We are all traumatized, and we need help, but what kind exactly?
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We live in extraordinary times, not only because of the plague that afflicts the land, or the spiritual drought that lingers, but also our economic times are extraordinary. We live in a world filled with abundance, yet scarcity is everywhere. What's going on, and what do we need to survive, and even thrive in these conditions?
LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - A person would have to go back at least a century to find a pandemic that rivals COVID and how it's ravaged our global economy. You'd have to go back a little further, perhaps to the Gilded Age, to find economic times where the world enjoys abundance, but those who labor struggle to survive. And we could go back to ancient Israel to see a place suffering from spiritual drought.
Experts can certainly quibble with these timeframes. Surely, the world has seen its share of plagues, greed, and spiritual decay. But these periods in history are well-known and illustrate both the problems and solutions to the crisis we face, which is a perfect storm of conditions.
Presently, billions of people around the world are struggling, much more than they should be. And they know it. They feel it. in the United States, full-time workers are struggling with mortgage payments and rising rents, while losing the wages they've gained during the pandemic to inflation. And with shutdowns, lockdowns, and coworkers being sick, customer service being poor, and everyone generally feeling ragged and tired, people are seeking help.
There's an explosion of self-help books on the shelves, many now making the bestseller lists. Social media is filled with platitudes and positivity, and tips for how you can reframe your thinking to turn negatives into positives. In fact, this movement has sparked a backlash against "toxic positivity," a form of positive thinking that actually puts pressure on the victim and lets those responsible for problems off the hook.
The fact is, people don't need more self-help books. They aren't harmful in the main, and certainly, the Bible suffices. But what people really need is a change in their material circumstances.
The problems people face are caused by a lack of money, leisure, fruitful and productive work, and above all, faith.
Let's go through the list.
Money matters a lot, because we live in a capitalist society, which has a tendency to monetize everything. Dollars are economic votes, and we spend them to communicate our demands to the market. However, as demand rises, so too do prices. This should result in an increase of production, but in the age of COVID, that isn't always possible. Consider how the computer chip shortage is driving up the demand for cars and computers, along with their prices. Inflation is a problem for all people, including the wealthy, and this is putting pressure on business owners to raise wages. That isn't always possible, and it's killing small businesses and those who work for them. Some big businesses are using the excuse of inflation to raise prices, then posting record gains in profits on their balance sheets. in the end, Wall Street is winning, but the everyday people on the street, and the small business owners are suffering.
Obviously, fiscal and monetary policy needs to be adjusted to curtail inflation. Workers need annual raises, pegged to inflation, so they do not lose purchasing power to Wall Street greed. And small businesses need breaks and subsidies that are going to large corporations.
Leisure is another important factor. People need leisure, because that is when they have the time to grow as part of a family, to improve themselves, to learn new skills, to rest and recharge, and of course, to worship God. Even God rested following Creation, and He mandates rest. But it isn't enough to leave people with unstructured time to sit and do nothing. There must be places to go, things to do, and choices to make. Colleges need to be open so people can learn. Vacation spots need to be open so people can travel and get away from the ordinary. People must be allowed to gather so they can spend time with their extended families and friends. People must be allowed to attend Mass and obtain the benefit of the Sacraments. The closures in the name of COVID safety have largely failed, other than to disrupt the economy, something that likely would have happened anyway as people became too sick to work. Nonetheless, COVID will continue to spread until it burns itself out, then it will spread as an endemic infection, but hopefully less virulent as humanity builds its resistance. We can't stop this, so the next best choice is to adapt to it. We can't shut down forever.
With regard to work, people must be able to work, and the job should be fruitful and productive. This means their working conditions should be safe and as reasonably comfortable as practicable. Of course, this is not always possible, but where it is, it should be. People should be expected to produce a reasonable quantity of value, which when measured right makes workers happy and proud. Productivity is the basis of morale. A good worker should be proud of their work. This comes from believing in the work you do, and from receiving a just wage for that labor. A just wage is not simply one that a worker accepts to survive, but one that provides enough income that the worker can thrive. This isn't an option. It is a moral necessity, and if it cannot be provided, then the business model is untenable. Of course, it is incumbent upon the worker to deliver value, and to develop with time. All ships should rise with the tide.
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Perhaps the most overlooked need is the need for God. The spiritual drought is evident in the lack of attendance in the pews, the toxic way politics and faith are mixed in public, and the general lack of reverence and faith in our communities. Watch television for ten minutes and you will immediately see just how far we've fallen away from God.
In ancient Israel, the people suffered greatly because they abandoned God and His laws. They suffered terrible chastisement, even to the point of being conquered by Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Alexander, and eventually, Rome. They suffered plagues and droughts. Crops and animals withered, and their sons and daughters died.
The entire world exists only because God wills it. His grace is what sustains every living thing. And although we have free will, we are not excused from the consequences of our wrong choices. Our gluttony, greed, selfishness, lusts, and our laziness all combine to create the conditions we suffer today. And sadly, things will continue to get worse until the world chooses to turn back to God. The odds of that seem slim right now, so rather than getting better, we may expect things to get worse.
This does not mean we are powerless. As individuals, we have the ability to consecrate our hearts to Jesus Christ. We can follow God and keep His commandments ourselves, and we will enjoy God's grace as a reward. Our lives will not be without suffering, for that is inherent to this world, but we can do better for ourselves and others.
Indeed, if the world is to be diverted from its path of self-destruction, we need to begin with ourselves. The self-help book we need is the Bible. We should study the scriptures and take inspiration from the prophets of the Old Testament and the saints of the New. When we change ourselves, we become part of the leaven that can spread throughout to change the whole.
As we strive for change, let us be the ones who address both the real world problems around us, while also dealing with the real problems within us. When we do this, we can do much in our homes, workplaces, and communities, to make the world more just, more pleasant, and more Christian.
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