During his ministry, John’s message to everyday people, according to Luke, was remarkably simple: “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” To the tax collector, he warns not to take more than is due, and to the soldier his counsel is “be content with your wages” (cf. Luke 3:10-14). This was “the way of the Lord”?
I conclude by recommending the same for us today. The problem is not that people do not care, it is that we have forgotten with whom responsibility for the work of caring for the needy among us lies first of all.
In connection to this, I also wrote an essay this week, published at Ethika Politika, exploring some of the habits we can cultivate that create a different culture than the one we have now, where the vast majority view all state spending is indispensable, in many cases even as insufficient. In my essay, “An Ascetic Antidote for Intergenerational Injustice,” I briefly examine the three “monastic virtues” of virginity, poverty, and obedience and their practical potential for reversing the present trend of spending the next generations’ resources today. I write,
If we can cultivate these three virtues in our hearts and communities, there will be less need among us for impersonal and unsustainable government assistance, no matter whether or not any further official cuts are passed in Congress. In living the evangelical way of life, we naturally work toward correcting the intergenerational injustice that plagues the present day.
The basic idea is quite simple: if we live intentional lives of service to one another now, we will preserve more to give to those who come after us, and discipline or asceticism is the means by which we cultivate such lives of service.
But what does this look like? It may mean being content with a few less of life’s modern luxuries, perhaps downsizing from a Mercedes to a Taurus, from three flat-screen TVs to one or none — or, you know, trading in your archiepiscopal palace for an apartment or turning down a chauffeur in favor of the bus — there is a lot we can all do to have more to give to others. In this way, the burden does not fall so heavily upon government but instead is spread around. Thus, while the way may not be as easy as just letting Uncle Sam take care of it, “the burden is light,” not only on each of us but on future generations.
We need to learn, I contend, to share such burdens among ourselves again today by cultivating a new culture of asceticism or discipline, not only for the common good, but for the good of our own souls as well. Indeed, it is when we “bear one another’s burdens,” writes St. Paul, that we “fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).