Just this past week the reality of the current economic crisis has hit home with me. For the past few months I have felt eerily detached from the screaming newspaper headlines and endless chatter among TV taking heads about the economic crisis. However, in recent weeks the statistics have finally become people I know, and the reality that the spiraling economy is beginning to cost jobs and dramatically damage individual's investments has awakened me to the need for spiritual sustenance during these trying times.
I was greatly encouraged by a recent spiritual reflection from Cardinal Roger Mahoney, Archbishop of Los Angeles. He has wisely advised Catholics to focus their attention on faith, family and Christ during this economic crisis. I think you will find his thoughts timely and inspiring:
The Great Depression began in October of 1929 and extended through the 1930s until the Second World War. Not many people are still living who experienced that terrible economic downturn in the country and around the world, but the magnitude of those years is highlighted by continuing to use capital letters to name that period of American history.
Are we today in another economic recession, depression or deflation? The name used to identify these present days does not really matter. We are in a severe economic downturn and the effects are being felt by everyone.
I have not met a single person since Labor Day (1 September) who is not impacted negatively in some way by our poor economy. I am not an economist nor do I have any quick fixes to the many economic problems facing us. But as a co-disciple of Jesus Christ with all of you, I would like to offer a few thoughts about how our faith supports us in such difficult times.
The strongest emotion we may experience is fear fear that we will lose something, or everything we have worked so hard to achieve: a steady job, our home, the basic necessities for our families, opportunities for our children, and the promise of a secure future. Nothing gnaws away at us so deeply as fear of the unknown future.
Fear then gives way to insecurity, worry, alarm, and even desperation because so many of the elements causing our fears are beyond our personal control. Fear is natural and normal during such distressing times especially when others depend upon us for their well-being and their futures.
Where do we turn for consolation, guidance, and hope? Having suffered through my own share of various downturns over the years, I find my strength in Jesus and his promises to be with us no matter what and to offer us courage.
One of my favorite Rembrandt paintings is that of Jesus sleeping in the boat as a fierce storm is tossing it about in crashing waves. The Twelve Apostles are panicked with each one portrayed trying to help keep the boat afloat, in disbelief that Jesus does not do something to help them. "They came and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!'. He said to them, "Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?'. Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm" (Mt 8: 23-27).
Are not those the same words on our lips during this frightful economy: "Lord, save us! We are perishing!"? By acknowledging that we are powerless to save ourselves with our own ingenuity and strength places us squarely in the embrace of our Risen Savior, Jesus Christ.
Once we fix our eyes on Jesus (Heb 12: 2) and allow ourselves to feel his personal care and comfort then a key point of Christian discipleship becomes clearer: we advance together, not alone and by ourselves. As Christians we turn to one another to share our strength and to unite our hopes with others.
Parents need to talk to their children about the uncertainties of life and children need to be assured that they can count on their parents to be there for them. The family may have to make many sacrifices, and the children may learn to do with less but they go forward as a family with Jesus in their very midst.
All of us need to be very attentive to each other, to act quickly if someone is suffering severe desperation they need our encouragement and hope. We have a duty as Christians to step forward and to make our offering to help those even worse off than ourselves and in so doing ease the fears of others.
I don't have any economic "fix" but I can and do pray that those who have the expertise in these fields will offer their gifts and talents for the well-being of everyone.
I have heard much alarm about these economic problems occurring at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Actually, this presents us with a good opportunity to celebrate what is important: our faith, our families, and one another. The holidays will be far more joyful if we focus on our relationships and not on material gifts.
Our Thanksgiving should be symbolized by our faithful trust in God as originally intended. An enjoyable, but simple, meal with family and friends can become especially meaningful if we make some sacrifices and give food to parish or area food pantries.
Christmas celebrations have become suffocated by expenditures thus undermining the importance of Jesus' birth. A few simple gifts such as home crafted items, a family photograph or other similar gifts speak volumes about loving and caring. Involve children by helping them to make gifts for others and to focus upon less fortunate children and let their Christmas celebration be a vivid lesson in giving.
May the presence, assurance, and hope of Jesus Christ strengthen us during these strained weeks and months, and may our faith in him remind us that, indeed, we are not perishing.