Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I know I'm late getting to this, but among the many wonderful things to come out of the most recent World Youth Day were Pope Benedict XVI's words challenging the impulse toward materialism that has become a feature of so much of the modern world:

He called on Roman Catholics to lead a "renewal of faith" against the secularism that was threatening the Church.

"In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair," he said.

He also issued a strong call to young Catholics to join the priesthood.

One of the lies of materialism is that all of our happiness can be found in tangible goods. If we just had a bigger house, a nicer car, a more dazzling wardrobe, better jewelry, more expensive shoes or handbags, more, more, more--why, then, we would truly be happy. Right?

There's a reason "As happy as a billionaire," has never been an acknowledged simile. "As happy as a king," maybe, but then kings were said to hold their office by divine right, and to have as much in the way of responsibility as they did in money. Though the super-rich may be philanthropists, it says something pretty sad about their interior lives when some of the charities they choose to enrich exist to stop the spread of humanity.

Pope Benedict didn't juxtapose the material paradise against the spiritual wasteland at random. The two often go side by side. Consider Christ's warnings about rich men entering the Kingdom, or His parable about the rich man and the beggar Lazarus. Consider St. Paul's stern warning that the love of money is the root of all evil. And then consider our materially prosperous society, and what Mother Teresa once said about it:

I was surprised in the West to see so many young boys and girls given to drugs. And I tried to find out why. Why is it like that, when those in the West have so many more things than those in the East? And the answer was: 'Because there is no one in the family to receive them.' Our children depend on us for everything - their health, their nutrition, their security, their coming to know and love God. For all of this, they look to us with trust, hope and expectation. But often father and mother are so busy they have no time for their children, or perhaps they are not even married or have given up on their marriage. So their children go to the streets and get involved in drugs or other things. We are talking of love of the child, which is were love and peace must begin. These are the things that break peace.

But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts. [...]

When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread. But a person who is shut out, who feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person who has been thrown out of society - that spiritual poverty is much harder to overcome. And abortion, which often follows from contraception, brings a people to be spiritually poor, and that is the worst poverty and the most difficult to overcome.

The things that give us the greatest happiness often require us to give up our notions about happiness, and start over. The things that give us the most joy are things that require from us the most sacrifice. The things that lead us to Christ will always lead us away from the world and its glittering toys and empty pleasures. These things are not, strictly speaking, "things" at all--they are truths beyond our experiences of the material, they are spiritual realities unseen and unknown except by the eyes and minds of faith.

No man who has this gift of faith, this pearl of great price, will ever be truly poor. And no man who lacks it has any riches that matter--for what is his today will be someone else's tomorrow, and when his name has faded from the ornate tombstone on which it was artistically chipped his wealth and possessions will show their true value: they are worth nothing at all.

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