Being grateful helps us to identify what was good in our recent past, and to bring it with us into the future, without succumbing to the extreme temptation of writing off as negative all that we have just gone through.

family

Fr Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist Papers.

This column appeared on 17 June 2009

This deep recession has us bewildered. Most of us are simply stunned, even in denial: how could things have changed so much, so quickly? We were flying high, we enjoyed the feeling of being a success story, the envy of many other parts of the world. How then could we come crashing to earth with such a bang?

The mood is one of discontent, as jobs are lost, as mortgage re-payments become more difficult, as pensions lose value, there is a growing caution about spending money, and an insecurity and even fear about what lies ahead. Some of us, indeed, are already faced with tough decisions about important aspects of our own lives and those of our families: can we continue to keep our businesses open, without letting employees go? Do we need to consider going abroad to find work? Can we continue to afford private health insurance or school fees? And, of course, it is much worse, as always, for the poor: the cancer of unemployment, with accompanying loss of self-esteem and confidence, the cut-backs in services that sharpen anxiety and lead to depression.

We sense that we are all faced with a big adjustment of expectations and life-styles, and we don’t like it.

It might help, first, to be grateful for the real achievements of these recent times: almost full employment, the spirit of entrepreneurship, the enhancement of national self-confidence. Being grateful is another way of accepting that all this was real, and it’s something we easily forget: only one returned to say thanks’. Being grateful helps us to identify what was good in our recent past, and to bring it with us into the future, without succumbing to the extreme temptation of writing off as negative all that we have just gone through.

But perhaps we are angry? But wait: if we go a little deeper, might we not be somewhat rueful, even ashamed about our own role in all this? Were we completely immune from a certain grudging admiration of the greed is good’ mantra which seemed to inform the mentality of our political and economic leaders? Were we immune from a certain superficiality in giving priority to fashion and appearance, to the cult of celebrity, to the pursuit of a consumerism that was heedless of consequences, not just for our personal indebtedness, but for the sustainability of our planet? Did we acquiesce too unthinkingly in a life of stress and long commutes, which put such pressure on our being together as families? Were we, in other words, complicit in the idolatry of false gods?

And so we need to use our, perhaps contrite, anger, together with some clear thinking, to plot a way forward. This will be a way that does not seek simply to return to business as usual’, but which thinks in terms of economic growth that is moderate and sustainable. This will involve less inequality, within Ireland and between the West and the rest of the world. It will value public services, in particular systems of health, education and affordable housing. It will seek to cushion the poor from the worst of the effects of the recession and treat prisoners like human beings. It will respect the need for a sound economy, but value even more friendship and love, faith in God.