08 April 2018

Yeah, You Didn't Build That

JMJ
The Readings for 2nd Sunday of Easter (Domenica in Albis) (B2)
Nec quisquam eorum quae possidebat, aliquid suum esse dicebat, sed erant illis omnia communia. Neque enim quisquam egens erat inter illos: Dividebatur autem singulis prout cuique opus erat.
No one said that aught of the things which he possessed, was his own; but all things were common unto them. For neither was there any one needy among them: distribution was made to every one, according as he had need. 

This is one of those idyllic scenes in the New Testament that gets either ignored or latched on to, with no context. It is usually ignored by a class of persons we shall, today, call conservative capitalists. They choose to ignore huge swatches of Catholic Social Teaching in favor of a cross between Ayn Rand and Ronald Reagan, tempered with a piety circumscribed by denial of human causes of Climate Change, the Latin Mass, and protests at Abortion Clinics; giving lip service to social doctrines whilst shopping at Amazon.

This is latched on to by a class of persons we shall, today, call liberal capitalists. They choose to ignore huge swatches of Catholic Social Teaching in favor of a cross between Marx and Bernie Sanders, tempered with a piety circumscribed by devotion to the Democratic Party, Taize meditation, and pronouncing foreign names as if they were native speakers of those foreign languages; giving lip service to moral doctrines whilst shopping at Amazon.

But both classes of persons fail to note that here - and everywhere else in the Bible, Old and New, Greek and Hebrew, the primary teaching about stuff is it's not yours, it's God's. The secondary teaching about stuff is When you have God's stuff you're supposed to act like God does, and just keep giving it away.

I remember a speech given by a former president, reminding folks that none of the jobs in this country could be performed, none of the wealth accumulated save for the work done on roads, electrical wires, water pipes, etc. Even the people who build roads, hang wires, and lay pipes rely on the work done by others. It truly takes a village to do literally anything at all. We don't own our success. We don't own anything, really, from a theological point of view. Although we can own stuff from the world's point of view. We also own stuff from a moral and ethical point of view. If we didn't own it we couldn't give it away, morally or ethically. Yet, precisely because it is God's Stuff we are supposed to act with it as God would act with it. Not as we might want to act, not as we might even will to act.

We are obligated by Catholic Social Teachings to build a just society - and that includes a just sharing of resources. It's the sharing that's hard. Not only for us: but for much of our political communities. Most of us are out for justice for me. When do I get my fair share? All I want is what I have coming to me. Sure, when I get that, I'll be happy to fight for you as well. But me first.

Most Americans are, globally considered, not poor. Compared to the vast majority of persons in God's image, all of us are swimming in squandered wealth and resources. Although often hindered by police injustice and political machinations, our poor have available to them vast resources undreamed of by the populations of many countries. Although our medical system is nearly barbaric as far a resource distribution goes, the content of our system is quiet amazing. The existence of our grocery stores, our corner bodegas, our veggie stands, and farmers' markets just astounds anyone visiting our country.

We are surrounded by food and payday should mean "let me go buy everything I can and give it to the poor" and, instead, payday usually means I can have a few extra beers. Although I was moved by the Occupy protests of a few years ago, and continue to be inspired by young people who takes risks in caring for the poor, the truth is that most of us (including me) have more money invested in the electronics that keep us connected to the internet 24/7 than we give away to the poor. And most of us (including me) have arguments for why that is so: I made up six while I typed this sentence, one for each homeless person sleeping on the street I will pass on my way to 6:30 Mass tomorrow.

The early Church held all things in common and we know they also shared them not only with themselves, but with others outside of the Church community. They cared not only for themselves, but for others who came to them, for babies, the elderly, and the sick all abandoned on hillsides and in forests whom they brought in and nursed back to health. (One Catholic writer opined that this constant exposure to germs and illnesses made the Christians, overall, healthier than the pagans, and so, less likely to die when epidemics struck, etc.) The wealthy Christians opened their homes to their brothers and sisters. These house churches became the loci for communities that put down historical roots. Some are still major churches in Rome 2,000 years later. 

But we do like our stuff.
And we do like our myth of self-creation.
And we love the story of self-made wealth.
And in the end we love self more than other.
But we're happy to put a $20 in the plate every now and then as we put motion-activated water sprouts in our Cathedral doorways to prevent the indigent from sleeping there.

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday.





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