Politicians… take it for granted today that they must promise changes… this must surely mean that there exists in modern society a deep and prevailing sense of dissatisfaction precisely in those places where prosperity and freedom have attained hitherto unknown heights. The world is experienced as hard to bear.
Values in a Time of Upheaval, 11
Reflection – You know, my first thought upon considering this passage for the blog was that I would really have to point out that he wrote this before the current recession and economic struggles. Of course, now politicians have to promise change and reform. In fact, a politician supporting the status quo is almost criminally irresponsible, in my opinion.
However, upon reflection I rethought that. Ratzinger’s point stands quite well. We really must be aware (‘we’ being people of
North America and Europe where most of my readers are) that, current recession aside, we are still in a time when ‘prosperity and freedom have attained hitherto unknown heights.’ This is still true, and is likely to remain so for the next while at least.
The ‘normal’ state of humanity, simply looked at as a historical average, is to be worried about having enough food. The ‘normal’ state of humanity is to lack adequate medical care, to have at best basic housing (four walls and a roof), to have few if any options available for one’s life regarding education and work.
This has been the normal condition of humanity since humanity has been, and by that standard most North Americans and Europeans are quite wealthy, really.
This is not to dismiss the sense of discontent that Ratzinger describes above. He doesn’t dismiss it, although he does seriously and searchingly criticize the tendency to look to the political sphere for remedy to this discontent.
Really, it all bears witness to the fundamental truth of Scripture: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt 4:4, Dt 8:3). We have (generally, with some exceptions) enough bread; we are not happy. We can dismiss this state of affairs contemptuously—‘we’re a bunch of whiners!’—or we can look deeper into the matter.
The truth is, we are not made for a life of bourgeois comfort in this world. And when we place all our efforts in striving to establish this comfortable life for ourselves and our immediate circle of concern, we are unhappy. We are barking up the wrong tree: no squirrel for us!
Of course the other side of the picture is that when I place all my concern into building up a comfortable nest for myself, I will inevitably do so at the expense of others. Right now, in North America at least, these ‘others’ are the future generation; North Americans have for some decades now been basically in the middle of a long-term slow motion ‘dine and dash’ – eating and drinking to heart’s content, and leaving the bill for our children and grandchildren. The trouble being that, with abortion and contraception, we simply don’t have enough children and grandchildren to continue supporting us ‘in the manner to which we have become accustomed.’ The crash, it is coming.
But I digress (not really, but let’s say I did). The deeper point is that ‘man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ And that word coming from the mouth of God is a word of love, of mercy, of peace, of joy.
We are created, not to take care of ourselves and be all fat and cozy in this world, but to spend ourselves for love in this world so as to secure treasure in heaven. And, as politician after politician entirely fails to solve the unsolvable problems of our time, we are going to need to dig deep into this deeper reality. What are we here for? Where is our hope? Where is our joy? It cannot be in material security or everything coming up roses forever and ever for us here and now. It has to be in something better, something more real, something that will survive the coming crash.It has to be in God, in His love for us, and our call to love Him back and to love our neighbor as ourselves.