Preaching on the Gospel reading for yesterday's Mass, John's account of Jesus' "cleansing of the Temple" (John 2:13-25), I quoted from FDR's famous 1st Inaugural Address on March 4, 1933, when he said: Yes, the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of that restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
In the context of preaching, I mentioned FDR's speech mainly to recall a time - a much more religiously literate age - when virtually everyone who heard that speech would have immediately recognized the biblical reference that the President was making. But, if the reference harked back to what was obviously a better time in respect to religious literacy, it quickly occurred to me that it also harked back to what was perhaps also a better time in terms of public figures speaking straightforwardly about important issues.
In contrast, today I watched a TV talk show (actually, one of the better of such shows), a disproportionate amount of which was devoted to inside-the-Beltway scandal-mongering trivia concerning putative presidential candidate Hilary Clinton's emails. Admittedly, this issue highlights her longstanding and justifiable distrust of our intrusive, scandal-mongering media. I suppose that may be something which would be worth talking more about (although in that case more about journalism's failings than about hers). But surely there are some really serious issues facing our country and the world, any of which which should deserve more attention than this sort of stuff. And surely the issues FDR was addressing in that famous speech are among them. Indeed, by comparison, almost any attention at all to such substantive concerns would be welcome!
As I noted yesterday, it seems that FDR may have spoken both too soon and too confidently about a future from which the money changers sadly seem never to get completely evicted. Thankfully, we are not in a Great Depression, but many of the ills that FDR identified remain still as problematic today, when the economic system is increasingly in the service of the infamously super-wealthy, while the political system seems simultaneously both out of touch with the real-life situations of so many citizens and also at the same time is itself a part of the problem of the disproportionate power of money.
As FDR recognized on that memorable occasion, but as so many of us have since seemingly forgotten: Recognition of that falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, and on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.
Imagine what American politics would be like if political figures again spoke that way - and if the commentariat cared to challenge them to do so!