Mexicans have always warned that Taco Bell is a dodgy substitute for south-of-the-border cuisine. New Jersey residents finally agree. When I scan today’s mix of nauseating news, it’s easy to feel empathy for the 36 Tex-Mex customers who have tested positive for E.Coli and find themselves in varying stages of intestinal upheaval.
With so much bad news, there is plenty of reason to feel woozy.
Abroad, Iraq continues to provide grisly reports of sectarian brutality, Fiji is suffering its fourth coup in less than two decades, the number of victims of the typhoon in the Philippines has swelled above 1,000, and the usual mouthpieces of radical Islam babble on.
At home, politicking is vying to replace politics once and for all. This week is full of examples. A senatorial filibuster is forcing the resignation of America’s ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, without any debate of his tenure or assurances of a better candidate. Leaks from the soon-to-be-released Iraq Study Group suggest less-than-compelling solutions to the chaos in the Middle East. I’m already bracing myself to watch a few politicians eagerly cheer as novel and forward-thinking some of the same proposals they once rejected as passé and untenable, primarily because they come from a different source.
It is easy to get discouraged because bad news gets lots of play. On a personal level, I have experienced how swimming daily in this disproportion threatens to discolor a realistic vision of life — with all of its beauty — and dampen one’s desire to make it better.
From trial and error, I have stumbled across an ancient anecdote for news watchers who fall prey to the kind of bleak navel gazing I’ve described above: Do something today to make life better for someone else, and do it with no invested interest of your own. Then do it again, and again, and again...not just for those who return the favor, but even for those who don’t.
I am well aware that this radical idea of living for others contradicts much of what we have imbibed from pop psychology. The invitation to, “look out for number one!” permeates our post-modern culture. It is the self-defense mechanism par excellence. At best, it protects us from further harm.
But self-defense is a sorry substitute for charity.
The virtue of charity — not to be confused with donating money — is the habit of loving someone else so much that we are willing to sacrifice our own comfort for their good.
Mutual charity is a relationship, a family, or a country where each member concerns himself primarily with the well-being of the other (according to the degree of the relationship).
Does that sound like utopia — something reachable only if we pierce the outer layer of this imperfect world?
Perhaps in degree, but not in essence!
I’ve got a hunch — just a hunch — that heaven will be much like the very best of life on Earth, with a few essential additives (Christians believe heaven is eternal union with God.)
But as “otherworldly” as theologians (whoops, that’s what I am) might make heaven sound, I can’t imagine a celestial existence without the beauty of selfless human relationships. I outright reject the idea that human excellence can ever include dropping — or leapfrogging — our social nature.
So the good news is that even with so much bad news, abroad and at home, we can still be a part of the riveting adventure of self-giving-charity of making the world a better place for someone else. Now that is changing the news!
It also happens to be, in my opinion, the best way to experience heaven on Earth.
And your opinion?
God bless, Father Jonathan