"Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." Luke 12:33-34
Jesus' listeners were often the poorest of the poor, eking out a living in an occupied land, saddled with oppressive taxes, with little hope for the future. So it was natural that Jesus would address their focus on material things. It is not only the rich who can obsess about money and property, after all.
But a perennial questions for each of us are, "Where does my treasure lie? Where is my heart's focus?" Money isn't the problem (the love of money is another question, however). My heart can focus on all kinds of things besides what truly matters. Maybe I'm a huge sports fan, and die a thousand deaths as my team falls behind in the game. Maybe I'm obsessed with my health - or lack of it; or my weight - too much of it.
In the Church, we can focus on the wrong things, too. John Allen has a good article that touches upon this called, "Rethinking the Catholic 'box score'", which draws upon his analogy of Catholicism to baseball: "Both venerate the past, both spawn vast bodies of rules and lore, and both put a premium on patience." And as some baseball categories, like a batter's hitting percentage is helpful, it may not be as helpful as another statistic: how often he gets on base when one or more of his team mates is already on base. Allen argues, "the analogy applies here too: In the church as on the diamond, flawed categories skew perceptions of the game."
What flawed categories is he talking about? These -
1) Thinking not just in local or national terms, but globally.
2) Focusing not just on controversy, scandal, and newspaper headlines, but where ordinary Catholics actually invest their time and treasure.
Allen gives an example of the first.
"In Mexico, the country's bishops issued a cri de Coeur Nov. 12, in the wake of 14,000 violent deaths since a crackdown on drug cartels began in 2006: 'To the producers, dealers, pushers and consumers, we say, "Enough!" Stop hurting yourself, and stop causing so much damage and pain to our young people, to our families and to our country.' The bishops also apologized for 'superficial evangelization,' and what they euphemistically described as an 'anti-witness from many of the baptized.' That's an indirect way of admitting that in a country where 90 percent of the population is nominally Catholic, such carnage would be impossible if Catholics weren't complicit."
At first, this may not seem like a global issue, but remember, drugs may be entering from more southern Latin American countries, or even overseas, and moving through Mexico into the U.S. Tucson, my home, is the terminus of I-19, a major drug highway.
I began thinking about "the meaning of life," as a graduate student in geophysics, when, while walking along a nicely kept area of Palo Alto, CA, I encountered within a few feet of each other, a homeless man taking a spongebath on the curb, and a neatly coiffed woman dressed to the nines. "How can this happen in the U.S., the richest country the world has ever known, and a supposedly Christian nation, as well?" I thought. Sure, I was idealistic, but perhaps no more so than the Mexican bishops.
We are not as Catholic - or generically Christian - as Mexico, but even so, there are many things that happen with little or no comment that makes you wonder how superficial our Christianity is. While there is a vocal struggle over abortion, and, to a lesser degree, capital punishment, most Americans seemed fine with the idea of the appropriateness of torture to "protect" ourselves. We accept ever-increasingly lewd behavior on prime-time TV, horrifically violent video games for our teens, obscene disparities in wages between laborers and the highest levels of management, and act as though conspicuous consumption is a virtue, if not a right.
The response to this is not to become an outsider who condemns what is happening and try to move into a Catholic ghetto. Nor is it to simply shrug and say, "that's the way it is." The answer is conversion to Christ and accept a commission from him to go to the front lines - that is, the heart of the marketplace - and slowly begin to change things from within. That takes the patience that Allen mentions is a part of the Catholic life.
The second issue, of focusing on controversy, scandal, and newspaper headlines, instead of where ordinary Catholics actually invest their time and treasure, is something Sherry's addressed in previous posts, but is worth repeating. Sherry tells the story of going into one of her RCIA sessions when she was trying to enter the Church with a book in her hand. I don't remember what she was reading, but one of the people leading the RCIA class took one look at it and said to her, "Well, we certainly know now where you're coming from!" The irony is, of course, that Sherry didn't even know where she was coming from. This happens today, still - perhaps even more regularly. I sometimes wonder how people will react if I show up to teach in my habit. Or how they'll react if I don't. How will I be judged if I say I enjoy reading Fr. X? It's amazing how quick we are to slap labels on one another. And there are basically only two labels, "one of us," and "not to be trusted."
I have been very blessed to travel across the country - and beyond, at times - and to meet lay Catholics in big cities, small towns, from wealthy parishes and very poor parishes. I can promise you, poor, simple Catholics I've met here in Corpus Christi are not interested in culture wars. They - at least the ones at the evangelization retreats I've helped out with - are interested in making ends meet, overcoming illness, addiction, and sin. They're not interested in the culture wars, or liturgical reform. They are seeking healing, and want to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They want to know God is real, and want to be changed by His grace.
It's a breath of fresh air for me, and forces me to focus on Jesus, because that's who they want.
That's Who they need. And for more and more of them, it seems that their treasure lies in Jesus.