This week, as I have been reading comments on the government shut-down, I keep running across remarks like “Now we’ll see how ‘essential’ those workers really are! Maybe we can make the government even smaller!” Obviously, whether a certain group of workers is essential depends on what one thinks the government ought to do. For those who love nature and favor preservation of the environment, the EPA and National Park Service are crucial services; others may seem them simply as an impediment to the freedom of businesses or as a luxury we do not need. Similarly, those who think the government’s primary responsibility is national defense are going to see military personnel as essential, whereas those who think education is at the forefront of our mutual responsibilities are going to see those workers as more essential to our nation’s health.
The thing is, not everyone is going to see the same things as being essential to our national well-being, and that is as it should be. When we come together in a group — any group, be it a nation, a church, a family, or a hobbyists’ society — each of us brings a perspective that enlightens the others. It is crucial (and essential), however, to remember that our own perspective is not the only one that is valid.
The ancients had a word for it: commonwealth. It traced its roots back to common weal, what was good for the group as a whole. Not for any one group or faction, but for all of us together.
It comes down, finally, to humility — another virtue central to the Christian life. To be humble is to be grounded, grounded in the reality of who we are and who God is. It’s not a fashionable virtue, although Pope Francis may make it so. But it is a necessary one if we are to live with other people. Humility is the joy in others that is integral to love. When Christ commands us to love one another, he is demanding that we step back from the incessant demands of our ego and give one another space to thrive.
In a well-ordered garden, the plants work in harmony, nestled against one another in ways that give each enough sunlight to grow. In a garden that has gone untended, that balance is lost; certain plants have become overgrown, and others perish and die.
Look at the two pictures below. Which best represents the community you’d like to live in? Which best represents your soul? How can you get there? What would you need to water? What would you need to prune? Whom would you need to allow the space to live?