Thursday, January 12, 2012

What Gives Us Security?

[In Hebrews ] the author speaks to believers who have undergone the experience of persecution and he says to them: “you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property (hyparchonton), since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession (hyparxin) and an abiding one.” Hyparchonta refers to property, to what in earthly life constitutes the means of support, indeed the basis, the “substance” for life, what we depend upon. This “substance”, life's normal source of security, has been taken away from Christians in the course of persecution. They have stood firm, though, because they considered this material substance to be of little account. They could abandon it because they had found a better “basis” for their existence—a basis that abides, that no one can take away. We must not overlook the link between these two types of “substance”, between means of support or material basis and the word of faith as the “basis”, the “substance” that endures. Faith gives life a new basis, a new foundation on which we can stand, one which relativizes the habitual foundation, the reliability of material income.
Spe Salvi 8
Reflection – In a time of economic instability and uncertainty, these words from Pope Benedict are timely. Well, they’re always timely, aren’t they? ‘Do not worry about what you are to eat, what you are to wear, where you are to live’ (cf. Mt ). It is one of the permanent areas of struggle for a believer to take these words quite literally and not get paralyzed or trapped by anxiety over material goods.
And of course this is an area where many can raise a host of perfectly reasonable objections. Money does not, in fact, grow on trees, and all those perfectly sensible, perfectly reasonable observations about the practical realities of life in the world.
Granted. We are not to be improvident, not to be silly about things. But we have to take the words from the Lord in Matthew’s Gospel, the words from Hebrews, the words of the Pope to heart nonetheless. It’s a question of knowing where our security lies. It does not lie in a bank balance, an RRSP or whatever alphabetized jumble you have for your retirement. It does not lie in having a nice home or a secure job or an impressive resume.
We are seeing these days what we all already know: all of that can be swept away at any moment. The house can burn down, the money or stock portfolio can evaporate quickly in a changing volatile economy, the job can vanish too. If our security is found in these things, we are building our life on sand and there are other Gospel passages (not to mention building codes) advising us against that particular course of action.
The question looms large these days, but it’s a permanent question: do we have anything else? Is there another ‘possession’ which gives us a better security? And what implications does this have for our life here and now?
Many people, it seems to me, are paralyzed somewhat from fear of economic ruin these days. Young people are slow to get married, not only because of financial reasons, but certainly because they are told they have to be financially and professionally secure before considering marriage. Practically, this means they cannot marry until their late 20s or early 30s… and realistically this means they will not live chaste lives. We all know that, yet so many, even practicing Catholics, uncritically accept the priority of financial security over the peril of mortal sin. Better to fornicate together than be poor together, I suppose the reasoning goes.
Clearly there is little understanding of the real grounds of security for our lives in this particular calculus. But I have seen this in other contexts, too. Young people who feel called to explore consecrated life, but the anxieties around money, jobs, careers press on them. There is a real terror about taking the time to give God a chance to get a word in edgewise, because it thrusts us away from the security of worldly goods into some other elusive security.
So we have to decide, don’t we? Where is our security? Is God real? Is heaven our goal? Is money going to get us there, or is love and fidelity? And, having decided, we have to order our lives according to what we have decided is our security. Wordly goods, or faith, hope, and love. Which is it going to be?

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