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From Hermas to Haughey in Hope

(Article published in the Apr 11, 2007 issue of Manila Standard Today)    

Hermas’ The Shepherd, written in the early Christian times, ends, as I pointed last week in my Holy Wednesday column, with the expectation that the Shepherd, as promised by the angel, will return. 

What is a believer supposed to do in the meantime?  For a response, we fast forward nearly two thousand years, this Easter Wednesday, to John C. Haughey’s The Holy Use of Money, with the subtitle, Personal Finance in the Light of Christian Faith, revised edition published by The Crossroad Publishing Company in 1992 and distributed in the Philippines by Claretian Communications. 

John C. Haughey is a part-time faculty member of the School of Law of Loyola University Chicago and is a professor of the university’s Theology Department.  He was a member of The Vatican's Council on Christian Unity's dialogue with World Pentecostalism from 1985 to 1998; in 1999, that same Council appointed him to the dialogue with the World Evangelical Fellowship. Yes, he is a Jesuit.

In The Holy Use of Money, he tries to spell out “in detail what is required in order for people of faith to exercise their powers so that they are substantially affecting the assets over which they have some disposition.”  Although primarily addressed to Americans and their economy, his work nevertheless contains valuable insights for every Christian anywhere in this day and age.

The Holy Use of Money begins by the naming the current societal problem as the “Mammon Illness”. It is a malaise characterized by three symptoms, to wit, (1) mindless drive for accumulation, (2) leading to insensitivity and lack of compassion, and (3) eventual split of personality, seeking to simultaneously serve two irreconcilable masters. Money, drowing out the voice of faith, currently talks and talks solo and definitively.

The remedy, Fr. Haughey, S.J., submits, is a functioning faith, one that is permitted to “baptize” money and put it in the service of man and cease to be man’s master. Faith, to be able to cure the Mammon illness, however, must be allowed, by Christians, to perform on the economy and its parts, its three functions of “sublation”, “inclusion”, and “obedient hearing”.

“Sublation of the economy” is Haughey’s version of Vatican II’s concept of renewal of the temporal order to make it conform to the intention of Christ of appropriating the whole universe into a new creation, initially here on earth, fully on the last day. In a jesuit product’s simple terms, it means to treat the money economy as mere means to achieve what man was made for, i.e. ultimate, union with his God.  That macro objective, Haughey admits, is a tall order.

It needs the complementation, at the micro level of individuals, of “inclusion”.  “Inclusion” is the denial to the worldy economy of any validity to its self-serving and erroneous interpretation of Jesus’s response “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  It is a denial of the supposed separate existence of two realms and, instead, is an affirmation, at the level of every individual, that what is his is God’s and God’s people’s, a notion akin to, if not identical with, current ideas of stewardship.  But in addition to the ideal of a safekeeping steward, which is often seen as passive, Haughey adds the active note of a self-directing deputy.

Again, in a Jesuit product’s simple terms, “inclusion” is attaching one’s use of money to the intention of Christ, as a branch is attached to the vine.

But because modern man is like a marathoner running on shifting ground towards a moving finish line, a third function of faith must be made operative along the route, namely, “obedient hearing”.  It is important to continually check one’s bearings, adjust to changing conditions, and constantly keep watch of the distance to the end of the race.  The abiding stance, according to Haughey’s rendition in today’s corporate lingo, is expressed thus: “Once [by sublation and inclusion] I make my business, his business, he becomes its chief executive officer and I look to him [by obedient hearing] for how we will go about conducting what is now our business.”

The systematization of the techniques of obedential hearing is, of course, one of, if not the greatest, contribution of the Society of Jesus to the subject of spirituality.  Through a spectrum of methods, ranging from the rigorous Spiritual Exercises consisting of 30 days being solo cum Deo, to the daily maintenance check-ups called Conscience Examen,  the Jesuit or Jesuit influenced soul seeks to determine what the will of God is for him at that specific hic et nunc.

The greater part of The Holy Use of Money fills in the promised details of the requisite sublation, inclusion and obedient hearing needed to effect Faith’s transforming power. Along the way, Haughey makes focused treatment of several issues of current interest, like “Is Tithing a Holy Use of Money.” In “Extending the Tent Poles,” he harmonizes the separate tugs on the Christian of his need to be free, his membership in Christ (hence, “subservience” and impairment of that freedom), and the urgent demands of widespread deprivation all over the world today. He deals with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s twentieth century understanding of obediential hearing in “Disciples and Today’s Economy” and comes to grips on how hope acts, or can be made to act, as the inner motive power in transforming the economy in “Hope and Economic Activity.”

Nothing but serious reading and reflection on the ideas contained in these chapters can do justice to Haughey’s thesis which culminates in raising up models for the person and the people. An ideal of the needed radical transformation, in the view of Haughey, of the modern  Christian individual is the apostle Paul and of the modern Christian communities the body of hearers shortly after the Pentecost.

The old Saul, as the accounts tell it, was no stranger to privilege and perquisites: by blood he was a Hebrew from the house of Benjamin; he was circumcised according to the Law; he was a Pharisee beyond reproach in observing the Torah.  He thus had a support system similar in stature to that of the present well-to-do.

After Damascus, however, the new Paul is to, renounce all that and say, “I have counted all else rubbish so that Christ may be my wealth.” The Christ who is Paul’s wealth, from the context of his letters, particularly to the Philippians, is the Risen Christ who was present in spirit in the post-Pentecost communities.

Luke, in his Acts of the Apostles, described how those communities went about their business. They “shared their food gladly and generously…None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from the sale of them to the apostles; it was then distributed to any who might be in need…”

Undoubtedly, even just approximating the models indicated by Haughey is very difficult.  In fact, the modern man’s query, steeped as he is in risk analysis, is why go through all the trouble if there is no assurance that the difficult can be achieved?  For a response, rewind to Hermas.

In the Fourth Similitude, Hermas is shown many trees, some budding, others withered.  Explains the Shepherd, “Those which are budding are the righteous who are to live in the world to come; for the coming world is summer of the righteous, but the winter of sinners. When, therefore, the mercy of the Lord shines forth, then…all men shall be made manifest…Do you therefore bear fruit, that in that summer your fruit may be known. Refrain from much business, and you will never sin: for they who are occupied with much business commit also many sins, being distracted about their affairs, and not serving the Lord…They who serve Him shall obtain their requests, but they who serve Him not shall receive nothing…If, therefore, you do these things, you shall be able to bear fruit for the life to come.  And every one who will do these things shall bear fruit.”

Victory is assured.  At the Twelfth and the final Commandment, the Shepherd tells Hermas: “Go, then, garlanded with the crown you have gained for victory over it, to the desire of righteousness, and delivering up to it the prize which you have received, serve it as it wishes.  If you serve good desire, and be subject to it, you will gain mastery over evil desire, and make it subject to you even as you wish.” With victory of the individual person certain, could victory of the collective people be far behind?

Happy Easter to all.