Every day 6,000 children under the age of 5 die from pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria. About 1 million children in America are aborted every year. Experts estimate that one in eight people in the world today struggle with chronic malnutrition.
Why is our world in such bad shape? What if I told you this is the world we asked for? You are a consumer and a voter in the most powerful country in the world. Whatever you want to say about American capitalism, it is a very efficient means of providing American consumers with what they desire. Whatever you want to say about American democracy, we do usually get the leadership we vote for. As much as we would like to wash our hands of the great injustices of the world, the truth is our cumulative decisions have shaped the world we live in.
But how could we have asked for this? Is this the world we desire?
That is where Social Justice meets the season of Lent. During our journey through the wilderness, this is exactly the question–what do we desire? For forty days in the wilderness, the body of Christ prepares itself to live out our Father’s desire. Our Father’s desire is to reign over this world with truth and justice. But someone else is lurking in the wilderness. The devil hasn’t come here to harm us. He knows he can’t hurt the body directly. The devil has come to offer us exactly what we desire.
So perhaps the most important questions of global justice and Lent are the same. What do we desire? The shape of the world today would suggest that the devil knows our hearts better than we admit. So maybe if we are going to fix this mess, we better take a good look at what the devil has been offering us.
Luke 4: 2 He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 3The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’
The first temptation is the most straightforward. You have your own needs; meet your own needs. You want stuff; go get stuff. It is this basic desire to consume that we often address the most directly during Lent, either by literally giving up a food (meat, chocolate, fried food, coffee) or by giving up a kind of consumer good (TV, video games, Facebook). The most basic act of giving up meat on Friday is enough to give many of us a sense of how strong our desires really are. Unfortunately, we do not always make the connection between these desires and Social Justice.
In reality there might be no greater force shaping our world today than American consumption. Whether we are consuming coffee, socks, T-shirts, or cell phones, American consumerism isn’t just driving our economy. It is driving the world economy. And nearly always it is driven by our immediate self -centered desires.
When the devil prompts us, we willingly trade just wages and safe working conditions for a flashy new cell phone. We willingly surrender the long term beauty of God’s creation for another couple gallons of gasoline. We choose to turn over world peace to expand our reach for resources. We have other options. For those eager to make more just consumer decisions, my good friend and fellow fair trade advocate Jack Kern recommends checking out these sites.
But the real question is what do you desire? Does your heart yearn for an ever expanding slice of bread, or do you desire that everyone has a place at the table?
Luke 4: 5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.’
The devil’s second temptation should be pretty familiar as well. The devil tempts us with power. In Luke the devil specifically seems to conjure governmental power by pointing to each kingdom’s “authority and splendor.” Without a doubt many a public official has been corrupted by one too many splendid things. But an all-corrupting desire for power isn’t relegated to the halls of government. CEO’s, union leaders, non-profits’ heads, media personalities, educators, yes, even leaders have been brought into the devil’s service by their desire for power.
In whatever arena we work, whatever ladder we are trying to climb, the basic questions are the same. Are we seeking power to uplift the lowly, or are we using power to uplift ourselves? Are we still honoring the least of these, or do we desire to be regarded above the common man?
One of the guiding principles of Catholic Social Teaching is solidarity with the poor and the lowly. To act in solidarity means not to wield power over others. It means not even wielding power for others. CST challenges us to wield power with others. We are called to become the servants of the least among us. During Lent many choose to pray the litany of humility. This is a fitting way to remind ourselves of the call to be humble servants.
Once again the question is what do you desire? Do you desire to be seated on a throne of authority high above your fellow man, or do you wish to wash the feet of the lowest as Jesus washes yours.
Luke 4: 9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here.’ 10 For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
So now you know; the saying is true; even the devil can quote scripture. At first this last temptation doesn’t seem to be a temptation at all. The devil tempts us with the protection and consolation from God? Are we expected to surrender God’s protection? No, this is simply the most devious temptation of all.
What the devil is asking is: “Do you desire a spirituality of comfort or an authentic faith? Do you desire a faith that will keep you safe and unbruised? Do you desire a feel good religion inside the walls of a feel good parish?” The devil knows if that’s the faith you look for, you’ll never find the road to Social Justice.
Catholic Social Teaching can only really matter when you are ready to go outside the walls of the Church. You have to be ready to leave your comfort zone. You have to meet the world where it is bruised and bleeding. You will need to meet the world where things look frightening, and they smell bad. You will have to get controversial. You will need to confront your friends and your persecutors boldly with the truth, and you will need to be ready when your friends become your persecutors. There is no safe religion here. The path to a just world is a difficult one.
Of course, you will have the Lord’s protection. As it was written, the angels will be walking beside you. But you will be walking towards Golgotha. That is the deal. The cross comes first, then Easter. Too many Christians today point all their spiritual energy inward. They only want to use their faith to comfort them.
The question is what do you desire? Do you desire a faith that keeps you protected, insulated and unbruised, or do you seek a faith that touches the hurting world in a real transformative way? It is when you start to desire the cross that you know Easter is coming.
My challenge for you this Lent is to be mindful of your desires. The war against sin can only be waged within our hearts. But make no mistake. This battle ground is vital to the struggle for Social Justice. Only when we desire what God desires will the reign of Christ be at hand.