As disturbing as it can be to people of good will, it’s an observable state of affairs that the soul of contemporary Western culture is fighting contamination by a toxin of entitlement.
It’s a poison that harms and weakens the spiritual heart, spreads distrust and suspicion among neighbors, raises tension within the common good, and causes anxiety and animosity toward authority, fraternal correction, and responsibilities.
Summarized as a misplaced personal conviction, even obsession, of inherently deserving premature, unmerited, or unrealistic privileges or stature, entitlement feeds a raw narcissism and is the dangerous playground of jealousy, envy, and anger. It inflates our own opinion of ourselves, leads us into a self-delusion as it strips us of objective awareness.
Entitlement turns mentors and friends into competitors and enemies. It entraps us within an internal cesspool of arrogance, impropriety, rash judgment, even as it plagues us with a social awkwardness devoid of humor and good times.
In short, entitlement is an adulterant that is lethal to the human soul. It kills us from the inside out. So, what are we to do? What is the remedy to such a grave spiritual illness?
While not to be confused with true humility, which is a sober opinion of ourselves in terms of talents or weaknesses, or with a healthy ambition, which asks for consideration in terms of privileges or positions, entitlement is best fought with transparent virtues.
Three key virtues that are powerful immunizations to entitlement, and which have been recognized by civilized cultures throughout human history for their strength against such an infection, are compassion, gratitude and generosity.
Compassion heals us of animosity as we see the humanity of our neighbor, feeling and suffering with her and wishing her the best. Gratitude vaccinates us from self-absorption as we look to God and others as the source and strength of our abilities and achievements. And, lastly, generosity restores us to our better humanity as we desire to share and give to others what has been given to us.
These three virtues are the best and most effective triage to entitlement. They disable it and render it ineffective in our souls or the soul of our culture.
In terms of the Christian faith, therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that these three virtues have been especially praised and recommended to believers.
Saint Paul warns against entitlement and even places the evil and darkness of the world within its context. As he wrote to the Christian community in Rome: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness… For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
And so, it’s appropriate that the Lord Jesus, in his saving work on our behalf, would gather his apostles in the Upper Room and begin his Passion by exemplifying a life completely at odds with entitlement:
- With his intimates around him, the Lord felt the weight of sin and identified himself with it. He didn’t run, shrink, or compromise. He willingly accepted his sufferings and walked with the wounded.
- The Lord also thanked the Father as he offered his Body and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine. Even as he was in pain of heart and later of body, the Lord looked outside of himself. As his soul was wracked with deadly sorrow, he overcame the darkness and consumed himself with gratitude.
- And then the Lord generously offered himself to his friends. The powerful words, echoed throughout the ages, “Take and eat… this is my Body” and “Take and drink… this is my Blood,” are selfless acts that give true nourishment and holistic sustenance to the believer.
In pouring out himself unconditionally, the Lord manifested compassion, gratitude, and generosity to the world. He showed us a life freed from entitlement and, therefore, full of wisdom and grace.
In our day, Pope Francis reminds us of the Lord’s goodness. He calls us to imitate him and invites all men and women of good will to follow what Saint Paul calls the “more excellent way of love.” As the pope teaches, this is true in small ways, like saying “thank you,” and in deeper ways, like giving sacrificially to the sick, poor, and marginalized.
And so, as we celebrate the Thanksgiving weekend as a country, and as we weekly approach the Eucharist, the “Great Thanksgiving” of the Christian faith, we are summoned to reject entitlement and to pick up the gracious mantle of compassion, gratitude, and generosity for our good and the good of all God’s people.