Saturday, February 21, 2009
People are reeling from the current economic crisis gripping our nation, indeed the world. They (we) are looking for answers to give us a sense of peace amidst the turmoil. Some of the questions we want to ask include: How do we make things right again? What was the era of prosperity we just experienced? If it was so prosperous, why do we find ourselves so beset by fear, insecurity and confusion now, so shortly after its collapse, its "fall"? How can I find or create opportunity when everyone and everything seems to be closing down, hunkering down? What are the key elements to maintaining a prosperous society? Can our leaders get us back on track?
A number of factors have contributed to our current situation. Some people who should have known better acted irresponsibly out of greed (For more on this, watch CNBC's David Faber's fascinating and informative documentary House of Cards.). And yet, while top financial players (in business and government) may be responsible for the widespread sale of shoddy investment instruments, we cannot ignore that large segments of our population routinely increased their consumption by increasing their debt -- not a healthy habit.
Since our economic system is in collapse, and each one of us plays a role of some sort within our nation's economic and cultural system, we should think about what makes for a healthy economy and how our outlook and behavior can contribute to improving the current situation. I recently came across these words of John Paul II which might provide some new insights around what consumption should mean to a Christian:
"A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of the person which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to human instincts--while ignoring in various ways the reality of the person as intelligent and free--then consumer attitudes and lifestyles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to the person's physical and spiritual health. Of itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality. Thus a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed, including the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities...It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards "having" rather than "being," and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself. It is therefore necessary to create lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments. In this regard, it is not a matter of the duty of charity alone, that is, the duty to give from one's "abundance," and sometimes even out of one's needs, in order to provide what is essential for the life of a poor person. I am referring to the fact that even the decision to invest in one place rather than another, in one productive sector rather than another, is always a moral and cultural choice. Given the utter necessity of certain economic conditions and of political stability, the decision to invest, that is, to offer people an opportunity to make good use of their own labor, is also determined by an attitude of human sympathy and trust in Providence, which reveal the human quality of the person making such decisions." CENTESIMUS ANNUS (On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum), #36 Pope John Paul II (May 1991)
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Women of Opus Dei: In Their Own Words Edited by M.T. Oates, Linda Ruf and Jenny Driver. Crossroad, $24.95 paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-8245-2425-8
The Catholic group Opus Dei (Latin for “work of God”) emerges in this compact collection of essays and interviews as an entity that gives its female members a deep sense of purpose amid ordinary and extraordinary circumstances. Whether they are stay-at-home mothers or professionals in academia and business, these women tell of lives changed by their faith and what they commonly refer to as “the Work.” Opus Dei members, according to founder St. Josemaría Escrivá, aspire to be “contemplative souls in the midst of the world who try to convert their work into prayer.” They do this through offering their work to Christ and following a spiritual regimen of daily prayer and regular theological development programs. Excerpts from Escrivá's writings and an explanation of the group's structure help fill out the selected narratives. Readers looking for the kind of intrigue found in The Da Vinci Code's treatment of this group won't find it here, but they will get an honest appraisal from women who know Opus Dei from the inside out. (Apr.)