I have increasingly had the feeling that I’m reaching a breaking point.
In this current crisis of health, wealth, and love of neighbor, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all. Maybe you’re feeling it too, and asking yourself: Am I doing enough? Am I doing anything? Am I staying healthy? Sane? Holy? Maybe the Trads are right; we need to open the churches… No, maybe everyone else is right: livestream or else. Maybe it really is all Trump’s fault. Him, and all the other billionaires. Yeah, that’s it. Eat the rich. That’ll solve it. Wait… Am I rich?
These are stressful days, and I’m just trying to make sense of it all as I go along in faith. Feast day after feast day, I am entranced by the stories of the impossible and the tragic, the strong and the weak, all joining hands in the chorus of saints—the cloud of witnesses saying, “Do what you can. Do more, if you’re willing. God will provide.”
But this is a confusing time.
As I take my daily dose of Twitter (which is increasingly becoming a hazardous overdose), I am reminded that there are few answers to be found in the noisy crossfire of free thoughts—of virtue-signaling monologue, finger-pointing potshots, and echo-chamber pontification.
No one has the answers and everyone has the questions. It can be maddening and comforting all at once, but at this point, the Twitter algorithms are fairly well-attuned to my bloodstream and brainwaves. They know what keeps me scrolling.
Trapped in this onslaught of endorphin-inducing clickholes, I am reminded that a) It is Lent, and b) I am incredibly weak. Immeasurably weak. Beholden to my most base desires at virtually every moment, and in the habit of clicking without thinking. I want to feel like I’m part of the movement(s), on the right side of history, in the know, on top, and just as judicious as all the other stay-at-home crusaders fighting for the Holy Land that is social media.
But it’s exhausting, it’s not often impactful—Trump, Bezos, and Co. cannot hear you—and it’s probably not my calling (or yours) during this time of unprecedented disruption in modernity. I am reminded that, at the end of the day, we cannot count on anyone else to do the dirty work of serving others.
That said, I’ve seen several stories of (mostly NBA) superstars pledging portions of their wealth to help many of those whose livelihoods have been most threatened by the pandemic. These millionaires are rightly applauded, of course, and we should be edified and inspired by their examples. But alongside the ovation has come sharp criticism of the exponentially more wealthy team owners, many or most of whom have claimed tied hands and extended procedures, leading to the slightly less fortunate giving from their coffers instead. Whether just or not, this scenario illustrates the role of Christians in serving those in need, regardless of our amount of personal wealth.
Jesus did not commission us to enact the “sounds so simple” route, in which the workers of the world forcefully subtract the wealth of “the rich” to add it to those in need. Jesus does not expect the richest non-Christian in the world to make himself one of the poorer so that the rest of the world can live in peace, harmony, and the middle class. Jesus did not ask “the rich” to save the world. He asked us to.
Hear me out: taxes are taxes; they do help redistribute wealth somewhat. And philanthropy from the rich is (truly) right and just; the moral thing for the rich to do is help others by giving from their fortunes. But the reality of a fallen world is that they largely will not—at least not beyond the level of wealth-subtraction that twinkles the eye and sequin at astronomically-priced gala tables. The aforementioned sports superstars are no exception. Moreover, it is simply a fact that billionaire kleptocrats are not going to become minimalists for the sake of actually eliminating poverty. “Bilderberg: Dorothy Day Edition” is not walking through that door.
Instead, “God has chosen the foolish things to confound the wise” (1 Cor 1:27). He has chosen his Church to be an outsize instrument of economic relief for the sake of peace, sustenance, and salvation. From the earliest days of the Kingdom of God on earth, Christians of meager means have dedicated themselves to serving the poor and option-less, leading to the Catholic reputation for charity around the world. It was not always St Katharine Drexels giving away their inheritance to embolden and enflesh work among the least-regarded (though wealthy Christians should, of course, be doing their part). Far more often, it was individuals of great determination and consistency rather than those of great wealth—rag-tag teams of the willing, not the wealthy—who made the Church’s oikonomia of love present and known in the world.
Today, that’s what we have to be. Raging against the machine on the Internet will not feed a hungry soul or stomach so much as it will feed our egos and embolden us to even greater stagnancy and pointlessness. That’s no way to sainthood.
I’m preaching to myself as much as anyone, here. By all means, speak your truth and often speak it to power, but don’t scream out into the void when you could be calling out to God in prayer and in service.
Give of yourself in whatever ways you can, both because that’s what God wants, and because that’s what will actually help the Kingdom’s cause. Giving from what little we have does more than we can ask or think. In some ways it does more than what we think would come of the uber-rich emptying their storehouses and stock portfolios—something we can’t control and is unlikely to occur outside of a total revolution.
This is a Lent of Lents, a time to put up or shut up, and a time to think clearly rather than with the crowds. To stay inside while reaching out, to stay in prayer while resisting overdone eremitism, and to speak the truth while knowing when to remain silent.
“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
A pandemic is the kind of circumstance we never plan for, and those are the ones where we prove our mettle in Christ. Many of us are pressed on every side: psychologically, economically, spiritually, and otherwise. It’s up to us to turn to God and to our neighbors no matter what, for help and for service. While the relief plans in our respective countries will probably help us, they will not save us. It’s not their job. It’s Jesus’. And since we live and move and have our being in Him, it’s ours, too. So let’s get to work.
Remotely, of course.
“When he looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest…those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.’” (Luke 21:1-4)