I live in Michigan which is, at this writing, the state suffering with the highest unemployment rates in the nation. We are surrounded by visual reminders of our condition: foreclosed homes everywhere, empty office buildings lining the streets and expressways, and a general atmosphere of despair in the air.
Most of us don’t have any idea how or when this will end. Sometimes we even wonder if it will end.
Each day brings more bad reports. I stopped watching local news long ago.
No one in our beautiful state has been exempt from the economic tragedy that has become our daily existence. Either we have personally experienced the loss of a job or a home or we know someone who has—that’s mighty frightening when you really think about it. Make no mistake about it; this sort of existence really tests your faith.
With the political mid-term election season upon us, there’s no shortage of blame to go around. But blame doesn’t pay bills or put food on the table; it just shifts our focus from our own fears and miseries and gives them a new place to rest.
However, in the midst of this state-wide turmoil there is hope.
Someone recently told me that I represent the “entrepreneurial” spirit that is “America.” I think this is because I keep plugging along in my efforts at Bezalel Books. I continue to write columns such as this one and doing my best to let people know, through the World Wide Web, of my little company which is trying to make inroads into Catholic classrooms, parishes and homes with books that uplift and educate. Today I’m packing books to send off to the Massachusetts School Library Association for the October exhibit. Tomorrow I’ll be writing another column. And so it goes…
Nonetheless, it would be an understatement to say that I was quite taken aback by this assessment of what I am doing—and maybe more than taken aback, I was a bit touched; although maybe the person who said this to me was “touched” as well! However I know that this was said to me in a spirit of generosity so no matter how uncomfortable I felt about those words of praise, I shared my appreciation.
But these words got me to thinking about my vacuum purchase last year. I thought about our Catholic faith and how we are all called to be responsible citizens of our country. Then I considered the people who are willing to put themselves “out there” in the spirit of entrepreneurial-ship; I realized that they are really only one side of the coin.
Consumers, buyers, dollars are the other side of the coin. And millions of those consumers, buyers and buyers are Catholics like you and I who, while striving towards eternity, have an earthly responsibility.
And that takes me back to my vacuum purchase.
You see there is this man who runs a small vacuum shop at a local shopping strip. He sells vacuums and services vacuums. It turns out he’s a pretty nice guy and very knowledgeable about vacuums.
When I needed a vacuum I thought of this little shop, located right next door to the health food store where I purchase my vitamins and gluten-free bread. Obviously this vacuum store had what I needed and I felt in my spirit that I owed him my time to at least consider his products. After all, if people like me didn’t consider purchasing what he offered, he would not survive. I felt an obligation to honor his entrepreneurial efforts by at least visiting his shop. As a Catholic I felt responsible to see the bigger picture.
The plain fact is, however, that I would have saved more than a few dollars if I purchased my needed vacuum at the local mega-store. And in my own financial situation, every dollar counts so this is a very real consideration in deciding what I ought to do.
But sometimes there is so much more to a decision than meets the eye; in this particular case my spirit kept nagging at me because I know first-hand what it is like to be “the little guy” trying to make a go of things in a world of “giants.”
In that mega-store, I could have walked to the vacuums, picked one up in the aisle which was right across from the fresh vegetables, and could have gone to the register area where I would have a choice of dealing with a real-life person. Or, I could have opted to simply check-out myself thus avoiding all human contact from start to finish.
Or, I could purchase my needed vacuum from this guy who has this little shop. I could establish a relationship with this middle-aged man who would be available to service the vacuum should it ever be needed and I could contribute to his entrepreneurial efforts.
Or I could save some money…
Back and forth I went.
These are the sorts of dilemmas we all face each day as we struggle to make ends meet and “do the right thing.” In no small way, these decisions really make a difference nowadays. But in considering my choices I fully realized that life truly is “integrated.” We can’t separate who we are as consumers and citizens from who we are as Catholics. In fact, maybe more than ever those two need to be married in such a way that our actions and our call to be people of hope and faith will make the sort of difference that our country needs right now.
Ultimately, for me the answer became quite clear. I knew I had to make my vacuum purchase from this guy who ran the vacuum shop. And I’m glad I did; it was very much the right thing to do.
I am convinced that there is a moral component to all our financial decisions right now. We have to care about the greater good unlike any other time in our nation’s history. We have to be a people of hope and change. We have to contemplate long-term results of every dollar we spend. We have to be selfless. We have to become knowledgeable, caring, Catholic consumers. If we, as Americans, are going to recover, and certainly if we as Michiganders are going to get back on our feet, we have to honor those who have the spirit upon which our great country was founded. We have to become more aware than ever before of how we are called to be Catholic citizens.
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