I want to #occupyyourheart for a few minutes. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) We can’t turn around without hearing about the economic woes of the world. Everywhere we look there is a story about market crashes, foreclosures, bailouts, failures, greed, or a general belief that there is a systematic collapse of financial institutions occurring. People have begun to talk about the “American Dream” in the same way they talk about Elvis and JFK – as a thing of history tragically taken from us before its time. People have become restless, worried, and frantic. This frenzy has manifested itself in various ways, but it has become something in this country, through the #Occupy movement, that is completely frightening in a way that shakes me to the core. Frightening because it shows how horrifyingly distorted and perverse our priorities have been twisted by greed and temptation.
I am not attempting to denounce the #Occupy movement because of any of its socio-political goals or principles. I am denouncing it on the fact that it symbolically shows how askew and obtuse our priorities have become, in this country. It is a sign that most in our society have completely lost their way, and that the focus is on entirely the wrong things. We Catholics must be careful not to become ensnared in the trappings and temptations of the world. Temptations which suck us into believing that some sort of material goods, or another, can keep us free from suffering and misery. We must not let the powers and principalities deceive us into thinking that God isn’t the most important thing in our lives, always. For He is.
What we need most in this world is love. Better stated, what we need above all else is an understanding that the only thing that can save us from our own self-created destruction is to love and adore a perfect lover – that being God.
Jesus as the Focus of Lives
In his masterful work, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict discusses the idea and notion of Jesus as a savior and what that means in light of temptation, suffering, and human needs. He explains that temptation occurs through the pushing aside of God. In our society, God either doesn’t exist for people, or he finishes in a distant position to other things which they view as more important. The Pope explains temptation thusly:
At the heart of all the temptations, as we see here, is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives. Constructing a world by our own lights, without reference to God, building our own foundation; refusing to acknowledge the reality of anything beyond the political and material, while setting God aside as an illusion – that is the temptation that threatens us in many varied forms.
Moral posturing is part and parcel of temptation. It does not invite us directly to do evil – no, that would be far too blatant. It pretends to show us a better way, where we finally abandon our illusions and throw ourselves into the work of actually making the world a better place. It claims, moreover, to speak for true realism: What’s real is what is right there in front of us – power and bread. By comparison, the things of God fade into unreality, into a secondary world that no one really needs.
God is the issue: Is he real, reality itself, or isn’t he? Is he good, or do we have to invent good ourselves? The God question is the fundamental question, and it sets us down right at the crossroads of human existence. What must the Savior of the world do or not do?
When he speaks of ‘bread’ he is speaking of material things. And isn’t this what so many people do? We want power and bread, and so God is only as important to us, as the amount he enables us to get those things – power and bread. Isn’t that what a God does? He gives his people blessings in the form of things that make their life better? What do we do when we love someone? We give them things to make them happy. And what better to make people happy than nice things.
The Pope inquires to the same:
Is there anything more tragic, is there anything more opposed to belief in the existence of a good God and a Redeemer of mankind, than world hunger? Shouldn’t it be the first test of a Redeemer, before the world’s gaze and on the world’s behalf to give it bread…?
Isn’t that what the #Occupy group is demanding? Granted, they are demanding it of a government, ostensibly “…of the people, by the people…” but I think that we can talk about this in absolute terms. They are looking to the government to give them these wants, these needs, not out of principal, but because they have already crumpled up God and thrown him in the trash as an idea that never really took off. God was dispensed with for the same reason they are warring against #WallStreet – they were never feed on their terms. They want their ‘fair share.’ Since God didn’t give it to them, they did away with him. When our government doesn’t give them what they feel is owed to them, they can’t just throw it away like they did with God, so they have to #Occupy it.
But what if when that happens… they still go hungry? Which is where we are at – they are still hungry. They have been tempted and deceived into thinking that what feeds them in ‘bread.’ They have been fooled into believing that what matters most, is actually what matters least of all. The Pope’s paints a similar picture:
Does someone who fails to measure up to this standard [feeding us, the hungry, the needy] have any right to be called a redeemer? Marxism – quite understandably- made this very point the core of its promise of salvation: It would see to it that no one went hungry anymore and that the “desert would become bread.”
Woops! They really are barking up the wrong tree! Hence, my fear that the #Occupy movement, is symbolic of a mentality, that will lead us to ruin and destruction. Certainly, the material needs of people are not meaningless. Certainly, hunger, even the hunger for bread, is a concern that we can’t simply ignore. But is it true that if the government, or the world for that matter, fed the people, the rest (like peace, love, and harmony) would come naturally? Isn’t the #Occupy movement simply about giving people the chance to find God in a just and humane way? I say no, because God cannot be secondary, and the Pope appears to agree.
We Do Not Live By Bread Alone
We are all familiar with the answer that Jesus gives to the Devil when tempted with hunger Himself. When prompted to turn stones into bread Jesus replies with the slightly enigmatic: “Man does not live by bread alone…” (Deut. 8:3). That saying is nice and dandy, when one isn’t starving, but it does nothing for the starving of the world. Or does it?
This picture was posted on a couple of blogs discussing this same topic. But it took a more sympathetic approach to the #Occupy movement. It was posted as a “discussion piece.” Ironically, almost everyone slammed the caption, even on these more “liberal” sites. The point was simple: to say food is more important than God is missing the point entirely. They are right. If we think for one minute that God isn’t the number one solution to all problems, we are lost before we even begin. No if’s, and’s, or but’s. Zero qualifications.
Again, this isn’t to say that food isn’t important, or that if you just hand out Bibles and don’t address peoples material needs as well, everything will be fine. But this isn’t a mutually exclusive proposition that I am making. What I am saying is that God needs to be the highest priority in all that we do. Period. The End. Anything else, especially the material things need to come secondary. When we alter this order, in any way and for any reason, we have not only messed up our priorities, but have placed ourselves on a path of ruin and destruction. Oh, and by the way, this isn’t my novel idea, this is the Pope’s. He of course says it better:
The German Jesuit Alfred Delp, who was executed by the Nazis, once wrote: “Bread is important, freedom is more important, but most important of all is unbroken fidelity and faithful adoration.” [emphasis mine]
When this ordering of goods is no longer respected, but turned on its head, the result is not justice or concern for human suffering. The result is rather ruin and destruction even of material goods themselves. [emphasis mine]
We do not live by bread alone. It is that simple. He continues:
When God is regarded as a secondary matter that can be set aside temporarily or permanently on account of more important things, it is precisely these supposedly more important things that come to nothing. It is not just the negative outcome of Marxist experiment that proves this.
The aid offered by the West… has been purely technically and materially based, and not only has left God out of the picture, but has driven men away from God. And this aid, proudly claiming to “know better,” is itself what first turned the “third world” into what we mean today by that term…
The idea was that we could turn stones into bread; instead our “aid” has only given stones in place of bread. The Issue is the primacy of God…
If man’s heart is not good, then nothing else can turn out good, either. And the goodness of the human heart can ultimately come only from the One who is goodness, who is the Good itself.
We do not live by bread alone, “but… by everyhing that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3). As the Pope puts it, Jesus was the wheat grain that died, and from Him came much fruit. (cf. Jn. 12:24). So from God, from the Good Himself, comes all other good. From the “Bread of Life”, comes all other bread. He is the prime, the starter, the pinnacle of our priorities.
Love = God = Love
This is what love is. Love is the start and end point of all other things. If we fall into the temptations of the “evil spirits that prowl the world seeking the ruin of souls…” we will of course fall victim to the lie that God can take a second seat when we are really hungry. In my most recent post here at VP, I argued that we don’t belong to this world, and I stand by that remark. It isn’t fatalistic to think that we are made for somewhere better, beyond this life. It is actually a hopeful remark, a faithful one, and most of all it is the acknowledgment of a love that conquers all. So when we put our stock, our care, and our concern for things above that Love, our God, we spit in the face of the One that has come to be for us the “Bread of Life.”
So let us not fall victim to the idea that the #Occupy movement is right, or even wrong. We need to dismiss it as unimportant. Not because its social or political motives and goals aren’t just, proper, or helpful. But we should dismiss it because it completely denies the proper order of importance of those things that matter most in our lives. In doing so, it isn’t “justice or concern” but “ruin and destruction.”
We have a finite amount of time on this earth, and we are meant to spend it perfecting our love, for God. In other words, what we need to invest in isn’t markets, stocks, and bonds but in love. Love of a God that transcends all temptation, hunger, despair, and misery.
I leave you with the parting words of Mumford & Sons that say it better than I ever could. In all honesty, I probably could have summarized this (entirely too long) post with the following lyrics:
In these bodies we will live.
In these bodies we will die.
Where you invest your love,
you invest your life.
-Awake My Soul | Mumford & Sons
We do not live by bread alone.