time and treasure

I've been spending some time thinking about last Friday's quote from Margaret Anna. In case you missed it, I'll repeat her words of wisdom here:
Even those who do not altogether deny Christianity are living far from it. What is the meaning of this ardent desire for wealth? What is the meaning of this mad craving for pleasure? What is the meaning of this reckless waste of precious time? What is the meaning of this gross neglect of the poor; of servants, of dependents? What is the meaning of this selfish expenditure of money on personal comfort, even on personal luxry; while Lazarus is dying at the gate?
-Women's Work in Modern Society, 1874

What would she think ... I wonder ... if she stumbled into today's world? What is the meaning of how we waste our time. What is the meaning of our preoccupation with things rather than people? Perceptive questions in her day, even more so I think today.

I was interested to read an article in Parade magazine last week, that little magazine that always falls out of the Sunday paper: "How the Economic Crisis Changed Us." Here are some of the interesting (to me) numbers:

  • 79% of respondents have been impacted by the economic downturn
  • 80% have been "forced to do more with less"
  • 68% have found "creating a more meaningful life" and "giving back" important
  • 83% are reconsidering what they actually need
  • 30% are volunteering
  • 58% are spending more time reading for pleasure
  • 46% are reconnecting with friends
  • 35% are rediscovering community or religious groups
And then, this paragraph:
Over the last decade, observers have sounded the alarm that the definition of the American Dream has become distorted and equated with consumerism and homeownership at any cost. Now, more people seem to be turning back to the Dream’s original meaning—67% of respondents strongly believe that it’s about the opportunity to achieve through education and hard work, and 60% say that it’s the liberty to do what we want. While many believe the Dream has been somewhat broken by the crisis, 68% say it’s still within their reach—and their children’s, too—and 89% are proud to be Americans. No matter what challenges lie ahead, 89% feel we can overcome them “as long as we come together to support one another.”

Are we adjusting our vision of the "American Dream" from, as Margaret Anna would call it "the ardent desire for wealth" to it's "original meaning" of achieving through education and hard work? Or the liberty to do what we want? I would hope that maybe we're learning more about the power of relationship. The joy to be found in family and friends, in participating in our community and making the world a better place.

Margaret Anna's words do not only help me to critique society. They are also a challenge to me. To be honest, I personally haven't been that impacted by the economic crisis. I had already shifted to a simpler lifestyle and tight budgets--at least compared to my single girl life. Our community has lost money in our investments like everyone else, and in our last budget process we were asked to tighten our belts where we could. So I am living a little more frugally. But still, I don't have to worry about a roof over my head or food on the table or health insurance. I've written before about the luxury of the vow of poverty, of living in community and sharing our financial lot.

But I am still part of the culture, our society which is so focused on things and pleasure and provides oodles of time wasting opportunities (like the computer on which I am presently typing this blog post). As I begin my second year of vowed life, how do I spend (or waste) my time? How much of my energy is focused on personal pleasure or comfort?

Those are my thoughts this Wednesday evening. What do her words make you think about?


Ave said...

A little context would help me understand the quote. Is she scolding her sisters or commenting on our society? Isn't it the Christian's job to minister to those who have poverty of spirit as well as those who suffer physical poverty?

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...


The quote is from her 1874 book, Women's Work in Modern Society, which is a socio-political analysis of her time. She was writing both from the context of the Irish Potato famine, in which the poor she knew and helped through the convent were literally starving, and from her own family background as anglo/irish aristocracy. England & Ireland were Christian nations, and yet people were starving.

Obviously, our time and context is different today. And I agree that it is our job to minister both to those who are economically poor and to those who are spiritually/emotionally poor.

The complete text of her book is available online through google books: http://books.google.com/books?id=fxl_d-V0M9gC&dq=women%27s+work+in+modern+society&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=x2ILOnX6pZ&sig=DwzNBImTmFBMce6dupDryVjgJlw&hl=en&ei=Bbz0Sou6HomCMe3fmOgF&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CA4Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=&f=false