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Loving until it hurts

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, March 18, 2004

Our community is a paradox in being a culture of both financial affluence and faith. How can graduates from here resolve this seeming self-contradiction? Mother Teresa offers a quality answer: “Love until it hurts.” Simply put, if a person doesn’t love until it hurts, it doesn’t count.

Her wisdom challenges us to keep our lifestyles from being extravagant. I argue here that excessive lifestyle choices are those that put one’s own wants over another’s need. This standard counters the idea of having a comfortable living so that we can bear our daily cross.

There are uncomfortable implications of this mentality that affect all financial aspects of our lives. By this view, shopping at malls, taking a cruise or purchasing a new sports car becomes more difficult. When Notre Dame’s tuition hits above the $35,000 mark, even coming here is questionable if some of us can get the same degree and job after attending a much cheaper state school.

Smaller actions like frequent restaurant dinners and alcohol purchases may also be too much. Many activities of upper-class and also middle-class society may be extravagant. When those same funds can ease another’s hunger in another country or even in our own city, the small luxuries become clear pitfalls. But is this mentality too harsh?

There are worthy objections to address. First, don’t we deserve luxuries if we’ve worked hard to afford them and if God has blessed us with them? Second, won’t vacations and material possessions improve our quality of life and our happiness? Third, can’t charity foster laziness and dependency?

In response, first, God does bless people with riches, especially those who’ve worked for them. But much is expected from those who’ve received much. There is an inherent responsibility linked with being blessed, especially since our work and its rewards ultimately come from God. Blessings require us to share.

Second, material possessions and expensive vacations may bring some happiness, but are they necessary? What price tag do we put on happiness? Maybe I really don’t need the CD’s I was planning on buying. Maybe I should give up the idea of having a vacation on a Greek island with friends. Can’t I can find cost-free ways to relax and enjoy life that are just as fulfilling?

Third, charity should be directed with a strategic focus so that it encourages people to sustain themselves. Some charities really need to work at this. But in other cases, handouts should be freely given with no questions asked. During an Urban Plunge in Columbus, Ohio, a director of a homeless shelter argued this point when he criticized other city shelters that kicked people out, such as the mentally handicapped, who couldn’t sustain themselves according to specific rules. In all cases, charitable commitments are vital to many types of lifesaving work, even if that work needs improving.

I am not arguing that making money is inherently wrong. In fact, making a lot of money can be very good. The key is one’s motive and how one makes and spends profits. The world needs people who can write big checks. Notre Dame and much of its service work is sustained by rich donors. Philanthropy.com recently published a list of 2003’s top 60 donors. At the top was Joan Kroc, whose funding has made our peace studies program possible.

Notre Dame graduates in particular can become philanthropic greats like Joan Kroc. The average starting salary of the Notre Dame graduate is over $42,000. At the age of 22, many of us will have a salary greater than that of almost half the workers in this country. Even if we are not called to pursue professions of direct service to the poor, our financial leverage can empower good work in ways no one else can.

At the same time, rich donors are not free to have an easy lifestyle simply because they give a lot of money. All are called to suffer; all are called to give until it hurts. Returning to a nice house after giving time and some of our money to the poor is not enough, especially when knowing how our wealth can be used for others’ basic welfare.

I hope my personal focus in the future will be centered on living simply so that others can simply live. Ideally, I would live in a poor area while having a professional career I’m passionate about. The job would pay well enough that I could give my time and financial support to those in need.

Idealism is hard, but we can be encouraged by Bono, another philanthropic great, who yells, “Dream up the kind of world you want to live in. Dream out loud … at high volume!”

Living charitably is about more than just heavy moral obligations; it’s also about joy. Paradoxically, in loving until it hurts, we will be able to discover tremendous joy.

Andrew DeBerry is a fifth year senior and visited his mother for spring break. She deals in the Mirage Casino and says not to spend money foolishly, but to tip well in case you do. His column normally appears every other Thursday. He can be contacted at adeberry@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.