I’ve been wanting some decent outdoor furniture for a while. A couple of gardens I’ve been developing in my yard have become quite decorative and nearby trees offer shade to enjoy the comings and goings of butterflies and birds, but our haphazard collection of el cheapo plastic chairs has pretty much bit the dust. So I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled this summer for deals — still waiting for the last closeouts of the season — and I’ve given instructions to one of my friends who routinely explores the garage sale scene to notify me of any outdoor furniture she spots.
The other day, I finally lucked out when a couple on my block started clearing out for a move to a condo. Among the items they were getting rid of was a sturdy set of outdoor furniture the man had made. In need of little tightening up and painting, but looking for all the world like it could serve our family for a number of years. The deal was struck and my grandchildren — three who live with me and their three cousins — were dispatched to fetch it over to our yard.
Once the furniture was under the tree, the kids decided that an alfresco lunch was in order. I decided to enjoy mine in the A/C, in rare and blessed quiet, and had just settled myself down to eat peacefully in the living room recliner, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a man-child, quivering of lip and tearful of eye. He had come into the house to fetch himself a glass of juice and in ruthless application of “move your feet; lose your seat” had been displaced from his chosen perch by an older child. Moments later the air was filled with the sound of recriminations, counter-charges, and name-calling. So much for my peaceful lunch — what had I been thinking? I should have remembered the Bushmen in The Gods Must be Crazy, and anticipated that this new thing would cause contention. It seems that my brood is a bunch of little sinners — imagine that.
My judgment — barring a pox on all the heads of my ungrateful descendents — was that NO ONE was going to sit on any of the furniture. “An hour ago this stuff wasn’t even here and you were getting along just fine without it, so you can keep right on getting along without it since you don’t seem to be able to share.”
It’s a simple formula every parent can understand — the good things we bless our children with, we expect them to share. To refuse to share them demonstrates ingratitude. That is why the Catechism says:
In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits. The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.
The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.
… The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.
Goods of production — material or immaterial — such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor. (CCC 2402-2405, italics mine)
But we haven’t been listening. Those who by superior power or sophistication make the rules of the global economic system have too often ignored the common good. So along comes the Holy Father to say that this manipulation of the rules to benefit a few must stop.
Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.
… Economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility…
The great challenge before us, accentuated by the problems of development in this global era and made even more urgent by the economic and financial crisis, is to demonstrate, in thinking and behavior, not only that traditional principles of social ethics like transparency, honesty and responsibility cannot be ignored or attenuated, but also that in commercial relationships the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and must find their place within normal economic activity. This is a human demand at the present time, but it is also demanded by economic logic. It is a demand both of charity and of truth. (Caritas in Veritate, 36)
To put it simply, God is telling us, His kids, “You’d better learn to share.”