Our first reading is a letter from St. Paul to the community of believers in Colassae. It was a community begun by a compatriot of Paul’s, a man named Epaphras who visited Paul in prison to give him a report on the community. He reports to Paul that the community is under a lot of pressure from the secular/philosophical/religious world that surrounds them. And so Paul writes to the community: “See to it that no one captivates you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to the tradition of men, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ.” (Col 2:8)
If you do a query in and around this verse, it is an amazing array of “seductive” philosophies against which a particular preacher/minister warns his or her congregation. The funny thing… or maybe sad thing… is that there is not really an agreed upon set of words to describe the philosophy against which we are being warned.
Communism. Ok, we can agree on that philosophy as a political system implemented in Russia and China. Whatever their Marxian intentions at the start it is fair to say it operated out of the tradition of men, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ. In the course of their political control, they have murdered unimaginable numbers of their own people. You have to wonder what that does to an overall sense of the value of the human person. Not surprisingly, these two countries have the highest rate of abortions in the world.
Communism is perhaps a little easier for us to focus on. But what about free-market Capitalism. For those who track such things, tomorrow’s start of the Elizabeth Holmes trial (Theranos start-up scandal) is an odd coincidence for a nation that swims deeply in the waters of that philosophy so we are probably not good judges. Yet others look at us and marvel at our accomplishments, long for our freedoms, yet are puzzled why there is such a disparity between super wealthy, wealthy, upper middle class, middle class, lower income, and poor.
This Labor Day Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, released a statement observing that there are both encouraging signs of economic recovery and ongoing hardships related to COVID-19. (The full statement may be found here.) Archbishop Coakley echoes Pope Francis’ call from the encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, to rise out of this crisis with an economy that expresses universal fraternity. He writes, “It is our task not only to reflect on the present ills of our economy, but also to build consensus around human dignity and the common good, the bedrocks of Catholic social teaching, and to answer the Pope’s call to propose new and creative economic responses to human need, both locally and globally.”
Comments on the internet have already labeled the statement as “Socialism.” The word seems to be hurled about as an epithet of anti-americanism and well-on-the-road to communism. Socialism comes from the Latin sociare, which means to combine or to share. Rather reminds one of Act 4:32 – “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” But then again, no one agrees on one definition of the word “socialism.”
All that being said, what is the philosophy out of which you operate? What are the top five principles by which you conduct your daily life? Are they according to the tradition of men? Are they according to Christ?
If you are interested in a quick introduction to the whole of the Letter to the Colossians, you can find it here.