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Catholicism and luxury are incompatible

| Thursday, September 12, 2019

“What Would Jesus Do?” 

If you received a Catholic education at a young age, you’ve probably posed this question to yourself at some point in order to make a difficult decision. Abbreviated as WWJD, this mantra provides a universal protocol for making the world a better place. However, by the time we reach adulthood, we’ve often constructed our own moral systems based on personal desire.

Inspiring a return to WWJD seems unfeasible, so I’ve coined a question to ask after we’ve already made a choice: “What Would Jesus Think?”

For example, what would Jesus think of the average Notre Dame student’s clothing? I wonder if he would appreciate the fashionable Canada Goose coats that abound during the winter months. Jesus, the poor carpenter with poor friends probably wouldn’t feel too keen about the extra hundreds of dollars spent for a luxury brand. 

How would Jesus react to the administration’s decision to spend $400 million on the Campus Crossroads project? Students did, in fact, need more space to congregate. Unfortunately, the vast terminals of the Crossroads buildings echo with feeble excuses for such an unnecessarily grandiose expansion. Jesus would likely view “premium hospitality” offerings — exclusive stadium seating and club memberships — as a poor excuse for shifting the center of campus away from the Basilica and Grotto. 

Opulent fixtures on campus didn’t begin with the Jenkins administration. What would Jesus think of the 10th regilding of the Golden Dome in 2005, which cost $300,000, and what will he think of the regildings to come? Jesus would probably note the irony of his humble mother standing atop the University’s main symbol. The Dome would fit better with the Palace of Versailles than with a school that vows to promote awareness of poverty and oppression.

I don’t think that we should liquify the Golden Dome or ban students from wearing Supreme streetwear. Investment into beauty and self-expression serves an important cultural purpose, but the line must be drawn when wealth is immorally allocated. Affluent Catholics and our administrators should contextualize their financial behavior within the harsh reality of the world. Imagine what could be done to, say, improve the 25.4% poverty rate in South Bend with the Campus Crossroads funds. 

Part of the solution involves bursting the Notre Dame “bubble” that insulates students from off-campus turmoil. However, we also enclose ourselves within informational bubbles that transcend geography. Personal bubbles impede social progress by blinding us with our own individualistic perspectives. To overcome this, one must adopt an open state of mind and a willingness to scrutinize one’s standing in society.

If you’re a student, do you attend college so that you might take ritzy vacations or belong to a country club one day? To afford these luxuries, you’ll likely have to count yourself amongst the top 10% of the country with an income averaging nine times larger than that of the bottom 90%. Most of us scorned the injustice of the Gilded Age when we learned about it in history class, but levels of wealth concentration are even worse today. Thus, aiming solely for a life of excess comfort will presumably land you on the wrong side of history — just in a later chapter of the book.

Furthermore, Jesus warned that the wealthy would have difficulty entering the kingdom of God. Indeed, “the first will be last,” and this surely includes the patrons of the new Gilded Age. I have no authority as a theologian, but I did receive the same schooling on the Golden Rule as many of my peers. Put simply, treat others well. Unfortunately, too many people attach a follow-up question to the message — “how well?”

Acting with empathy extends beyond offering condolences or supporting the “voluntourism” industry. This era demands structural reform. As students at a prestigious university, we have the resources to fight the system that thrives on inequality and fortifies our bubbles of ignorance. We’re only tiny specks in a sea of suffering, yet we can disproportionately influence the tide. What would Jesus, a social revolutionary of his time, think of that? 

I want the statue of Mary on the Dome to gaze over a community that values equity as a right rather than a reward. I’m not asking everyone to hit the streets with a picket sign every weekend, as that would make me a hypocrite. Rather, I propose that we only take advantage of the system if we plan to rectify it. Let’s start with a shift toward unconditional awareness of wealth disparity. 

Reconsider your motivations, political beliefs and priorities. Changes in lifestyle will hopefully follow. If not, take a look in the mirror and ask, “What Would Jesus Think?”

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

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