I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 30: 19-20a)
It has always been the case that freedom is associated with choices. Technological advances in the past two to three decades have provided choices far greater than what we can imagine.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz claims that too many choices lead to paralysis, i.e., we find it more difficult to choose, and even if we overcome the paralysis and choose, we also end up less satisfied as we are “haunted” by the thought of the choices foregone. Regret kicks in and lowers the satisfaction experience.
Schwartz cites this is one of the reasons that, in industrialized countries, depression and suicide are on the rise. The regret leads to blaming oneself for the wrong choice and the complications of “what-ifs.”
He says material affluence leads to more choices and reaches a point of diminishing returns. He ends by proposing what economists call the “Pareto Principle” move, and pushes for a redistribution of material resources—to make life better for the impoverished population of the world, and fill the affluent with happiness.
Back to basics
It’s about going back to basics. This Sunday’s Gospel gives us the same points to reflect on and lessons to pick up.
From the clutter of “Who do people say that I am,” Christ points us back to the core question, “But you, who do you say that I am?”
When Peter correctly answers, “You are the Christ,” Christ tells the disciples the price he has to pay to save humanity, to fulfill his mission. Peter contests this, which earns him a sharp rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does…”
Then Christ applies this cost of discipleship to all Christians: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
This takes on a new meaning in an era of material affluence and connectivity. Clearly, the unbelievable amount of wealth created has further widened and deepened the divide between the rich and the poor.
Despite increasing connectivity, there is an increasing experience of isolation as evidenced by the increase in the rate of depression and suicide. Two years ago, Pope Francis warned of the lack of serious conversation with others that gives rise to fascism.
We have reached the point of diminishing returns amid affluence. It is good to go back to the core, to the basics.
The self-denial asked of us, the taking up of our cross daily, is to live a life that is counter-cultural. Such a life makes us present a counterpoint to the prevailing culture of affluence and endless possibilities technology presents.
We are confronted again by a crucial choice between “life and death, the blessing and the curse.” We must call attention to the basics in order to put into context the progress we have made the past two to three decades.
The central mystery of our Christian faith is the greatest of paradoxes that “in dying we are born to eternal life… For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
It is the paradox of the Cross and Resurrection that led us and will always lead us back to the central mystery and reality of our faith and life. It is in a self-giving love, one that is unto death, where we discover and obtain the fullness of life for ourselves and others. —CONTRIBUTED