12 April 2009
Reflection on Easter and the economic crisis – Easter message 2009 to the people of Ireland by Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland
There are few who do not share her anxiety. There are few who wake up this Easter Sunday without the dread of some kind of economic Calvary casting a shadow over the desire to feel positive and optimistic about the future.
It is tempting for some to say, ‘We told you so, we are paying the price for our greed’, or that, ‘a little bit of recession is good for the soul’. I do not subscribe to this view. In fact I am concerned that many people are depriving themselves of a vital spiritual resource because of an outdated caricature of the Church as harsh, soulless and joyless, whereas nothing could be further from the truth.
The Christian message is not a rejection of the material world. It is an invitation to use the wealth of this world in a just and responsible way. After all, the goods of creation are for all the children of the Creator. The Christian way of life is not a rejection of wealth and happiness but a sure and certain way to ‘live life to the full’ in this world and in the next.
Critically, for those who have learnt in recent months what it is to be fearful for the future, perhaps for the first time in their adult lives, the Christian message is about overcoming our fear. The phrase “do not be afraid” is one of the most common phrases in Scripture. It appears at least 83 times in the Old Testament and 25 times in the New Testament. It is occurs with particular regularity in the stories of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples after his Resurrection.
Fear can cripple us. It can paralyse our rational way of thinking and even manifest itself in our bodies. Jesus was so frightened that his sweat turned to blood at the thought of his impending crucifixion. He was so petrified by the prospect of his scourging and crucifixion that he asked his Father in heaven, if it be His will, to remove the cup of the terrible suffering of the Passion from him.
Sometimes the most silent and tortuous dimension of fear is its impact on the mind. It is no coincidence that one of the few professions which record an increase in business during a recession is the mental health profession. Research shows that Psychiatrists and counsellors experience an upsurge in demand during a recession. Research also shows that during a recession medication for depression and anxiety is one of the few areas of consumer growth.
Such professional services have a vital role to play in helping people cope with the physical and psychological consequences of trauma and stress. It is important that we provide enough resources to ensure access to high quality mental health care for those who can benefit from it, particularly in a time of economic challenge.
It is also important to acknowledge the spiritual and human resources which can contribute to the well being of individuals and society as we search for a way out of our current economic difficulties. Research shows that a number of factors can contribute more than financial prosperity to the recovery of our sense of human happiness and peace in challenging times. These include having, among other things, fit and healthy bodies, realistic goals and expectations, a positive self-esteem, an optimistic outlook, remaining socially active and having supportive friendships that enable companionship and the confiding of fears.
Research also suggests that having a life of religious faith which provides community support, purpose, acceptance, an outward focus, and hope contributes significantly to the prospect of general well being and happiness. It suggests that those who are religious are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, to divorce or be unhappily married, to commit suicide, or to become depressed or be diagnosed with a psychological disorder.
No one is suggesting that to have faith, or to be a Christian, is to be spared the full mental and emotional weight of life’s crises or traumas or that Christians will always cope better than others in such circumstances. Yet to be able to find peace in the midst of our greatest physical, psychological and fiscal trials is one of life’s greatest gifts. It is the gift which the risen Jesus offers to every one of us this Easter Sunday. It is a gift which can help to take us beyond the paralysis of fear in response to life’s most challenging events, including the fear of death. It is a gift which is available to every one of us in the Gospels.
My hope this Easter is that many more Irish people will rediscover the joy and peace of Christ’s victory over fear, anxiety and physical death. My prayer is that those who feel overwhelmed by their financial worries will find peace and perspective in the words of the risen Jesus’ to his disciples: ‘Peace be with you! It is I indeed!’ My plea is that no one would allow a feeling of moral failure or the lapse of religious practice over a long period of time or even anger with the Church, to stand in their way of rediscovering the power and peace of Christ’s Resurrection in their lives.
Whatever emerges from the current economic crisis can be better than we had before if we take full account of the spiritual and moralwisdom that comes from our Christian heritage. That heritage and itsGospel message points us in the direction of a more sustainable model of growth based on solidarity and all that is best within the human spirit, including our capacity to believe and to show care for one another.
For those with the eyes of faith, the green shoots of recovery are already appearing. The agony of the cross gives way to the new life of Easter Sunday just as certainly as the storms of winter give way to the green shoots of spring. In his Resurrection Jesus was victorious over our selfishness, arrogance and deceit. He was victorious over our sin. In celebrating that victory, in making it a reality in our own lives, there is every reason to hope.