In the comments section of this piece, some appear to be wondering whether I am simply “dismissing” the Note on Financial Reform. I can’t do that, as I still have not read it.
I do think the church is, as ever, caught upon the same wire it has danced upon since its founding, with one foot poised for the next step, hovering between earth and heaven and trying to reconcile both to each other, and trying to do so in the language and sensibilities to which its churchmen have been formed. Some will always hate it, others will always be bewildered. And some will be over-anxious to embrace it. This is true of every single thing that comes down from Vatican Hill. And it is interesting to watch people grab on to what they love and say “This! This is the church being good!” and then push away what they do not like and say “This! This is the church being mistaken and bad!” We take nothing as a whole, because we are not whole, ourselves.
Even more interesting is to observe how readily the same people will call the church and its pronouncements “good” or “bad” based on instinctive ideologies that, really, our faith is supposed to transcend (but so rarely does — because, again, we are not whole, and we are always struggling toward wholeness.) But if we remember that the church is first and foremost always about Christ, and first and foremost about human people trying to both enter into the mystery of Christ and then bring that mystery to others, it becomes easier to understand some of what she says and does, and why she says and does it, and why sometimes it sits easy with us, and sometimes it does not.
And it seems to me that if people are unhappy with the quality of our churchfolk — if they feel the Curia is inept (I have been guilty of saying it because, well…occasionally it is) or if they feel it is not Christcentric enough, or they feel it is rather too mystical — if they take issue with the Taproot of Christianity and how it functions and fumbles and triumphs in a very complicated world — then they ought to become more involved in the church. Begin with some excellent adult catechesis to find out what they don’t know (which for all of us is usually “a lot”) and read from her 2000-year storage of knowledge, reason and faith and get involved.
Dare to suggest to your sons and daughters that they consider a life in service to the church, either within the priesthood, the religious life, the diaconate or in lay ministry. How often do we complain about the church (or praise it) or seek something from it, but do little-to-nothing to raise up a new generation to serve it?
If our kids are serving the church, they’ll never get rich. And they will struggle daily on that wire between earth and heaven, along with the church — and sometimes they’ll slip because that struggle is maddening and certainly humbling — but they will grow a perspective of Eternity that will prevent their ever becoming slaves to a moment or a passing trend. They will understand the futility of building a society that is prosperous and over-materialistic but so profit-obsessed and spiritually bereft that an economic downturn leaves them all-undone and anxious.
They will understand that possessing MacPro’s but not the Master, being dependent on the iPhone, rather than the I AM, leaves nothing to fall back on.
They will have escaped the trap of finding their consolation in material things, because they will not have conferred upon their things the power to reassure and to affirm their self-hood.
Which means they will be free in ways that too many of us — and particularly our young — are not.
Our kids may love their things, but the things can’t love them back, and they can only affirm and reassure because they have become talismans. Outside of our dependence upon them, our gadgetry are powerless. And how many of us have run out to the store, to make sure our kids have the Next Big Thing (the next phone, the next game console, the next i-Anything) — and by our actions communicated to our children just how valuable, essential and necessary these “things” are — while neglecting to give them the One True Thing necessary; the thing that will free them from the enslavement of the money-chase and prevent them from the cluttered emptiness of the disposable-materialist mentality.
Which is the life in Christ.
Which is, ultimately, a life of service, not of acquisition.
Only in that life does true reassurance, the only affirmation, the lasting consolation abide.
I haven’t read the document; I may not find time to, today — I am already behind my schedule — but I know that it is a flawed, imperfect document trying to remind a world roiling from economic uncertainty that there is a path to reassurance, and that while means and methods may be debated, the path itself is clear, and it leads to a Cross, a Resurrection and a Eucharist.
::::UPDATE:::: Having read John Allen’s astute analysis, I begin to think that the best way to regard this document is not as an “assault on American prosperity” as an “assault on poverty” in other lands. Do read the link to dotcommonweal, below as well.
::::ANOTHER UPDATE::::: Rod Dreher writing What I wish I had written, particularly his last point, toward the end.
:::::YET ANOTHER UPDATE::::: Rocco Palmo gives another perspective, this time from the North!
Here is what Pope Benedict XVI, taking a question on economics while on his way to Madrid, had to say in August:
UPDATE: Some reactions to the document I still have not read:
Crisis Magazine: Right Diagnosis, Deadly Cure
George Weigel: The Pope is no Chaplain to OWS
Sandro Magister: The Pope, The OWS, The Barricades
Father Z: “howling like a loon”
DotCommonweal: A world authority not necessary