Monday, August 26, 2013

Living Labor Day

So what will you be celebrating this Labor Day?  As the official closing long weekend of summer, it's clearly a time to be thankful for the special blessings we've enjoyed during this season of re-creation.  And, for teachers and students everywhere, it's a chance to take a deep breath before the long haul of the new school year hits full stride.

But Labor Day is also an opportunity to pause in gratitude for the gift of work.  For it is work which has the potential to help us forge fully human identities.  And it is work which has the capacity to hone our strengths into virtues, as well as to chisel away our weaknesses before they become vices.

In addition, Labor Day provides an opportunity to reflect on some of the pressing issues of our times--such as, economic immigrants, income inequalities, and global financial concerns.  Do I stand in communion with those who seek meaningful work and a living wage, or do I support power structures designed to maintain the status quo?  Do I cling to my comfortable lifestyle and rationalize protecting "my own," or am I open to working for justice for all of my brothers and sisters?

From the very beginning, the Church has stood in solidarity with the "least" and with those who are powerless in the eyes of the world.  In recent decades the Church has spoken on behalf of the rights of workers and has raised provocative questions about a global capitalism driven by the maximization of profit margins.  The Church does defend the right to private property, but frames it within the context of a universal destination of all goods--"the goods of creation are destined for the whole human race" (CCC, n. 2402).  Moreover, the Catechism emphasizes that "the universal destination of goods remains primordial" (n. 2403), and so "my" property is first and foremost not really mine.  On the contrary, I am the steward of gifts which should be used for the good of all.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Great "Both/And"

"Deep down, what do all human beings desire?"  At a recent in-service for Catholic school teachers, I asked this question and then waited not-so-patiently for someone to respond.  Just as I was about to jump back in with a follow-up question, a couple of teachers simultaneously shouted, "Love."

It's pretty hard to argue with that answer, isn't it?  We all desire to love and to be loved.  Indeed, Jesus became one with us, laid down his life, and then rose from the dead precisely to re-order our lives to Love. 

Yet the term love is so often misused or even abused, and Jesus' message is so often reduced to a warm fuzzy message--a variation of the Barney theme song.  So is love just a matter of doing what makes me feel good at any given moment, or is it about making a sincere gift of myself for the good of others?  Is it just a matter of pursuing my own self-interest, or does it involve willing what's in the best interest of others? 

The Doctrine of the Incarnation stands as a great safeguard against the trivialization of Christian love.  It is a sign pointing us toward the deeper truth of Trinitarian love which God has revealed in his Son.  As people who long to love and be loved, these sacred mysteries need to shape our view of the world, our attitudes and actions, and our experience of life itself.

But the reality of the Incarnation sets a seeming contradiction at the heart of our faith.  It challenges us to walk in the opaque light of mystery.  The Second Vatican Council speaks of Christ who, "by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear" (GS, n. 22).  The Creator comes as a creature and--simultaneously--reveals both who God is and who we are.

Monday, August 12, 2013

From Transfiguration to Assumption

In August, several key moments in the Church's liturgical calendar collide with tragic historical events from the 20th century--Eternity breaking forth into Time, on various levels.

Maybe you are better with dates than I am, but I never realized that the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the very feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord.  On 6 August 1945, the world watched in horror as tens of thousands of innocent civilians lost their lives.  Natural forces were unhinged, and the terror of raw power was unleashed.

And yet, on that same day each year, the Church commemorates the experience of three humble disciples who glimpsed the glory of the supernatural reality which would ultimately change human history.  They looked upon Eternal Life, present in the temporal person of Jesus of Nazareth,  And they heard the voice from the heavens say, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him" (Lk 9:35).  Peter, James and John knew that they were in the presence of the Power who created the cosmos itself.

The Transfiguration and the dropping of the Bomb confront us with a fundamental decision:  Will we choose a world view rooted in Eternity, or one tied only to Time?  In other words, will we embrace the eternal horizon which guided the first Christians, or will we choose the temporal horizon which is characteristic of all those who seek to build worldly empires? 

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.