Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wednesday in the 28th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of St. Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr
Painting Portraits

Readings: Romans 2:1-11; Psalm 62:2-3, 6-7, 9; Luke 11:42-46

Taken together, both our readings today paint for us a portrait of a particular type of person. Certain characteristics of this type are quite clearly spelt out. Such a person is judgmental. S/he expects a certain standard of behaviour or performance from others. And it would seem that most people tend to fall short of that standard. In Jesus’ words, this type of person imposes on people burdens too hard to carry… What’s more, this judgmental attitude seems to go hand in hand with a certain degree of hypocrisy. As Paul puts it: you… judge those who engage in such things and yet do them yourself… Clearly this type of person suffers from a certain blindness that hinders them from making accurate evaluations of self. This is because they are blissful unaware of the fact that they are focused on the wrong things. They obsess over the inconsequential things at the expense of the essentials. As Jesus says: you pay tithes of mint and of rue… but pay no attention to judgment and to love for God… This blindness allows them to enjoy a certain misplaced self-confidence or pride, which leads them to think that they are a cut above others, that they are members of an elite group.

In contrast, it may be useful for us to consider yet another portrait. What follows is taken from a book that I happen to be reading at the moment. It’s a book on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, written by Dean Brackley, and entitled The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times. Here we find a portrait, not of elitism, but of solidarity.

Solidarity is the social meaning of humility. Just as humility leads individuals to all other virtues, humility as solidarity is the foundation of a just society. In short, the standard of Christ today is “downward mobility.” That means entering the world of the poor, assuming their cause, and, to some degree, their condition. Solidarity shapes our lifestyle, which will depend on each one’s vocation. Solidarity does not necessarily mean destitution. It has nothing to do with denying our training or neglecting our talents. Special obligations, for example, to family and benefactors, carry weight in deliberating about lifestyle. We should beware of dogmatizing about having a car or a computer, about whether to save for old age or where to educate our children. These are legitimate matters for discernment, but not for one-sized-fits-all formulas. At the same time, the objective criterion of our “poverty” is solidarity with the poor. We will feel uncomfortable with superfluities when poor friends lack essentials. Attachment to them will detach us from luxuries, and even necessities. As the New Testament and Christian tradition tells us, possessions are resources entrusted to us, to be administered for the good of all, especially those in need. This logic extends to other resources. What about pursuing higher education in a world of hunger? If we have that opportunity, then studying means storing up cultural capital to be administered later on behalf of those who need us. How much should we have? Better to reframe the question: Do we feel at home among the poor? Do they feel comfortable in our homes? Or do our furnishings and possessions make them feel like unimportant people? Solidarity leads to sharing the obscurity, misunderstanding, and contempt experienced by the poor….

To combat world poverty and environmental decay, we need to make this the Century of Solidarity, especially international solidarity. As elites extend their power through globalized markets, finance, and communications, the response can only be to globalize the practice of love. We need to enlist the Internet, e-mail, and discount air fares in the cause. But more than anything else, we need “new human beings” who identify with the poor majority of the planet – including people in rich countries who know about trade, finance, and human rights law and can help address the complex causes of misery. Many such people are stepping forward, especially from colleges and universities and from the churches, with their unique potential to connect people across borders and a wealth of experience on the ground…

Today, if someone were to paint portraits of us, of our society, of our children, which would they resemble more closely, that of solidarity or that of elitism?


  1. Elitism is a word that readily roll off the lips of the discerning observer but never from the one who practices it; as Fr Chris puts it "... a blindness that hinders them from making accurate evaluations of self". Are they focussed on "the wrong things"? What can be 'wrong' about GDP growth? About high net worth individuals? About being Number One?

    Every time a goal or objective is achieved, the bar is raised. The unrelentless quest to clear the new bar leave many disoriented, disaffected and exhausted. Oh, I'm sure there are many out there who can identify with what I write.

    The antidote to elitism is Dean Brackley's 'Solidarity'. Thank you, Fr Chris, for sharing his insights with us. It is good advice for me to take to heart.

    Heavenly Father, raise up from among the young generation "from colleges and universities and from the churches all over the world", individuals who will realise Brackley's vision of the Century of Solidarity. Amen.

  2. I came from good schools, and there was some soul-searching when it came to choosing a primary school for my daughter.

    When a student blogged about "getting out of her elite, uncaring face", I remembered being miserable in that very same JC. I was lonely, and felt that I didn't have any real friends.

    This is what elitism does - alienate, and put yourself on a pedestal.

    In the end, my daughter is in a neighbourhood primary school and mixes with all sorts. She is happy, and so am I. I want her to realise that not everyone lives in a condo, not all have a car, and some people do find it difficult to make ends meet. Empathy has to be nurtured, and will not be nurtured in an elite environment.