It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards "having" rather than "being", and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself. - John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, Paragraph 36.
This quote came to my mind today when our Bishop gave his homily at Mass this morning. I will first say this, his homily was probably the best homily I have ever heard and I mean that in every way. It was engaging, it had something for everyone, it spoke about the central vocation for us all, which is to holiness and to live a life of love. The most important thing, however, was that he did not stop there, but engaged us and challenged us as to how it is we are to love God, and that is something that is very important for us to hear. Oh yes, and he was also "eschatologically oriented", that is, he said that we come to know the important things in life when we meditate on our own death.
This above quote from Centesimus Annus is something that he touched on. While I was at the Tertio Millennio Seminar, I had to give a 10 minute presentation on a paragraph that I found topical and engaging and I chose paragraph 36, specifically focusing on the above quote.
It is this quote that is essential for the modern culture because it speaks to a deeply a reality that has spread itself rapidly in Western culture, that is, we are defined by what we have, not who we are.
How many people define themselves by the car they drive, the amount of money they have in the bank, how many houses they own or, in my case, how many books they have. We all have that one thing we enjoy in life that we define ourselves by. It is not to say that we can't enjoy books and cars and houses and the material things in life. But they must have a purpose. They must not be the end of things, but must be a means. The material things in the world are supposed to be a means, to help us attain Heaven. That is the point and purpose of "things".
What defines ourselves is being, that is, living in the moment according to God's will for us. We be, we exist, we experience everything all out of our love of God. Our dignity is based in who we are, not what we own. How many times people try to define themselves based on how others think about them, how they do in school, and so forth. This is not how we are made to be important, we are not made to be loved based on what we have. Rather, we are to be loved simply because we are an individual. God does not love us because of our grades, because of our money, and so forth. God loves us because we are us. It is the fact that God loves us that we want to live the call to excellence. From there, when we experience God's love, we are challenged by that experience to live the life of love as God does. We are challenged to live that more excellent way, to become excellent for the glory of God.
We do not define ourselves by what we have, we define ourselves by who we are, a human individual, loved by God's infinite love.
John Paul II, ora pro nobis.