I love them that love me: and they that in the morning early watch for me, shall find me. … He that shall find me, shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord. (Prv:8:17,35)
“O lord, for I am thy servant; I am thy servant and the son of thy handmaid.” (Ps:116:16)
To reign such is the ambition of great souls, the stimulus of bold enterprises. But there are two ways of reigning. The first is that of tyrants, who govern with the sword and prevail by violence and wrong. Such a reign is of short duration and the memory of the tyrant is speedily buried in oblivion: “There memory hath perished with a noise.” (Ps:9:6) Others, on the contrary, choose charity for their scepter and humility for their throne. Such a scepter cannot be shattered, and a throne thus founded is never cast down; these are the throne and scepter of Jesus Christ, King of kings, Lord of lords, and Prince over the princes of the earth: “Christ reigns, Christ conquers, Christ commands.” The kingdom of Jesus Christ, founded under the shadow of the cross, strengthened by fierce persecutions, is forever extending: it knows neither ruin nor decay: “Thy kingdom is a kingdom of all ages.” (Ps:145:13)
Now, what is the basis of a kingdom so permanent, of a throne so unshaken? Strange to say, it is none other than the condition of a servant, freely chosen by Jesus Christ: “He took the form of a servant.” (Phil:2:7) Indeed, all that may be procured by ambition and pride is frail and perishable: on the other hand, self-abasement leads to an eternal kingdom, for it is written that “humility goeth before glory.” (Prv:15:33)
Mary reigns with her Son Jesus Christ, and her kingdom, like unto His, is a kingdom of imperishable glory, because hers is a throne of clemency, mercy and pardon: “Hail, holy Queen Mother of Mercy.” And what is the secret of this glorious royalty? None other, but the humble condition of a servant of the Lord: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Lk:1:38)
No sooner had the Blessed Virgin uttered these words, than she commenced her reign, for in that moment she became the Mother of our King: “And the Word was made flesh.” Mary’s sway over the world never diminishes: it ever goes on extending, until it embraces the entire universe.
Happy the servants of the Mother of God! Under the protection of a Queen so kind and powerful, they are not lacking in the necessaries of life; and as for the goods of the soul, they have them over and above, for “all her domestics are clothed with double garments.” (Prv:31:21)
A Christian who is covetous of true and lasting regal splendor, should imitate Mary and faithfully serve the Lord, for He will exalt him to the incomparable dignity of priest and king, according to the words of St. Peter: “You are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people: that you may declare His virtues, who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1Pt:2:9) But, in order worthily to serve the Lord, we must also learn how to serve Mary: in serving so great a Queen we shall naturally be led to serve God, wherein our greatest dignity consists. To serve Mary is therefore to reign: Servire Maria regnare est.
The reign of one who serves Mary is no tyranny, no reign of oppression and cruelty: it is rather a reign of charity and mercy, directed to alleviating the woes of those who are in affliction. It is a reign of peace, which repays injury by benefit: a reign of humility, which subjects the passions to the yoke of Christ: a splendid and glorious reign, worthy of the ambition of magnanimous minds, the foreshadowing of that eternal kingdom of bliss which is held out to us in heaven.
Oh, if only men knew what a happiness it is to serve Mary, they would contentedly lay aside their wish of ambition and earthly grandeur, and would consecrate themselves, with all the ardor of their souls, to the service of so glorious a Queen.
“Flower Of Paradise”
Considerations On The Litany of The Blessed Virgin Enriched with Examples of the Saints
Very Rev. ALEXIS M.LEPICIER, O.S.M.
Thine, O Lord, is magnificence, and power, and glory, and victory: and to thee is praise: for all that is in heaven, and in earth, is thine: thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art above all princes.
Thine are riches, and thine is glory, thou hast dominion over all, in thy hand is power and might: in thy hand greatness, and the empire of all things.
Now therefore our God we give thanks to thee, and we praise thy glorious name. 1 Chr:29: 11-13
Mary made it constantly the business of her life to labour for the end for which God had created her. In her parents’ house, in that of Nazareth, in Bethlehem, in Egypt, upon Calvary, always humble, recollected, modest, pious, she had but one view: the glory and love of her divine Son. Child of Mary, walk in the footsteps of your Mother; appreciate as she did according to their just value, all the perfidious joys and the false enjoyments of the world; seek and desire one thing only: to love God, and to serve Him faithfully all your days.
May Your Immaculate Heart, 0 Mary, be praised, blessed, honored, loved, and imitated, throughout the whole world.
THE CHILD’S MONTH OF MARY
BY AN UNWORTHY CHILD OF MARY.
IMAGO SACRA MILLE GRATIARUM VALET (A holy picture is worth a thousand graces)
Sacramentals are religious objects that the Church gives us to increase our devotion. The two most common sacramentals are the Sign of the Cross and holy water, but the rosary, scapulars, holy cards, and statues are sacramentals, too. Through them, we keep our thoughts on God, thus obtaining grace. Baltimore Catechism No. 2 -Lesson Twenty-Seventh
The humble Virgin of Nazareth, Mary, being the nearest and most intimately united to God, is, of all His creatures, the most holy. A closer union with God never existed, nor could there be a more perfect one than that which resulted from the divine maternity.
Notwithstanding Mary’s intimate relationship with God, her divine motherhood, it would have availed her but little had she not carried Jesus Christ in her heart, even more than in her chaste womb. She shunned the world, abhorred sin, and lived only for Jesus. All her days were passed in the practice of virtue. With greater reason than Saint Paul could she exclaim: “And I live, now, not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Gall. 11—20).
She was holy in her eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet; she was godly in her thoughts, desires, words, heart, and in all the powers of her soul; she was saintly in all her movements, all her actions; in a word, she was holy in both body and soul.
Jesus was, by nature, impeccable, Mary having been preserved by a special dispensation of divine grace from the blight of the original defilement, was exempt from any actual stain, even from the least imperfection. Jesus dwelt in Mary’s immaculate womb for nine months, was nourished at her breasts in infancy, and spent thirty of the thirty-three years of his life under her roof. Mary took part in His labors and shared in His joys and ignominies.
From the blessed moment of her conception, super eminent beauty graced her pure soul. In her tender infancy she consecrated herself to God, Whom she loved with an affection beyond that of all creatures capable of serving Him. She had no thought, no desire, save that of honoring Him. She performed no duty, she undertook no task but what tended to His greater glory. Her mind was in perfect harmony with His mind; her heart pulsated only in union with that of her Creator; her soul was filled with joyous rapture in her ecstasy of devotion to Him. Never for one moment in her life did she displease Him in thought, word or deed.
She knew not evil; no shadow of sin ever obscured her life, no stain of any kind ever darkened her soul. She not only lived, but died for love of God, for it was her excessive love to be dissolved and be with Him that caused her soul to wing its flight to his bosom, and the sweet embrace of her divine Son, Jesus.
Like Him, she was tried; nevertheless, her sorrows drew her closer to God, to whom she had recourse for help and consolation. In the spirit of her divine Son, Jesus, who exclaimed, “Not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark XIV— 36), did she humbly submit to God’s holy will in these words: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Thy word” (Luke 1—38).
Though she understood not the words spoken to her by the holy man Simeon, concerning her divine Son, her love for, and her confidence in her Maker was such, that, albeit, at almost every step in life, her heart was transfixed with a sword of sorrow, her mind and heart were at all times one with that of God. “Be it done unto me according to Thy word,” came forth every moment from her pure and holy soul.
She was humble, like the meek and humble Jesus, and the Lord “hath regarded the humility of His handmaid” (Luke I—48). Her devotion for Jesus was like that of St. Peter; her charity, like that of St. John; her obedience, like that of Abraham; her patience, like that of Isaac; her resignation, like that of Jacob; her immaculateness excelled the chastity of all the Angels and Saints; her constancy was like that of Josue; her goodness, like that of Samuel; her tenderness, like that of David, and her abstinence, like that of Daniel.
Responding faithfully to every requirement of a perfect life, of exalted sanctity, she is indeed that Holy Mary of whom it is said in the inspired volume: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women” (Luke I—28).
The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary: As Set Forth in Her Litany
By Cornelius Joseph O’Connell (1914)
…Then he saith to his disciples, The harvest indeed is great, but the labourers are few.
Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest.
There are four sets of Ember Days each calendar year; three days each – Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Ember Days fall at the start of a new season and they are ordered as days of fast and abstinence. The significance of the days of the week are that Wednesday was the day Christ was betrayed, Friday was the day He was crucified, and Saturday was the day He was entombed.
The Four Occurrences of Ember Days are as follows:
Winter: the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of St. Lucy.
Spring: the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Ash Wednesday.
Summer: the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Pentecost.
Fall: the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
They are called in the Liturgy, Quatuor Tempora (four times), because they occur four times a year. The origin of the English word “ember” used in this connection, is not quite clear. It may come from the Anglo-Saxon word “ymbren” meaning a circuit, used possibly to designate the circuit of the seasons, or it may be a corruption of the Latin words, or as some try to prove, it may have sprung from the ancient custom of eating nothing on these days until night and then only a small cake which was baked under the embers. This cake was called ember bread.
These days were instituted for the purpose of beginning the different seasons with prayer and penance, of asking God to preserve the fruits of the earth and thanking him for their abundance. Coming about the beginning or end of the seasons of the year they suggest an appropriate opportunity for praise and thanks to the Author of every best gift. We are indebted to divine providence for everything we possess. God has so created the world and framed natural laws that the earth brings forth fruit in richness, and affords a plentiful harvest for our wants and necessities. We must not be so presumptive as to think that the seed sprouts forth and the grain ripens at our bidding. True, we must co-operate with the designs of God. We must cultivate the soil and sow the seed and reap the harvest, but God gives the increase. St. Paul says: “Neither he that planteth is anything, nor he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. The custom, therefore, of giving thanks to God for the abundance of the things that nature produces is a most salutary one.
The Ember days were also instituted in connection with the ordination of priests and other ministers, which generally takes place during them, though they may be ordained at other times. The idea is that the whole Church is in prayer while Holy Orders are being conferred upon the priests and other ministers of God.
They are days of fast and abstinence, and prayer and thanksgiving. We should endeavor to enter into the spirit and carry out the purpose for which they were instituted. We should certainly fast and abstain. It would, moreover, be greatly in harmony with the spirit of the time to say the Litany of the Saints or some other appropriate prayers in thanksgiving to the divine bounty. As the whole Church is praying for those who are being ordained on these days, so we should also pray for them. We can go to Mass or receive Communion or say the Litanies for them.
Catholic Belief and Practice
James E. McGavick
“Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.” –Saint Augustine
A new analysis of the American Freshman Survey, which has accumulated data for the past 47 years from 9 million young adults, reveals that college students are more likely than ever to call themselves gifted and driven to succeed, even though their test scores and time spent studying are decreasing.
Psychologist Jean Twenge, the lead author of the analysis, is also the author of a study showing that the tendency toward narcissism in students is up 30 percent in the last thirty-odd years.
These data are not unexpected. I have been writing a great deal over the past few years about the toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities—the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories.
On Facebook, young people can fool themselves into thinking they have hundreds or thousands of “friends.” They can delete unflattering comments. They can block anyone who disagrees with them or pokes holes in their inflated self-esteem. They can choose to show the world only flattering, sexy or funny photographs of themselves (dozens of albums full, by the way), “speak” in pithy short posts and publicly connect to movie stars and professional athletes and musicians they “like.”
Using Twitter, young people can pretend they are worth “following,” as though they have real-life fans, when all that is really happening is the mutual fanning of false love and false fame.
Using computer games, our sons and daughters can pretend they are Olympians, Formula 1 drivers, rock stars or sharpshooters. And while they can turn off their Wii and Xbox machines and remember they are really in dens and playrooms on side streets and in triple deckers around America, that is after their hearts have raced and heads have swelled with false pride for “being” something they are not.
On MTV and other networks, young people can see lives just like theirs portrayed on reality TV shows fueled by such incredible self-involvement and self-love that any of the “real-life” characters should really be in psychotherapy to have any chance at anything like a normal life.
These are the psychological drugs of the 21st Century.
As if to keep up with the unreality of media and technology, in a dizzying paroxysm of self-aggrandizing hype, town sports leagues across the country hand out ribbons and trophies to losing teams, schools inflate grades, energy drinks in giant, colorful cans take over the soft drink market, and psychiatrists hand out Adderall like candy.
All the while, these adolescents are watching a Congress that can’t control its manic, euphoric, narcissistic spending, a president that can’t see his way through to applauding genuine and extraordinary achievements in business, a society that blames mass killings on guns, not the psychotic people who wield them, and—here no surprise—a stock market that keeps rising and falling like a roller coaster as bubbles inflate and then, inevitably, burst.
That’s really the unavoidable end, by the way. False pride can never be sustained. The bubble of narcissism is always at risk of bursting. That’s why young people are higher on drugs than ever, drunker than ever, smoking more, tattooed more, pierced more and having more and more and more sex, earlier and raising babies before they can do it well, because it makes them feel special, for a while. They’re doing anything to distract themselves from the fact that they feel empty inside and unworthy.
Distractions, however, are temporary, and the truth is eternal. Watch for an epidemic of depression and suicides, not to mention homicides, as the real self-loathing and hatred of others that lies beneath all this narcissism rises to the surface. We had better get a plan together to combat this greatest epidemic as it takes shape. Because it will dwarf the toll of any epidemic we have ever known. And it will be the hardest to defeat. Because, by the time we see the scope and destructiveness of this enemy clearly, we will also realize, as the saying goes, that it is us.
And my people, upon whom my name is called, being converted, shall make supplication to me, and seek out my face, and do penance for their most wicked ways: then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins and will heal their land. 2Chr:7:14
“After I got in the boat, which was the last one to leave, and we were slowly going further away from the ship, I could hear distinctly the voice of the priest (Byles) and the responses to his prayers. Then they became fainter and fainter, until I could only hear the strains of ‘Nearer My God, to Thee’ and the screams of the people left behind.” – Ellen Mary Mockler
Amidst all the tales of chivalry from the Titanic disaster there is one that’s not often told.
It is that of Fr. Thomas Byles, the Catholic priest who gave up two spots on a lifeboat in favor of offering spiritual aid to the other victims as they all went down with the “unsinkable” vessel.
A 42-year-old English convert, Fr. Byles was on his way to New York to offer the wedding Mass for his brother William. Reports suggest that he was reciting his breviary on the upper deck when the Titanic struck the iceberg in the twilight hours of Sunday, April 14th, 1912.
According to witnesses, as the ship went down the priest helped women and children get into the lifeboats, then heard confessions, gave absolution, and led passengers in reciting the Rosary.
Agnes McCoy, one of the survivors, says that as the great ship sank, Fr. Byles “stood on the deck with Catholics, Protestants and Jews kneeling around him.”
“Father Byles was saying the rosary and praying for the repose of the souls of those about to perish,” she told the New York Telegram on April 22, 1912, according to the website devoted to his memory, FatherByles.com.
In the words of the priest’s friend Fr. Patrick McKenna, “He twice refused the offer of a place in a boat, saying his duty was to stay on the ship while one soul wanted his ministrations.”
Father Thomas Roussel Davids Byles was lost in the sinking of the Titanic, and his body, if recovered, was never identified.
Nearly two weeks after the disaster, The Church Progress in St. Louis, Missouri wrote this moving tribute to the heroic priest:
In almost every line that has been written, and in every sentence that has been spoken, there stands boldly out above every other expression a picture of sublime heroism that will be copied into the pages of history. And well it may, for it is deserving of that honor.
But when it is, mention should be made of one whom pens and tongues have almost forgotten in their accounts of this awful sea tragedy. Among those who safely reached the land again no one seems to have been aware of his presence on the ship, but we may hope that many who meet him in a blissful eternity will praise God that Father Thomas Byles was there to administer absolution unto them.
I have never understood the aversion to the crucifix. The West has thrown it aside to its own detriment. But by this sign we can again conquer and overcome our grave inadequacies that have led us down a path of self destruction.
Why is it that so many have difficulty looking upon the Cross of Christ and His suffering? Many argue that Jesus is risen therefore why dwell on His suffering?
However, “It is true and even repetitive to say that the Cross is the crux of the matter.” G.K. Chesterton. The lessons of the Cross are absolutely critical to living a truly christian life. The cross teaches us not only how to live but how to live with meaning and purpose. A christian is not truly a christian if they do not take up their cross.
Unfortunately, the purpose and meaning of suffering is lost on the West. Ayn Rand, the darling of modern atheistic thought rejected the Christian notion of suffering and said: “It’s not that I don’t suffer, it’s that I know the unimportance of suffering, I know that pain is to be fought and thrown aside, not to be accepted as part of one’s soul…”
The West fights against and throws aside suffering and even those that suffer. This “Schiavo-esque” view rejects all suffering as utterly detestible. We simply don’t want to watch the poor soul suffer, so we relieve them of their misery and their life and call it “death with dignity”. This explains our embrace of euthanasia, physician assisted suicide, stem cell research, our “termination” of babies and those that are not perfect. The irony is that our culture attempts to avoid suffering at all costs but in doing so has become the “culture of death”.
Fr. Pablo Straub says the Devil’s one commandment is “Thou Shalt Not Suffer”. Our culture has certainly bought this diabolical line. The prevailing culture tells us to gratify our every desire and not to suffer for any reason. It tells parents not to have another child–it’s too expensive and difficult; it tells us to indulge our every sexual whim and to embrace sterile sex; it tells women that foregoing a career and staying home to raise children is dull, unfulfilling, and irrelevant; it tells pregnant women that carrying a child for nine months will ruin their life.
Christians need to reject the lies of our culture and reclaim the power of Christ’s Cross and our own crosses. “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Cor 12:10)
We can co-operate with God in a profound way by enduring our troubles through the power of His grace. God will strengthen us and, in turn, our cross can become a most powerful prayer. St. Paul enunciated the idea of the redemptive suffering. “I find joy in the sufferings I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church” (Col. 1:24).
The Church does not and never has glorified suffering for its own sake; however it does glorify God by the loving acceptance of suffering when His will entails it. “One ounce of patient suffering is worth far more than a pound of action.” J. P. Camus.
The Angel of Fatima told the three children to “Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High . . . Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners . . . Above all, accept and bear with submission the sufferings which the Lord will send you.”
It frightens one to think what humanity loses when it ceases to carry the cross and suffer in a manner that glorifies Christ and indeed becomes prayer. Our small acts of sacrifice united to Christ’s Cross can achieve the conversion of entire peoples and nations. When we understand suffering and that bearing our cross has unimaginable power, life takes on a profound meaning and purpose. We will cease to become the culture of death and will truly dignify life and death.
“He who knoweth how to suffer will enjoy much peace. Such a one is a conquerer of himself and lord of the world, a friend of Christ and an heir of heaven. Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ.
In Washington, D.C., across from St. Matthew’s Cathedral (the site of President John F. Kennedy’s funeral Mass), a monument stands to the women religious who ministered to wounded and dying soldiers, North and South, during the American Civil War. Unveiled on September 20, 1924, the inscription reads:
They comforted the dying, nursed the wounded, carried hope to the imprisoned, gave in his name a drink of water to the thirsty –
To the memory and in honor of the various orders of Sisters who gave their services as nurses on battlefields and in hospitals during the Civil War.
Between 1861 and 1865, approximately 640 women from twenty-one different religious communities volunteered their nursing services. Mary Livermore, a future women’s rights leader who worked with the U.S. Sanitary Commission, said:
I am neither a Catholic, nor an advocate of the monastic institutions of that church . . . But I can never forget my experience during the War of the Rebellion . . . Never did I meet these Catholic sisters in hospitals, on transports, or hospital steamers, without observing their devotion, faithfulness, and unobtrusiveness. They gave themselves no airs of superiority or holiness, shirked no duty, sought no easy place, bred no mischiefs. Sick and wounded men watched for their entrance into the wards at morning, and looked a regretful farewell when they departed at night.
This was quite a change. Before the Civil War, nuns often didn’t wear habits in public or when traveling, because of anti-Catholic hostility. In Indiana, children threw rocks at them. In New England, anti-Catholic mobs threatened to burn down their convents (and sometimes actually did). And in New York, a man walked up to a Sister in habit, called her a “damned papist bitch,” and slapped her face.
But when the war came, they were desperately needed. In general, nursing wasn’t considered a respectable profession for women. Nor were there many hospitals; most people were cared for at home. The exceptions here were the Sisters, who operated twenty-eight hospitals nationwide as of 1861. While other churches had women nurses, including the Lutherans and Episcopalians, Catholic nuns constituted the single largest pool of experienced nurses in America on the eve of the Civil War.
Altogether on both sides, over 4,000 women served as nurses; more served as nurses’ assistants, cooks, and laundresses. What did the nurses do? They cleaned wounds and bandaged them, helped doctors in surgery, and cleaned the wound. It wasn’t easy work, and the turnover rate was high. All in all, it was hard, ugly work.
The turnover rate may have been less for the Sisters. For centuries, historian George Stewart writes, nursing was a “religious ministry rather than a profession.” One Sister, asked how she gathered strength to do her work, said: “I thought of the cruel wound in the side of our dear Lord, and my strength was restored.” And they asked little remuneration beyond necessities.
They were there on the war’s bloodiest battlefields. At Shiloh, where some 25,000 fell, Sister Anthony O’ Connell, a Cincinnati-based Sister of Charity, said she was unable to bear the terrific stench from the bodies on the battlefield. This was bad enough, but what we endured on the field of battle while gathering up the wounded is beyond description . . . Day often dawned on us only to renew the work of the preceding day without a moment’s rest.
One soldier said of Sister Anthony:
Amid this sea of blood she performed the most revolting duties for these poor soldiers. She seemed like a ministering angel, and many a young soldier owes his life to her care and charity. Happy was the soldier who, wounded and bleeding, had her near him to whisper words of consolation and courage. She was reverenced by Blue and Gray, Protestant and Catholic alike; and we conferred on her the title of the ‘Florence Nightingale of America.’ Her name became a household word in every section of the North and South.
When surgeons wanted to amputate a soldier’s limb, she would say: “Wait and let me see what I can do for him.” And she often saved it. In 1897, she was buried with a full military honor guard.
In some quarters, however, particularly among Protestant nurses, prejudice still lingered. One woman, describing the Sisters’ habit, said: “What looking objects to wait upon our sick and dying boys!” Dorothea Dix, the Superintendent of U.S. Army nurses, was said to be particularly hostile to Catholics. Part of the reason for this hostility may have been just plain jealousy.
The Sisters evangelized by their example. In many places, they were the first nuns, let alone Catholics, that some soldiers had ever seen. A Confederate Chaplain recalled one incident where they unwittingly won over non-Catholics. One soldier, raised on anti-Catholicism, didn’t realize the Sisters were Catholic:
“Sister, is it true that you belong to the Catholic Church?”
“Yes, sir, it’s true. And that’s the source of the greatest happiness I have in this life.”
“Well, I declare. I’d never have suspected it. I’ve heard so many things . . . I thought Catholics were the worst people on earth.”
“I hope you don’t think so now.”
“Well, Sister . . . I’ll tell you. If you say you’re a Catholic, I’ll certainly have a better opinion of Catholics from now on.”
Having recently celebrated Memorial Day, it’s important to remember the women as well as the men who have sacrificed for their country. Through their healing ministry, the Catholic Sisters helped dissolve prejudice, preached by quiet example, and helped make nursing a respectable profession for women from all walks of life. Theirs is an inspiring story that deserves to be remembered and cherished by all Americans.
There has been much discussion about the contribution of unethical behavior to our present economic circumstances. Whether it was borrowers’ lying on mortgage-applications or Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s politically-driven lending policies, there seems to be some consciousness that non-economic factors played a role in facilitating what we already call the Great Recession.
Unfortunately evidence is emerging that some people have learned nothing. A recent report, for example, commissioned by the Wall Street Journal illustrates that “losses from mortgage fraud—ranging from falsified credit reports to identity theft—rose 17% last year after declining 57% in the two years after its 2006 peak.”
Of course wider adherence to ethical norms against lying and stealing won’t solve every economic problem. There are heavy technical dimensions to many economic dilemmas which require technical solutions. Nor does every policy-error constitute a moral failure.
Nevertheless those making economic decisions are human beings, and our virtues and vices do shape our purchasing, selling and policy choices. Many such virtues could be highlighted, but one needing extra-attention today is humility.
The word “humility” derives from the Latin humilitas. This in turn comes from humus which means earth or soil, but is also related to homō, meaning man. For the Greeks and Romans, the word underscored the idea that humans are not God or gods. Likewise for the Jews and early Christians, humility was about remembering that humans are fallible creatures who come from and return to the earth: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Some first millennium Christian writers, such as St. John Chrysostom, even described humility as the mother of the virtues, as it prevented vanity from corrupting every other virtue.
So how might a renewed embrace of humility help us to rethink our approach to contemporary economic life?
In the case of consumers, a good dose of humility might well encourage some acceptance that the meaning of life is not simple and is certainly not to be found in how many material things we possess, as important as wealth can be in helping us to live dignified lives. To this extent, greater humility might temper the “I-want-it-all-right-now” mentality that helped generate such high household-debt levels in America and Europe.
Likewise, businesses could benefit from a renewed appreciation of humility. The financial wizard the late Sir John Templeton once wrote that humility was crucial if business was to maintain the open-mindedness that is essential to successful entrepreneurship rather than rest upon their past glories. To this we might add the insight of another prominent entrepreneur, François Michelin, that humility helps business leaders in a market economy remember that the customers are the real masters. More humble business-leaders would also be less-inclined to succumb to the “Masters-of-the-Universe” hubris that helped destroy any number of banks in 2008.
Speaking of hubris, humility also has a role to play in encouraging mainstream economists to accept economics’ limits as a science and acknowledge that not everything about markets can be explained by mathematical models that were supposed to fail only once in a million years. As George Mason University professor of economics Russ Roberts has wisely observed, while “facts and evidence still matter”, economists “should face the evidence that we are no better today at predicting tomorrow than we were yesterday.”
But perhaps those who could do with the biggest bout of humility during recessions are politicians and governments. If the Great Recession has taught us anything, it is that governments should admit many economic problems are beyond their control, and that any claim by politicians to be able to “manage” trillion-dollar economies is arrogant nonsense.
Instead politicians should be modest enough to concede that (1) the seemingly disorderly process of market exchange resolves many challenges that governments cannot; and (2) government overreach invariably causes new problems. Here they would do well to read Adam Smith’s famous warning concerning the “man of system” who “is apt to be very wise in his own conceit, and is so often enamored with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it.”
The fear of the Lord, the Bible says, is the beginning of wisdom. Contrary to received opinion, this verse has nothing to do with frightening people into religious belief. Instead it reminds each of us that we are not the center of the universe and that the sooner we grasp this, the wiser our choices will be. All of us—consumers, business-leaders, and politicians—need to be sufficiently humble to reassess our actions in a time of recession, acknowledge our errors, and then live out the necessary correctives.
To this extent, the virtue of humility may well be a key to understanding our pre-recessionary past and a way of illuminating our path to a better and more economically-prosperous future.