How often we have all said: “Life is not fair. Good guys do not always win. I got a raw deal. I deserve more.” We can find such complaints even in the Bible. When we read the Psalms we see that the just man often laments because the wicked are flourishing while he languishes. In our experience we realize how God-fearing people do not have the easiest of lives. Jesus Himself was innocent and yet He was treated most unjustly. He never complained but we do.
Over the last few decades we have cultivated such a worship of our egos that we have become totally self-absorbed and feel entitled. We are convinced that the universe owes us a lot. One of the most enlightening books I have read in the last couple of years has been Generation Me by Jean M. Twenge. She analyzes data from many research studies and from popular media as she demonstrates how our self-absorption has serious negative consequences for society and for individuals.
Ms Twenge takes issue with Neil Howe and William Strauss who claim in their book, Millennials Rising, that those born after 1982 can be compared to the World War II generation. Tom Brokaw called the latter the “Greatest Generation” for their sense of duty and selflessness. Ms Twenge writes:
… I see no evidence that today’s young people feel much attachment to duty or to group cohesion. Instead, as you’ll see in the following pages, young people have been consistently taught to put their own needs first and to focus on feeling good about themselves. This is not an attitude conducive to following social rules or favoring the group’s needs over the individual’s. When the United States entered the war in Iraq, new enlistments in the military went down, not up; this generation is no more inclined than Boomers were to get killed in a foreign war. Even the subtitle [in Howe and Strauss’ book] The Next Great Generation displays the hubris fed to the young by their adoring elders. When the World War II generation was growing up during the 1920s, no one was calling them the Greatest Generation and telling them they were the best kids ever. That label was not even applied to them until 2001, more than fifty years after their accomplishments during the 1940s.
The result of such self-absorption and sense of entitlement is what happened in New Jersey a couple of weeks ago. A young woman sued her own parents and asked the courts to force them to pay for her expenses. Earlier she had moved out of the house because she was unwilling to live by her parents’ rules. She felt that it was her right to demand their support. Thankfully a wise judge dismissed the case.
We usually say that the gospel is counter-cultural. It goes against the grain. It challenges the human spirit to fight its natural, sinful impulses. The heart of the Good News asks us to forget our self-interest and lay down our life for others. The Gospel of John outlines the ideal description of a Christian: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That is exactly what Jesus did.
Someone may say that such a lofty ideal is beyond the reach of us, poor mortals. There is a saint who followed Jesus’ example fully. Every year on his feast he calls on us to follow in his steps. I am speaking of St Joseph, the quiet man of the gospel, who prefers to remain in the background. He did his duty. He made his sacrifices but did not expect any reward or recognition. If he had lived in our time, he would have been a faithful member of the Greatest Generation. He put his hope in the world to come because he knew that the sufferings we bear in this world are nothing compared to the eternal reward that awaits us.
The next time we feel life is not fair, let us think of Joseph. No one got the shorter end of the stick than the foster-father of the Son of God.
Happy feast of St Joseph! Go to Joseph in all your needs and troubles.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...