A few weeks ago, I read a review of a recently published book titled Radical Markets. The book proposes a remedy for the economic inequalities that are the inevitable result of a capitalistic, free-market economy. All of us have seen the news reports about the segments of society that are disenfranchised by the economic gains of others. There have been many theories proposed to create economic equality; most of them advocate a tempering, or even the abandonment, of free-market principles. Unlike most similar proposals, the authors of Radical Markets do not advocate replacing capitalism with an alternative. Rather, they propose applying capitalistic principles to every aspect of life, with no exceptions.
For example, the authors propose replacing private property ownership with a plan that keeps all property for sale on a perpetual basis. Instead of owning your house or your shoes, all of your property would be available for purchase at any time. Sale prices would be set at fair market value and every sale would be taxed at fair market value. The tax revenue would be split between the government and the general population. This radical form of free-market capitalism would fund the government adequately and also create economic stability by both encouraging property holders to sell and discouraging buyers from making unnecessary purchases.
The authors applied the same logic to politics. They would replace the current voting laws with a law that allowed individuals and groups to purchase as many votes as they could afford. All payments would be taxed on a progressive scale; this would allow special interest groups to purchase influence, but the progressive taxation would discourage large expenditures because of the ever-decreasing net effect.
The authors of the book seem to be serious about their suggestions, despite the fact that their theory sounds like Jonathan Swift’s remedy for poverty, A Modest Proposal. I don’t know what actual effect the authors’ plan would have on the economy and economic injustice. I do know, however, the effect that radical free-market capitalism has on religious experience.
What would it be like for you if the people around you payed attention to you only because of what they thought they could get from you? Most people would find this insulting and demeaning. Parents of young children know the burden of being seen as nothing more than a provider of groceries and toys. Sadly, God is often treated in just this way. Too often, God, Sacraments, Grace, and other religious experiences are treated as consumer commodities to be obtained for one’s private benefit.
The Sacrament of the Eucharist, which we commemorate on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is often privatized and commoditized. Some Catholics ascribe to the theory that they can be as late to Mass as they like, or leave as early as they like, as long as they get Communion. Others seem to think that the worst sins against charity and justice are permissible as long as Communion is received on a regular basis. When religious practice exists only for one’s personal benefit, everything (regardless of how self-serving), is permissible. When Eucharist becomes a commodity, God becomes a provider of consumer goods and church members attend Sunday Mass in order to worship their own desires.
On the other hand, if Eucharist is an act of worship directed to God, then our presence here is not about what we get; it’s about what we give. You might ask, “What can one give to God (that God doesn’t already have)? The answer to this question is given to us in the Scriptures. In today’s first reading, the Israelites promised, “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.” (Ex. 24:3) God had promised them a Land of their own; for their part, the Israelites promised fidelity to God’s commandments. Our obedience to God’s Covenant is both what we can and must give God.
Our participation in Sunday Eucharist is an affirmation of our Baptismal vows to love God, follow the teachings of Jesus, and be guided by the Holy Spirit. Eucharist is one act, but not the only one, by which we give freely to God in the way that God has already given freely to us: the gift of love, uncoerced and valuable beyond measure. Receiving Holy Communion for any reason other than this does not constitute faithful worship of God.
Today, we celebrate Eucharist; we are asked to give our full attention to the gift we receive and to the gifts we owe to God and one another. When we receive Holy Communion we say, “Amen.” That word is an affirmation of our faith that the Eucharist is the sacramental presence of the Risen Lord Jesus. St. Augustine likened that “Amen” to a signature on a contract. By receiving Holy Communion, we bind ourselves contractually to the fulfillment of our Baptismal vows to love God and neighbor. Today, as we receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood, will we do everything that the Lord has told us?