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Love versus lust.

Graduation day is traditionally associated with bright hopes and smiling faces. In these difficult economic times, however, one is hesitant to mar this festive occasion by asking a graduate the now politically incorrect question, "Do you have a job?" Nonetheless, throwing caution to the wind, I ventured to ask a former student of mine who graduated with honors recently about his employment prospects. To my great pleasure, my delicate question provoked a happy response. "I have a wonderful position lined up," he told me, almost rapturously. "The hours are good, my boss is cordial and understanding, and the work is utterly fascinating." "Well, that's great news," I said. "I am very happy for you, but I know how hard you have worked; you have truly earned this plum."

"There's one hitch," he said, his eyes now downcast as if he were studying something that had fallen to his feet. "I get paid in counterfeit money." I could not believe what I had just heard. Surely my student was joking, but his serious demeanour contradicted that most plausible hypothesis. He went on to explain that he had no intention of trying to spend the bogus money. He was only too aware of what has already happened to others at his workplace who were now serving time for trying to pass counterfeit bills. He would be more prudent that they were.

There was no doubt the young man was not joking. I gathered my wits and inquired, "Can't you find a job that pays you with real money? Why are you willing to settle for a job that not only pays you nothing, but tempts you to break the law?" "Well," he said, now clearly embarrassed by my probing inquiry, "you have to be realistic in today's world. If I pass up this job, I may not get another one. I have to take what I can get when I can get it."

I was stupefied. Is this how a college education had prepared my student--to become so impatient and bereft of either hope or good judgment that he would accept a job that gave him nothing in return but a calculated insult? It was at that moment that my alarm clock went off, summoning me back to conscious reality.

But upon reflection, I began to think that the present situation for many of today's young people is actually worse. The real "daymare" is actually more bleak than my fanciful nightmare.

The current "daymare"

It is one thing to work at a job and be paid in counterfeit money. Apart from the injustice and plain insanity of the situation, it is still possible to derive satisfaction from doing a job well, especially if it pays genuine spiritual dividends. But it is quite another, on a broader level than employment, to live one's life and experience not love, but its counterfeit form of lust.

G.K. Chesterton once said that the man who is knocking on the door of a brothel is really looking for God. Chesterton's misguided character, of course, is not aware of the object of his search. Consequently, he is equally in the dark about the nature of his counterfeit dividends. He is searching for God and settling for lust. His quest is noble, but his payment is fake. Moreover, his counterfeit currency is not something he can ignore. It eats at his soul like a corrosive acid.

St. Augustine knew something about the difference between love and lust. Our hearts are made for God and love, but we fallen creatures often settle for their counterfeits, vain images and corrosive lust. The Bishop of Hippo recognized this as far worse than working and being paid in counterfeit money.

Pope John Paul II states in Evangelium vitae that

"It is at the heart of the moral conscience that the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, with all its various and deadly consequences for life, is taking place" (# 24).

The American weekly The National Catholic Reporter complained in its April 14, 1995, editorial that John Paul's new encyclical Evangelium vitae displays "an ominous pessimism." The Reporter has, unfortunately, completely missed the point of the encyclical. The Gospel of Life is brimming with hope. But it is also teeming with realism.

For a human being to spend his life on earth and sense neither the presence of God nor the rights of all men is not only to miss the meaning of life, which is love, but to become a member of a "culture of death." The Holy Father is merely acknowledging a truth which untold others have seen with equal clarity and comparable convinction.

Consider, for example, the moral insight associated with the collection of legendary stories known as The Arabian Nights (or The Thousand and One Nights). The sultan Shahriyar had a long succession of his wives executed on the morning after their wedding. His lust craved novelty and his brides paid for his intemperance with their lives. In this way lust quickly paved the way to death.

Scheherazade, by telling enchanting stories, was able to engage the sultan's whole personality. She so enchanted him that he soon fell in love with her, abandoned his lustful and murderous habits, and accepted Scheherazade as his permanent wife. Whereas lust is ephemeral, love is eternal. Whereas love is what we all seek from the depths of our soul, lust is its unnourishing and unsatisfying counterfeit that we are often willing to settle for. And with such bogus currency, society can build only a "culture of death."
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Author:Donald DeMarco
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:May 1, 1996
Words:926
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