Houses Built on Sand
December 2008By Pieter Vree
Pieter Vree is Editor of New Oxford Review.
Tom Bethell, in his apposite article "The Spiritual Hazards of Wealth" (NOR, April 2005), asked, "Can God compete with the stock market for the rich man's attention?" It's that old tension between God and mammon. And man can serve only one master.
The Nicene Creed succinctly yet poetically sums up our Catholic faith. At the outset we profess fealty to God the Father Almighty who created all things "visible and invisible" (cf. Col. 1:16). In recent days, the folly of those who have placed their faith in Adam Smith's "invisible hand" that allegedly drives the market has been laid bare. Predatory lenders, dazzled by the prospect of easy short-term money, sold outrageous mortgage packages to unqualified buyers. These risky loans were pooled into mortgage-backed securities, and voilà, an international banking crisis erupted once the mortgagees inevitably defaulted. The "invisible hand" failed. Our housing market was built on sand.
If we are wise, this economic crisis will remind us that all we gather on this earth eventually slips out of our grasp. Wealth and security are transient. Families are facing foreclosure, unemployment rates are on the rise, retirement accounts are being ravaged -- the reverberations are being felt in virtually all sectors of the economy. One wonders: Is the worst yet to come?
If we are wise, now is when we will heed the instruction of our Lord: "Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust and moth consume and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also" (Mt. 6:19-21).
While the concept of an "invisible hand" can be considered the philosophical basis of the market economy, Pope Benedict XVI remarked on its practical aspects at the opening of the general congregation of the Synod of Bishops (Oct. 6): "Those who build on sand do so only on visible and tangible things: on success, career and money. These seem to be true reality, but one day they will pass away. We see this now with the fall of the great banks. Money disappears, it becomes nothing. And thus all these things which seem to be real and upon which we can rely, are in fact of secondary importance. All human things, all things we can invent and create are finite . Only God is infinite and, through him, his Word too is universal and knows no end. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality."
This is where we must put our faith -- not in mammon, markets, banks, or bailouts -- but in the almighty, infinite God who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from Heaven and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary.
This will be for many of us a lean Christmas; perhaps the presents under the tree won't be piled as high as in years past. But our joy at the birth of our Savior should be greater than ever. This is the upside of economic downturns: We are free to focus, not on material gifts and purchases, but on the ultimate Gift, which God has freely given us: "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people: For this day is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk. 2:10-11). It is He who purchased for us our redemption by His blood on the cross. He is our purpose and our goal. True wealth, true security is found in Him. The economy of salvation never fails.
Yet the man-made economic crisis has impacted the publishing industry as well. Readership of books and periodicals is down across the board. An even greater contributor to this downward trend is that the desire among the general public to read, to stimulate the mind, has largely been displaced by the dazzling lights of various electronic technology. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the publishing industry is in its steepest decline since its inception.
Catholic publishers have not been immune to losses; in fact, financial downturns hit our corner of the publishing world harder than others. Even more worrisome than financial troubles, the zeal for a devout faith engaged by the faculty of reason appears to be a dying impulse among Catholics. The NOR too has been suffering as a result of these twin phenomena: New subscriptions have slowed to a trickle, renewal rates are down, donations are down. Complicating matters, postage and printing costs are up, insurance premiums are up, and our modest financial reserves are drying up as we have been forced to repeatedly draw on our savings in order to meet our operating costs. In short, we're in serious financial straits.
So again we must go begging. We have set a modest fundraising goal of $50,000 to help mitigate the losses we're suffering. We implore our readers to remember the NOR this Christmas, so that we may continue to call all men to conversion in Christ and to turn away from the "cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches" that "choketh up" the word of the Lord (Mt. 13:22).
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We thank you for considering our needs. Your sacrifice on behalf of the NOR will enable us to persist in proclaiming the Light of the World during these dark days.