The choice of a college class says a lot about a person and his or her worldview. During my senior year, I had the choice of one elective class. Earlier in the year, I had met a Jesuit priest who encouraged me to sign up for his class on the theology of prayer. Initially, I signed up, thinking it would be helpful to learn more about what is perhaps the most important human act—culminating in the Eucharist, of course.
But then I balked, thinking my time and money would be better spent on learning something “useful” and esteemed in the world, like economics. I was concerned potential employers may view a prayer class as frivolous and invaluable. I need to stress, here, that the problem was not in economics but in me. I was treating the subject as philosophy, seeing my fulfillment as being an employable homo economicus rather than reflecting a perfect likeness to God. I was in need of conversion.
Even though I didn’t want to admit it, I was thinking that economics had a better claim on reality than the poor love of God. Thankfully, the Jesuit brought me to my senses. Like St. John the Baptist, he called me out and pointed me to Jesus.
This rebuke occurred not in the wilderness but on my college campus, which had a big thoroughfare that nearly everyone took. Walking it just before the semester began, I heard a shout: “Hey Mixa, get back in my class! What are you doing?” It was the Jesuit. He must have seen that I dropped out of his prayer class for one in economics. Little did I know that he had experience in economics, working on Chicago’s Board of Trade prior to becoming a Jebbie. He knew that economics classes matter less than a sound training in the school of prayer. To this day I am grateful to him for showing me that the life of the Spirit is greater than the world of soulless economics and cutthroat politics. And that the right thing to follow is not profits but the way foretold by the prophets: the way of the Lamb.
At the start of Advent, I recalled this episode from college, realizing that I am in need of another conversion. I find myself like Peter walking on the water toward Jesus. Like him, my imperfect faith can barely withstand the fear that causes me to sink. The chaos of the world seems currently so great that my confidence in the Lord feels shaken. Within the endless media cycle and the strains of pandemic and lockdown, I’ve noticed that my old habit of giving economics and politics undue consideration has crept to the fore once more.
This is not just my problem but something characteristic of our age. Moderns like me tend to see economics and politics as the ultimate horizon of being—a moral and social arbiter. We give it more power than our grounding in Christ, and then—because we become reluctant to confidently surrender to our crucified and risen Lord—we have a hard time seeing the value, meaning, and power of prayer.
Charles Péguy wrote that the spirit of modernity is not believing what one believes, and boy do I recognize myself in that observation. Insofar as I am a child of modernity, this has been my life’s struggle, leading me to perpetually check myself to see if I actually believe what I claim to believe. In casual conversation with friends, my lack of belief becomes most apparent; as we discuss the dubious directions toward which the world seems headed, I’ve tended to give politics and economics too much consideration—as though they have or deserve the last word. If I mention the faith in these discussions, it feels stilted to my own ears, as though I’m really just trying to appear pious or to forcibly fit hard realities into a faith box.
For most of us, reality at its root is just material (the mystery of consciousness is ignored), and the “blessed life” is defined only as a life of material wealth or psychological well-being. How bourgeois! How modern! How boring! Love is marginal, an epiphenomenon of a cruel world. While I love Balthasar’s little book Love Alone Is Credible, I have a hard time fully assenting to what its title claims. While I claim to believe that the Spirit of Love (the supernatural) is greater than matter—and of which matter is a part—I notice that I tend, like most moderns, to subsume or kill the Spirit (supernatural) by imbibing too much of the heartless, cold reality of matter and violence. I worry that I might be a closeted Hobbesian, again (still?) in need of conversion. Which logos do I find more credible? The Logos Incarnate who comes to us in humility, or a different, more worldly and material logos?
Advent is a good time to seriously consider what it is you are basing your “amen” on—what you find trustworthy and true. Is it a humble love of God or something else, such as power and wealth? What is the ground upon which you stand, and how much sand-shifting are you willing to endure? What do you trust? Many of us profess the Christian creed, but do we really believe what the Church professes?
In penitential seasons like Advent, there is no better time to ask such questions. While there’s always room for growth in the faith, many of us need to reflect on whether we truly stand on the Word of God in the first place.
This Advent, I will be praying for the grace to continue giving my assent to the faith of the Church, standing firm on the foundations Christ laid and the Spirit he gives, and not on the false securities, ideologies, and mean energies of this current age. This age will pass, but the love of God will remain. And to this I give my “amen.”