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Guest Post: What it means to lose in order to save

November 30, 2012

We are pleased to present this guest post by Aaron Matthew Weldon. This is the second part of a series of posts by Aaron. Part was entitled Losing to Preserve.

In my last post, I began to reflect on how the disestablished Church engages the world, suggesting that Pope Benedict XVI offers a way forward that might be characterized as losing our life to save it. What might it mean to lose in order to save? I will continue to take the Bishop of Rome as my primary guide. I lose my life, in a certain sense, when I give my life to another, just as, for example, I have given my life over to my spouse. I belong, to some extent, to another. If we call ourselves Christians, then we belong to Christ, who is the Truth. We are servants of the truth. So, I would want to begin thinking about his question by proposing that the people of God would do well to consider that we are called to live in a posture of submissiveness to the truth. The Christian surrenders to the truth and seeks to perform the truth in all that she does. Perhaps more significantly, Christian communities and ministries, insofar as they are Christian, measure the effectiveness of their actions by the conformity of those actions to the truth.

There are other ways of thinking about our engagement with “the world.” We can assume the posture of the technocrat. In this posture, one seeks, in the first place, to impose one’s will over other people or to manipulate a situation for one’s own benefit. While it can certainly be a great good to develop powerful techniques and to calculate how to advance our agenda, the technocrat may be willing to manipulate the truth in order to obtain short-term results. We could assume this posture before the world. For example, we could follow the advice of a political expert who suggests that the use scare tactics would likely win support for one of our campaigns. In other words, the Church could attempt to seize control of her destiny. But would such an action show evidence of a love for the truth? Or, would it contribute to the degraded speech that pollutes public life in the United States today?

One of my teachers, Christopher Ruddy, refers to Ratzinger’s “logic of indirection.” This logic seems to be of a piece with the notion of losing life to preserve it, and it is clearly at work in a recent talk by Alasdair MacIntyre. He claims that, because political speech as become so degraded, Catholics might best engage politics by renewing a culture that attends to poetry rather than by engaging in politics itself. In other words, rather than seek immediate results in the political arena, we might set before ourselves the task of recovering those practices which make for political practice that is ordered toward the good. Indeed, teaching my son poetry may not make his voice more forceful on today’s public square. Hopefully, however, it will make it more likely that his voice will be serve the truth, rather than merely echo the nihilism that we are forced to endure today.

We have this faith in truth, because we believe that our Lord is the Truth. Hence, it makes no sense to say that we need to depart from the way of our Lord and his Church in order to find our place in the world. Our life comes from our intimacy with the Word. We find our life as Church to the extent that we lose it. Just like Mary, just like Jesus, when we let go of our attempts to control the outcome of history, we find ourselves at the very source of life. By departing from faithfulness to Jesus for the sake of a short-term gain, we are, in effect, claiming that Jesus is not the way, the truth, and the life. It seems to me that our faith demands that, sometimes, we must refuse the temptation to attempt to bend history to our will. If we believe in the resurrection, we must believe that truth ultimately prevails.

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5 Comments
  1. November 30, 2012 3:46 pm

    I really enjoyed this post. I think that –at least in America—a kind of short-term performance paradigm rules the day. But as you so brilliantly illuminated in your post, we take the short term path at the real risk of living more deeply. The best things in life are not necessarily efficient, and I do think the only way to achieve any real peace is to let go of the will to consume and control that seems to absolute dominate our contemporary lives (and loves?)

    I just finished Joan Chittister book about the liturgical calendar. In the chapter on Advent (highly recommended) she said this below. It really struck me and I wanted to share it with you

    “Advent relieves us of our commitment to the frenetic in a fast-paced world. It slows us down. It makes us think. It makes us look beyond today to the “great tomorrow” of life. Without Advent, moved only by the race to nowhere that exhausts the world around us, we could be so frantic with trying to consume and control this life that we fail to develop within ourselves a taste for the spirit that does not die and will not slip through our fingers like melted snow.” Love and Peace

  2. November 30, 2012 9:31 pm

    Well said, Aaron. I suspect your next post might address this, but what this look like (ecclesially) in practice? Is the foundation of pontifical council dedicated to the New Evangelization evidence of an attempt to control or organize the mode or methods of evangelization according to our own (well intentioned) designs or perceptions? Or might it be a way helping us stay on the Way and in the Truth ? How do you we distinguish? How do we make sure stay close to Christ while at the same time leaving room for the Spirit?

    • Aaron permalink*
      December 4, 2012 12:47 pm

      Yes, Josh, I do plan to consider how “losing to save” might look in the next post. I will say here that when I wrote this post, I thought a bit about a couple that I recently met, who lives and works on a Catholic Worker farm in Iowa. They talked about the need to begin doing now the practices that we want to see become more prevalent in the future. They may get involved in some political activism here and there, but they also exhibited a willingness to allow themselves to be changed, even when the world around them refuses to turn from violence. They, along with three other families that live on the farm, read the gospel and meditate on it silently each day. Some of the community members work at other jobs to help pay for basic needs, and the others devote themselves to the farm work, growing most of their own food. Will they effect visible change in the world? I’m not sure. But I suspect people like them can expand our imaginations and point toward different ways of living, and in that regard, perhaps they do end up effecting real change.

  3. Patrick F permalink
    December 3, 2012 11:44 am

    Thank you for this excellent post. As Ph.D. student in economics, I also feel that the “logic of indirection” is appropriate for economic science, in addition to politics. A healthy economy, like a healthy polity, is built upon the daily decisions of people to use their time productively and not just in a consumptive fashion. One might say that an appreciation for poetry would lead to an economics that is better-grounded in the arts of thrift, skill and caring. As the economist E.F. Schumacher reminds us, all the capital in the world is no substitute for care in the quality of one’s work.

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