Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lent Day 43 - The Path of Dispossession

They are some of the harshest, most shocking words that Jesus speaks in the Gospels: "Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple."

Why do these words sound so counter-intuitive? Because ever since we were children, the culture has drilled the reverse into us. You're not happy because you don't have all the things you want to have. You will be happy only when you have so much money, or so big a house, or so much respect. You might not be happy now, but some day you might be if you acquire the right things.

And what follows from this? Life becomes a constant quest to get, to attain possessions. Remember the foolish rich man from Jesus' parable, the one who filled his barns with all his possessions. Because he had no more room, he decided to tear his barns down and build bigger ones. Jesus calls him a fool because--and I want you to repeat this to yourself as you read it--you have everything you need right now, right in front of you, to be happy.

I know it's completely counter-intuitive. We say, "No, that's not right at all; I'm very unhappy, but I'm trying to become happy, and I know I will be a lot happier when I get (fill in the blank)." But I want you to repeat this in your mind: "If I say, 'I'll be happy when,' I won't be happy when."

What makes us truly happy? Forgetting our ego and its needs and desires, opening our eyes, minds, and hearts, and letting reality in. What makes us happy is always right in front of us, because what makes us happy is love, willing the good of the other.

Blogger: To counter the "counter-intuitiveness" of renouncing everything while passionately loving the world, consider Christian anthropology  of Gaudium et spes #24: "man, the only earthly being God has willed for itself, finds himself by the sincere gift of himself."

Man has been created to subdue the earth. He subdues it by work. The portion of the earth that he subdues belongs to him. He owns it. But, he can't find himself, become himself, unless he makes the sincere gift of himself. Therefore, everything that he acquires as private ownership through work, must be given as gift to others. The gift that is given to others is, then, the product of work, and, hopefully, a finished product. It is given away - and remunerated by the person who buys it. This is the Christian meaning of economy, It is the transformation of the world as service to others. It is an economy of giftedness in which the creation of "things" is raised to the relationality of persons. If everything morphs into gift by work, then he who works has nothing for himself. Nothing. 

     This is the meaning of the phrase of John Paul II who wrote: "Property is acquired first of all through work in order that it may serve work. This concerns in a special way ownership of the means of production. Isolating these means as a separate property in order to set it up in the form of 'capital' in opposition to labor- and even to practice exploitation of labor - is contrary to the very nature of these means and their possession. They cannot be possessed against labor, they cannot even be possessed for possession's sake (my underline), because the only legitimate title to their possession - whether in the form of private ownershp  or in the form of pubic or collective ownership - is that they should  serve labor, and thus, by serving labor, that they should make possible the achievement of the first principle of this order, namely, the universal destination of goods  and the right to common use of them. From this point of view, therefore, in consideration of human labor and or common access to the goods meant for man, one cannot exclude the socialization, in suitable conditions, of certain means of producton.... From this point of view the position of 'rigid' capitalism continues to remain unacceptable, namely the position that defends the exclusive right to private ownership of the means of production as an untouchable 'dogma of economic life. The principle of respect for work demands that this right should undergo a constructive revision, both in theory and in practice" [John Paul II, "Laborem Exercens" #14].

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