Wednesday, April 1, 2015

An End to the Hunger Games

We are once again back with the Pope’s address to the Roman Curia from way back before Christmas. I’ve been going through his ‘fifteen diseases’ that he offered to them as an examination of conscience, certain that it was not meant simply as an examen for them, but for all of us. In this Holy Week, it is certainly appropriate for us to have a profound humility of heart and consider the ways in which we have stifled the love of Christ in our own hearts.

So we are at disease number 11, which is “The disease of indifference to others. This is where each individual thinks only of himself and loses sincerity and warmth of human relationships. When the most knowledgeable person does not put that knowledge at the service of his less knowledgeable colleagues. When we learn something and then keep it to ourselves rather than sharing it in a helpful way with others. When out of jealousy or deceit we take joy in seeing others fall instead of helping them up and encouraging them.”

Certainly the specific dynamic he is describing is that of ‘office politics’, the sort of nasty vicious competitiveness and zero-sum ethics where each is out for their own and my neighbour only can profit or benefit at my expense. There are certainly narrow market scenarios in which at least something like this is unavoidable and even beneficial—competitors all striving to sell the same goods to consumers have to work to offer the best possible product for the lowest possible price, and this is a good for all involved.

But market economies are not the whole of reality, not the defining reality of human life. This, alas, is not always understood or accepted in the world. Opposing the ethos of the market, which has its place and value, is the ethos of the family, which is defined not by competition and sheer utility, but by self-gift and reception of gift. The family is the place where people are first and essentially people, not products or consumers, goods or services. And as people, they are valued not for what they do but for what they are, not for what they produce, but simply because of their innate worth.

Markets are necessary for the efficient movement of goods and services around in a society, but even in the marketplace, something of the family ethos is meant to inform the brutal bottom line ethos of buying and selling. Even in a marketplace, even one that is fiercely competitive, there is meant to be an acknowledgment of the person as a person, be it as simple a matter as a sincere smile and a heartfelt ‘Have a good day!’ to the person who bought or sold you that thing you just bought or sold.

The world is dying today because of the cold indifference of so many people, because there is so much treating of people as either buyers, sellers, or competitors, and not as brothers or sisters all journeying together in life towards the New Jerusalem. It seems to me, considering this matter in the light of Holy Week, that we need to hold before our eyes, minds, and hearts the constant vision of Christ Crucified.

This is what redeems us from the cold indifference of the marketplace. That God has loved us not because of anything we have done, any good or service we have to render, and in fact ‘he loved us while we were still sinners’ (Romans 5:8). It is the contemplation of this love that, I believe, calls forth from us an answering love for our brothers and sisters. We simply are not meant to live cut-throat lives of brutal dog eat dog only one person can win capitalist competition. If I’m not mistaken, I think the point of the Hunger Games books was that those kinds of games are wrong, right?

It is Holy Week, and so we are meant to bring our hunger for love and fullness of life to the foot of the Cross of Christ. It is this which delivers us from the horrible fear of want and poverty that is the real driver of vicious competition and poisonous envy and selfishness in the world. At the foot of the Cross, which is also at the foot of the Altar where the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation are given freely, we lose that fear in time, and can rise from that place knowing that there is nothing that really matters but to spend our lives loving, giving, caring, serving, being—with God, for God, on account of God, trusting in God, the God who has loved us so well and who has done everything for us so that we may love as He loves.

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