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Message in a meltdown

Faithpoint | Wednesday, October 15, 2008

After suffering record-breaking losses last week, the stock market finally began a potential recovery on Monday with a bang, jumping up 11percent in the best single day ever. Close-up photos of joyful, relieved-looking traders replaced the close-up photos of horrified, stressed-out traders on the front pages of newspapers everywhere.

The non-stop news coverage of this financial crisis has felt overwhelming at times, and in fact it did trump all other news for the past week or so. After all, investment banks and individual investors watched trillions of dollars evaporate overnight. Jobs and companies and homes that seemed secure have been exposed as overbuilt on shaky foundations. This financial meltdown has touched just about everybody somehow.

On one level, we all have to hope that really, really smart people who have taken the best interests of the common good to heart can help us out of this mess, without letting it become hopelessly politicized or lobbied into complete ineffectiveness.

On another level, though, can we view this crisis as an opportunity? A chance for a fresh start? A reason to re-examine what we really hold nearest to our hearts? While there’s certainly nothing wrong with accumulating and spending money, perhaps we’ve been sucked into the very alluring and constant call of our culture to make a god out of consuming, placing our money or material possessions at the center of our own attention. Maybe we’ve even come to believe that if we lead good and faithful lives, our very prosperity itself serves as a sign from God that he is pleased with us, that he has somehow blessed our efforts. Yet nowhere in the example of the life or words of Jesus Christ; or anywhere in our Scripture; or in the Tradition of the Church do we find that we can place all our trust in anything but the kingdom of heaven.

When we find the rug – financial or otherwise – pulled out from under us, our faith calls us to a new way of thinking. We can come to a new awareness of our true dependence on God; we can recognize the truth that our lives rest in God’s hands, no matter the balance in our checking or savings accounts, the labels on our clothing, the University we attend, the kind of car we drive, or the prestige of our new job.

Our faith may call us to a new way of living. Why not try to get by on less of everything? Make your downsizing intentional and purposeful, so that you have more room and time and resources for life as a follower of Christ. Then, try giving something away. Guess what somebody out there needs it more than you do, whatever “it” is: a pair of shoes, a winter coat, a few hours of your time, a couch or a chair, or a hundred dollars.

In other words, let’s try to recognize that we depend on God even more deeply than we depend on our individual (or our national) financial success, and let’s try to live like it. With utterly perfect timing, this Sunday’s Gospel reminds us that we ought to pursue our relationship with God more closely than the workings of our government and economy. As Jesus fearlessly tells the angry Pharisees and Herodians, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Though his audience has been trying to trap him by forcing him to take a side, Jesus neatly demonstrates that the coin of the realm is a limited currency, and that to recognize that God’s demands go beyond the secular economy is to acknowledge the real truth of the matter.

The sense of panic and urgency which has accompanied the non-stop news reports will no doubt subside in the coming weeks and months. Will we just move on to the next “big thing,” or can we force ourselves to remember what it feels like to be on such shaky ground? Can we, also with a sense of urgency, ask God by our prayers, actions and choices to help us continually re-align our priorities?

Kate Barrett is the director of the Emmaus program in Campus Ministry. She can be reached at kbarrett@nd.edu.

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