A recent article in the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed section (“Free Markets and the Meaning of Life”) states that “believing life has meaning helps individuals thrive,” and that “people who view their decisions as existentially weighty cope better with stress and tragedy.”
Tell that to St. Peter. In Sunday’s gospel reading (Mt 16:21-27), after Jesus tells his disciples of his decision to go to Jerusalem and offer up his life so that humanity may live, Peter can’t understand what possible meaning we could derive from his master’s stress and tragedy.
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
Jesus sees Peter as trying to deprive him of his life’s meaning.
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
So true. That may explain why Wall Street’s principles of free markets work more on a personal basis than a global one. On the whole, markets and the governments under which they function can’t tolerate risk or danger. Yet if individuals lived their lives in such fear as Peter wanted Jesus to live, we wouldn’t have police, soldiers, doctors, nurses, fire fighters, or anyone who risks their life for a higher purpose. Heck, we wouldn’t marry or have families either because of the inevitable heartbreak that will come when a loved one dies.
The WSJ article continues, “Humanity is an existential species. People want more than safe or comfortable lives; they want their struggles to matter.”
That requires sacrifice, as Jesus explains to Peter:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
The prophet Jeremiah was an early believer in slavery to the free market of God’s kingdom. He couldn’t keep himself from proclaiming it, although he sometimes struggled to do so, as Sunday’s first reading shows (Jer 20:7-9).
“I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”
The people who wrote that WSJ Op-Ed are faculty members at North Dakota State University, and their study of free markets was undertaken by a new institute at their school: The Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth. The purpose of their research into the value of free markets was to dig deeper into humanity’s source of “existential agency,” which they describe as “the extent to which people believe they are capable of finding and maintaining meaning in life.”
As Paul told the Romans (Sunday’s second reading, Rom 12:1-2), that extent is All The Way!
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
For governments and their economies, that kind of freedom is inaccessible. For individuals, risking the comforts of living is the only route to the peace of a free life.