I have been watching, with some interest, the unfolding of the events with the Occupy Wall Street crowd and its like movements throughout the major cities of this country. They claim to be the 99%. The 99%, as far as I can tell from their websites, are the overwhelming amount of Americans who are not members of the banking, insurance, mortgage industries, who have to foot the bills and barely make it. For them, the other side are greedy, self-serving parasites of society who live off of the misery of others. On the other side is a group called the 53%, a group who say the represent the 53% of Americans who actually pay taxes every year (or are supposed to). For them , the other side are greedy, self-serving parasites of society who live off of the hard work of others. I would imagine in either group there are some who would fit that bill. Both sides, though, represent an increasingly evident truth, we are unhappy as a nation, afraid of the future, frustrated with the status quo, and looking for answers and finding none. Why?
I have thought and prayed a great deal about this. Over the past few years, bracing for impact of what the future held, I dumped almost all my debt (by the end of the year I will be completely out of debt) and started to embrace a life of simplicity (which Canon Law says I as a priest should do anyway). It means I had to make a lot of hard decisions. It also means I had to really start taking my faith seriously. It was a harsh reality for me that in some venues of my life I had not taken my faith seriously. I cannot point a finger at anyone and chide them for being materialistic as I have been there myself as a priest. I had been at the altar of Mammon. When I started simplifying my life, I gave a lot away. To my shame, as I packaged things to go to the local clothes shelter and to a pro-life yard sale, I realized I was packing things that I had never used but 'just had to have'. I packed clothes with the labels still on them, CDs and DVDs I never listened to or watched, books I never read. The list goes on and on. I felt rather ashamed. Not only had I bought all this stuff, I did it on credit. I racked up quite the bill. I worried about those bills and my ability to pay them off. Spiritually, I became pre-occupied with these things. I moved into my current assignment with a 17 foot U-Haul. I once thought that this was awesome, now, I am deeply ashamed of it.
Truth be told, though, I am not the only one at the altar of mammon. It is human nature to associate wealth with security and happiness. We possess within us a desire to be free of want and the fear it brings. In this country, and in the western world, we have amped this association on steroids! Because of this, we have the rumblings of class warfare, something that has never historically achieved anything positive. One side accuses the other of greed whilst the other side accuses their rivals of envy. There is truth in both, but at the end of the day it is greed that underpins the whole thing. We live in such a wealthy society that we simply believe if 'I want' thus "I should have". Furthermore, we believe that I want it now thus I should have it now! Questions about whether 'I need' or that 'I need to wait' or 'can I afford' no longer apply. Furthermore, we do not want to deal with the prospect of having to suffer the consequences of poor choices. It is not without irony that there are enough I-pads, I-Phones, various recording devices, and such rolling around the Wall Street crowd (each side) as to one wonder whether one has happened against a revolt about corporations or a celebration thereof! I know those things are expensive. I know, because I have priced them and decided that I didn't want it enough to pay that kind of price for something that I have managed to live 46 years without already. Having been one caught in the trap, I can say that I know what it is like to tacitly believe that wealth and belongings equate happiness. By the grace of God, though, I realized how much Mammon failed me.
We posses an emptiness inside that we desperately want filled. It is longing for completion and purpose. I liken it to what I have heard happy married couples say about their spouse: in their spouse they feel a part of them wanted and waited for and felt complete once married. That is fully appropriate as the marital bond is the image of the relationship God wants with us. We have this longing that refuses to be satiated by the things of this world. People will spend their entire lives searching through the things of this world looking for that one thing that fills the gap. They try wealth, power, pleasure, ease, reputation, and fame. When these do not work, they fall into addictions to alcohol, narcotics, sex, food, and other stimuli to numb the gap that now has turned into an emptiness. They become the type of wealthy who believe if they hoard enough of the world's goods, they will eventually find happiness. There is never enough. There is a too grand of a scale. For the have-nots, it is a burning belief if only they had more they would find joy and contentment. Both place their hope in Mammon and both have nothing left but greed and envy...for them Mammon failed. The definition of insanity is to engage in the same behavior and expect a different outcome.
AS one of my favorite songs said when I was child "If you're tired of the same old story, turn some pages." For me, that meant be faithful to the covenant God made with me and I with Him: A covenant sealed in Baptism and Confirmation, strengthened though Confession and Eucharist, and cemented in a special way through Holy Orders. That meant I could not go chasing after Mammon and still presumed I was faithful to God. As I embraced this new found simplicity, I realized that I had been Mammon's slave. Where God sought a marital bond with me, Mammon only sought me to be its slave. God did not create me to be anyone's slave. God created us to be His partner as we hear he created Eve for Adam. God wants my good. He knows what will bring me true happiness. He knows that happiness will never be found in slavery. Because of that, I have neither the fear of the hoarders, nor the envy of the have-nots. I do pray for those on both sides and mourn their self-inflicted misery. I, like ancient Israel, am between the enslavement of Egypt and the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey (heaven: the end result of the covenant relationship). To make it there means I will have to live and rejoice in that bond the Christ willingly gave His life to forge. It is not easy. It beats enslavement. The temptations are always there to turn back (believe me, I know that!). But as one who starting to enjoy that freedom, I can only show my appreciation for that freedom by wanting it for others as well.
To those in the streets: you seek something from a source that will never give it to you. You will not be able to have enough hand-outs, free rides, wealth, and prosperity to fill the hole within. To those hoarding: obviously the accrual of wealth has not brought you what you hoped for and now you fear losing it...your hole, too, has gone unfulfilled. As one who has been in both of your shoes, there is another way. Equality and peace do not come through the distribution of wealth, they come from not being beholden to wealth to find peace, happiness, and joy. As a former occupant of the hole you are now in, there is a way out that requires neither fear nor loathing...it only requires a willingness to give of oneself for one's brothers and sisters and a willingness to live a covenant relationship with a God who desperately loves you. You need not be Mammon's slave, when you can be God's own.