Sunday, December 8, 2013

Goodness Is Something Else: Advent 2013, Day Seven

In the December issue of Magnificat magazine, between Friday, December 6th evening prayer and Saturday, December 7th morning prayer, Heather King writes about Madeleine Delbêl (1904-1964), who has been called by some "a French Dorothy Day." In seeking to learn more about Delbêl, I found one of her books (We, the Ordinary People of the Streets) available electronically. The book begins with three prefaces and an introduction. In the first preface (to the English edition, by David L. Schindler, Dean Emeritus of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC), I found these two paragraphs:
"We have come to realize what dry bread justice is when it is not preceded by or completed with goodness. When public funds are distributed on the occasion of an accident, when they come to provide assistance with the burdens of having children, when they accompany old age, these subsidies, pensions, grants, and benefits correspond to a kind justice ... but they do not in any way substitute for goodness. In such cases, it is not James or John himself who, in his misfortune or well being, finds help; instead, it is a condition or situation that is helped. General measures regulate collective categories. I resist criticizing the justice that society is able to achieve; criticism serves better to provoke progress in what remains to be achieved. What I am trying to say is that goodness is something else, it achieves something else. For a person to encounter the goodness of Christ in another person is in particular to encounter that person for what he really is." (Madeleine Delbêl)
"This 'who we are,' which has been so manhandled by the world, possesses a value that is absolutely independent of wealth, power, smarts, influence, strength, and success. The goodness of Christ works with us; even more, it hopes for something from us, from each one of us. The goodness of Christ is above all something else: an encounter which affirms for us that we exist, which makes us present to ourselves, which walks alongside us in a common life." (David L. Schindler)
These lines brought to my mind a much more recent article by American journalist Chris Hedges that I read earlier today at the suggestion of a friend. Hedges too decries the depersonalization of the individual human being, even in a society that claims to value the individual but instead mistakes "personal style and personal advancement ... for individualism." A society like this creates, on the one hand, in Hedges' words, an abundance of "superfluous human beings" ("Those who lose deserve to be erased. Those who fail, those who are deemed ugly, ignorant or poor, should be belittled and mocked. Human beings are used and discarded like Styrofoam boxes that held junk food") and on the other hand, categories of human beings who require society to provide them with justice rather than individual persons who need other individuals to be good to them.

Christ came to us as an individual human being, and during His life on Earth He approached us as individual human beings. He didn't wave his hand over the crowds and heal all the sick among them. Instead, He healed individual persons as they came to him, and still does. So, when He commands us (in John 15:12) to love one another as He has loved us, isn't this what He means?


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