Friday, April 12, 2013

On Entitlements and Personal Responsibility: Homily to the Junior High

            The first reading is astounding today. Let’s hear it once again:

The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common….
There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the Apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need.

This is amazing to me: there was no needy person among them. No needy person. And why? Because the community of believers was united. They were of one heart and mind. They were Catholics; they held themselves to be personally responsible for those around them. And so they shared and sold what they had in love for one another.

            My children, you are becoming of the age where you are learning more about the world and how it works. And there’s something that you should know about it before you go to high school.
And it’s this: the world thinks it is owed something. It’s called the Entitlement Culture.
            There are many people going around the world today thinking that they deserve this and that. That society owes them. Their rallying cry is “It’s not fair.” In today’s culture, our rights and our rewards are what are emphasized. “I have a right to free speech!” “I have a right to do this!” And since I’ve done my fair share, I should be rewarded!
Notice the subject of each of these sentences. It is not “you” or “me” or my neighbor. It is “I.” The self. That is where today’s culture is focused: on itself: what it can get, what it deserves to get, and what it believes it has a right to get. And when it doesn’t get what it wants, it cries like a baby, saying “It’s not fair!”

So let me tell you about what is not fair. A few years ago as I was preparing to become a priest, I lived in Mexico City. And next to Mexico City was sprawling area called Chalco. Pope John Paul II visited there when he was Pope and he called it one of the poorest areas in the world—poorer, even, than Calcutta where Mother Theresa was.
I went to Chalco. I saw the muddy roads and the dirt floors on which kids slept. I saw the crumbling concrete walls of “houses.” I saw where the kids went to school and I knew where the kids went afterwards: places where there wasn’t electricity or flushing toilets or even daily food. I look back on my brief time there and I see what is before me here and it’s night and day.
You go to school in a palace. This school is an absolute palace. You don’t have to worry about whether or not you’re going to have food today; we’re gonna feed you; we have enough for you. You don’t have to worry about where to go to the bathroom or how you’re going to get your next drink of water. You don’t have to worry about going to a school where you might get shot; you don’t have to go to a school with barbed-wire fences around it. No, this school has everything you need to live and to thrive.
In fact, if there is a place where you should be able to love your neighbor, this palace is it. This is one of the last places where you have to worry about yourself and your survival. And since worrying about yourself isn’t vital to your survival here, worrying about your neighbor should be so easy!
But we do worry about ourselves—what we look like, what people think of us, what technological things we do or do not have that could serve our social status—and we realize how quickly we fall into the trap of the Entitlement Culture. We focus on what we don’t have instead of what we do have.
So let me ask you: why are you entitled to an iPhone when there are kids your age who, through no fault of their own, are wondering at this moment where they are going to sleep tonight. What makes you better than them? Is that fair?
I’m not saying iPhones are bad. What I am saying, however, is that when we spend money on something that we don’t need, we are making a decision not to spend that money on something that is needed. We have decisions to make. And if we’re always choosing ourselves, it means that we are rarely choosing others.

Our culture has forgotten about its duties and responsibilities. The culture has forgotten that the world is bigger than our own ego. And we have a responsibility to that world. We are responsible for one another. We have a duty to take care of one another. We cannot go around thinking “I deserve this and I deserve that” because such thinking enslaves us to selfishness. And selfishness and love don’t go together. You can’t be both focused on yourself and love others at the same time.
Friends, hear me: entitlements and selfishness enslave us! And I love you all too much to send you out into the world thinking how wonderful you are without also telling you that you now have a duty!
And it is a duty. A self-less duty.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with some of the 8th grade parents about the upcoming Mystery Trip. And it’s gonna be a great Mystery Trip. But I was talking to the parents and I asked what they thought if the kids did some service in the middle of the trip or, at least, to donate some of the money to a good cause and not to spend it all on ourselves.
Someone said to me, “Father, these kids deserve a good mystery trip. They’ve worked hard all year and have given to the poor. They’ve earned this trip.” I don’t doubt that you have. I know you’ve worked hard.
But this made me think a few things. First, if we have not taught you that service is good and should be sought out at all times—and not just when you are doing a Confirmation project—then we have failed in our duty to teach you right. Isn’t it really true that it is in giving that we receive?
Doing service—no… Doing our duty… is something that we should do even if we get no reward from it. We do something kind not because we get a “thank you” for it, but because we know it is the right thing to do. And good people do the right things—no matter what happens afterwards.
You come here to school and do your work. Why should we reward you for something that you should already be doing? Why rewards for doing our duty? That’s the Entitlement Culture.
Awards don’t go to marines who clean their guns well. Awards go to marines who go beyond the call to duty and enter into the face of danger. Awards aren’t given to people who show up and do their job. Awards are given to people who go beyond their job description and contribute an achievement beyond they receive a paycheck for. That our culture gives awards for attendance and for virtues that we should, as Christians, be exhibiting bespeaks our culture’s fall from Christianity.

Yes, 8th grade, a Mystery Trip is not a reward for what you have done here at St. Joe’s. You receive a Mystery Trip because your parents love you. And that is—or, at least, it should be—the real reason.
Friends, if there should be someone who should receive a reward for what he did, it would be this guy *point to Jesus.* He went beyond his duty. Shouldn’t he receive the praise? Shouldn’t he receive our admiration and our emulation?
If the world was a fair world, then praise wouldn’t be given to us, it would be given to him! But it is unfair; so this hero is often forgotten. Praise is mumbled.

            A final thought: there is a fine line between entitlements and fulfilling one’s duty without expectation of reward.
            This past week, the Bishop of Wichita was made Bishop of Dubuque. I read into what this bishop had done in Wichita. Do you know what he did? He made Catholic education in Wichita free of charge. Practicing, active Catholics do not have to pay tuition to go to school.
            How is this possible? It is because each and every Catholic in that diocese sees it as their personal responsibility to give others a Catholic education. This is not an entitlement. This is our duty. We have a duty to pass on to others what has been bequeathed to us—and to pass it along all the better, with added shine and glory—not with added tarnish, stink, or destruction.
            Why can’t we do that here? Why can’t we all take personal responsibility not just for our own glorification, but for the glory of our neighbor?     

            Seventh and eighth grade: you are personally responsible for the person next to you and for the generations that come after you. If you become a slave to your selfishness and to the Entitlement Culture, then you will become precisely that: a sullen slave who finds life unfair.
            But if you recognize your duty and fulfill that call to personal responsibility, then you will be free. Yes, love is what frees us! Love is what frees us!
            Hear again that first reading:

The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common….
There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the Apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need.

With great power the Apostles bore witness
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
and great favor was accorded them all.

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