal, and the Church is his visible and yet mystical body on earth.  This is why Pope Francis kicked off World Youth Day with the following greeting: "I have neither silver nor gold, but I bring with me the most precious thing given to me: Jesus Christ!"   The Holy Father's call for a "culture of encounter" entails both a personal and a communal experience of the Risen Lord.  It is a call which embodies a response for not only physical poverty but also spiritual poverty.

To be Catholic is to let the Lord open our minds and hearts to the needs of all (whether they are in our neighborhoods or across the globe), so that we might serve at least some today.  It about allowing the Christ to de-centralize ourselves in order to re-focus us on the needs of the marginalized. 

And to be Catholic is to be sent to "Christify" the whole world (to use Fr. Barron's term)--one heart at time.  It is a matter of really realizing that we are all brothers and sisters of Christ, sons and daughters of one heavenly Father, and then acting on this realization. 

To embrace this truth is to let the Lord turn our old world upside down.  It is to let Christ globalize our thoughts and localize our actions.  And that's a "'first-world' solution"!

Pax et bonum,

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