I’ve got a large box of powdered milk, beans, flour, noodles, coconut milk, peanut butter and a many other food supplies stuffed in my closet. Our family bought a fair share of back-up supplies in preparation for this pandemic, in part fueled by the mass anxiety that can so infect our consciousness. I was at Costco on a regular grocery run and a man beside me was throwing twenty-five pound bags of rice into his cart. One after other they stacked up ten…twelve…fifteen. I watched for a minute and then grabbed one, just to be on the safe side. Moments later, waiting in line to checkout a middle-aged woman beside me said, “You’re going to have quite a party!” We talked for a few minutes and then she said, “I just don’t know what how we’re going to make it through this.” I noticed how little she had in her cart, just the necessities, maybe all her family could afford. At that moment I was filled with a deep sense of shame. Jesus instructed us, “Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well.” (Lk 12:29-31)
Many of us are now well stocked enough for any large scale disaster and from the reports on ammunition stockpiling a good many more are fully equipped for the Zombie Apocalypse. We are ready to defend the kingdom of this world to the death. Some really do it in style, the so-called “preppers,” largely big tech billionaires, have outfitted whole bunkers and old missile silos for whatever apocalyptic scenario is foretold. I can’t help but wonder how many of these folks have ever read Poe’s The Mask of the Red Death. There is no cure for our mortality. Even if we can divine future collapse and strife, are our lives and energies best spent on extreme self-interest? We should be careful lest we be remembered as the “hoarder generation.” The generation that stored up treasure on earth and abandoned our souls to decay.
St. Paul was no stranger to suffering yet he instructs his dear friend Timothy, “Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future.” (1 Tim 6:17-19) The wisdom of suffering is universal…the Gospel never shies away from this fact. Instead it teaches us that when things go bad we should not rely on the impermanent stuff of this world. Forget the shiny objects the spirit says, turn to the light that never fails. God is gratuitous, the Father of all who shares out all his wealth abundantly. As beings made in his image our responsibility is to emulate this most noble of qualities.
Rather than laboring to prepare a personal storehouse what would it mean to prepare our souls to rest in God? Our Lord said, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Mt 6:21) Pseudo-Chrysostum comments, “He who places his treasure on earth has nothing to look for in Heaven.” Is this to say that there is some meritocratic system of exchange with God? If I offer enough prayers, light enough candles, do some acts of penance and give a few bucks to the poor them great rewards will come in some distant paradise. Absolutely not. Rather, the work God does within us builds up peace and the will to do good for one another. We will learn to live in imitation of Christ as caretakers of each others welfare. This is the attuning of our hearts to the way of mercy, becoming true humanitarians by seeing the divine light in all persons. “Following Christ is not an outward imitation,” St. John Paul II writes in Veritas Splendor, “Since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross. Christ dwells by faith in the heart of the believer, and thus the disciple is conformed to the Lord. This is the effect of grace, of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in us.” Christ calls us to participation with him, he stands at the gates of this vast complex, our edifice of self-concern, which we have arrayed with so much care and attention. He implores us that this anxious struggle to protect and shelter ourselves ends up being the greatest obstacle to our freedom.