Economic Depression: Spiritual Uplift?
At the most basic, physical level, the Christian community has already stepped forth to offer concrete aid in countless shelters, food banks, and hospitals. Church-sponsored sports, films, concerts, and potlucks may be the only entertainment some can afford now. For seekers who want to mine the crisis more deeply, it's an opportune time for counseling, days of prayer, and retreats. The parish can also serve as a unique clearinghouse, bringing together members who need workers with those who need work. Because of their universality, Catholics have always resonated with the diversity of others around the world. Now, we experience a more direct solidarity: we know first-hand how others agonize over money.
Individuals reach out to each other with humor and hope. An email, a card, a shared sandwich can remind the jobless: you have a richer identity than the label "unemployed." We've always known that what we are matters far more than what we have. Now we're experiencing the acid test of that idea. Will we look back on this as a time when we grew more reflective, more concerned for others in worse situations, more appreciative of what we have and less bitter about what we lack?
The Restorer of Hope
What may help as much as physical care is reminding people of their deepest spiritual identity: beloved of God, regardless of what's in the bank account. The crisis presents us with the opportunity to turn from anxiety and trust that God who has been gracious before will be again.
In a cartoon published on Ash Wednesday, husband asks worried wife, who pores over a mountain of unpaid bills: "So what are we giving up for Lent?" She answers, "Voluntarily or involuntarily?" We are facing a long Lent now, so let's take as our mantra a similar theme: "Turn from sin and trust the good news."
The Hebrews understood "sin" as anything that prevented us from going where we're born to go. During opulent times, our possessions may have blocked us from becoming more Christ-like. Our stress on achievement may have blinded us to an identity deeper than failure or disappointment. Now we risk getting so caught up in anger and recrimination, we fail to see how the crisis might help us grow.
Survivors of the last depression learned how to make do, recycle, imagine ways of coping without money. Many experts say our nation has become so mired in excess that the downturn may furnish a necessary corrective. In hindsight, it's embarrassing to admit how much stuff we've accumulated—and how little of it we really need. We've begun to correct our reliance on retail therapy; even Target's sales are down 40 percent. But what takes its place? There, the faith has some answers.
As beloved children of God, we are more than our anxieties about health, income, or retirement. Like Jesus, we weather a bleak stretch in the desert and immense suffering during the passion to rise again. We can do so with his strength because he lives in us. We may no longer have the trendiest clothes or the newest iPhone, but we hold intangible treasure. We know ourselves as other Christs, who can pray, heal, and encourage each other as he did.
The Cultural Critic
The church has been a powerful voice for immigrants, and must continue to speak for the jobless. We can raise up the concerns of the voiceless who might otherwise be crushed by corporate greed and irresponsibility. Faith often comes alive in times of crisis, and this era is no exception.
Kathy Coffey is a national speaker, retreat leader, and the author of numerous articles in Catholic periodicals. On the web, find Kathy at: kathyjcoffey.wordpress.com