The Gospels for the daily mass the last two days (Mk: 10:17-31) have been particularly hard for those of us living in advanced Western society, especially the U.S.:
“How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
This message is not to condemn wealth, which is inherently neither good nor bad. The message is to condemn a disordered attachment to wealth or material possessions which prevent us from a closer union with God. This message of detachment from material possessions is a strong counter-cultural message in the United States, where the overwhelming message from mainstream media, advertising and culture that the acquisition of material items will increase our happiness. This message was so pervasive that, despite growing up as a cradle Catholic, I was never fully exposed in an intellectual level to the Gospel counter-message until I read the late Fr. John F. Kavanaugh’s “Following Christ in a Consumer Society” during my undergraduate years.
Unfortunately, despite this exposure and the broader exposure to a tremendous Jesuit education, I bought into the libertarian consumer culture, with an Ayn Rand intellectual justification. I blithely followed this individualistic path and had some superficial economic and status success. The problem was that I found increasing angst as I tried to keep up with the cultural treadmill of “keeping up”. Despite achieving most of my career and economic goals, I was increasingly unhappy. This disconnect between how I “should” feel according to society and how I actually felt cause me to question more core beliefs and ultimately led to my “reconversion” to Christianity. Later, I came to realize that this gap was the longing for God as expressed so eloquently by St. Augustine.
Following up on the Gospel readings of the last two days, the Irish Jesuit prayer site, Living Space, eloquently hits on the disconnect between the Gospel message and consumer culture, and the inner angst that I felt.
“This is a reality which, unfortunately, has not been realized among many Christians who live their daily lives in the rat race for acquisition characteristic of our modern capitalist societies and who believe that what they cannot get by their own efforts they will never come to enjoy.
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by and large, we have to a great extent failed to realize that Christianity is not meant to be a religion where individuals, rich and poor, live individualistic lives and carry out certain ‘religious’ acts to “save their own souls” but that it essentially consists of creating a whole new way by which people relate to each other in mutual love and care.”
I am still tempted by the consumer culture and I try to live the Ignatian way of being an active contemplative in the world, still having the same career that I had when I left school. However, my mindset is entirely different; I am not doing it for my personal ambition or success, I am trying to be an agent for God in the world. I often fail in my thoughts and my actions. However, I try to bring myself back to God and the sense of radical detachment for material items by praying the beautiful Suscipe prayer of St. Ignatius:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, All I have and call my own.