11 April 2009
Homily of Bishop Joseph Duffy, Bishop of Clogher, for the Easter Vigil Mass
Coping with the Recession
Earlier this month we had the emergency budget. It may be the last thing you want to be reminded of just now; on the other hand, it may be a source of nagging worry for you personally. In either case it’s a topic that must be faced and at least opened up for thought and prayer. Personally, I see it as a question of priorities. Let us be mindful that the present economic recession is a passing phase, like a bad day at work, or a mishap that can be put right. That is not in any way to play it down or to disregard its consequences. We cannot survive in a world where jobs and social benefits don’t matter. Of course they matter; that’s why we need to talk about them. They have a direct bearing on how we welcome the message of Easter into our lives.
My point is a simple one. We must get first things first; only when we have done that can we address our economic problems. The famous Chancellor Bismarck, the architect of the German nation state, said one time that you cannot run a modern state relying solely on the teaching on the Sermon on the Mount. It could equally be said that you cannot run a state successfully without the Sermon on the Mount. Some years ago in the full heat of the Celtic Tiger, the Irish Bishops in a statement, expressing gratitude for our prosperity, warned of the dangers of greed, of rampant materialism, of forgetfulness of God. The media commentators at the time dismissed the idea of caution and self-discipline; they wrote off the bishops, as they like to do, as outdated spoilsports. The warning fell on deaf ears. I am not for a moment claiming the bishops always get it right; they can be off the mark like anyone else. But they certainly got that one right.
It would be wrong to think that the recession is all bad news; there have in fact been some positive outcomes. Widespread injustice and dishonesty at the highest level have been exposed for what they are. They have been exposed to the light of day. What we forget these days, and one rarely hears, is they were never hidden from God’s eyes. God is as interested in what happens in the banks and in Government offices as in the churches, because, we are all his children no matter where we work. God knows that injustice and sharp practice are never neutral, never without innocent victims. He knows that in our country a powerful elite have sewn up the system and have been running it for their own benefit. But we have to be honest. We cannot put all the blame on those at the top. At times it seemed as if the whole country had gone into a frenzy. Everybody had to have the latest, the biggest, the best. When we say the day of reckoning has arrived, it means at the very least that sanity and common sense have come back into the frame.
You don’t need me to tell you that we can use difficulties to teach and correct ourselves, that we can use setbacks to move forward. God has the knack of bringing something new out of the ruins of the old, whether in our own lives or in society. Again we must not be smug or casual about this. The economic crisis will bear most severely on the poor and most vulnerable. The loss of employment puts pressure not only on individuals but on marriages and families. The cut-backs in education and health will hit the weakest in our society. However, it’s not enough to denounce these things and to express regret. We must announce what can be done and what must be done.
Jesus spoke out about the social iniquities, the oppression of the poor of His time, but He also presented the alternative. “This is not to happen among you” Jesus told his disciples. He pointed to another way of relating, another way of living and working together. The command to love one another is about more than inter-personal relationships. It has profound social implications.
Somebody said: “Justice is what love looks like in public”. Wealth must help more than the wealthy. Good fortune must serve more than the fortunate. The moral test is always how the least, the lost and the last, are faring, how they are being treated.
Social justice is obviously about caring and sharing; virtues not always easy to achieve but easy to recognise when we see them. But social justice is even more about the sometimes less obvious virtue of integrity, about honest dealing. We all appreciate the enormous contribution good business people and employers make to the community. We sorely need and we rightly value initiative, entrepreneurship and quality management. But these are not enough in themselves; they have to be practised with the kind of integrity that leads to the trust and confidence that are so much talked about these days.
The recession raises serious issues of morality and moral values. It also exposes a much deeper need. It brings up the question of God, the mystery of God, who He is and His dealings with us.
If you were to make a list of the headings any day in the newspapers, you would quickly see what things are important to people. I am thinking of things that are good in themselves, like politics, money, sport, physical health, property, the environment, local and family ties – these are all worthy and potentially fruitful interests and ambitions, and thank God for them. But to make them, or any one of them, the standard by which all else is measured, to make them your masters, to look to them to justify your life: that is sheer idolatry, in simpler language, the worship of a false god. In the old days we would say it was a direct violation of the first commandment “I am the Lord your God”; today it is more acceptable to say that it is an insult to human dignity. Both statements are saying the same thing. Since Christ came on Earth and invited us to share His life, remember who we now are, sharers in the dignity of Divine Life.
Through your baptismal faith, which we celebrate tonight, you are given the greatest possible gift, the pearl of great price. Be proud of it. Make sure you appreciate it.
Martin Long 086 1727678