WE WERE ONCE a nation afflicted with “affluenza”, the disease of addiction to material wealth. We are recovering now, but instead of feeling better, we feel worse. Like a whole population finally going on a diet, deprivation hurts.
As the clouds of economic hardship gather, forecasters predict the cold winds of depression and deflation. That translates into desperation for many families.
What does an economic downturn mean for people of faith?
As families endure unemployment and loss of savings, how does this affect their belief?
When our belts tighten, there can be great blessing in the burden. If our obsession with greedy consumerism is indeed at an end, we can learn to be thrifty and actually endure without the latest stuff and be emancipated from our excesses. Having a job can be seen as a great gift; a supportive family, a lifeline. The simple things can, and should, matter again.
As Wall Street and the Singapore Exchange fall to their knees, it seems like we do likewise. We pray fervently and wait on God’s providence. And God will come through, not with more material things but, let us hope, by helping us seek lives that are more authentic and more generous, more grounded and more truly Christian.
My brother-in-law, father of four small children, lost his job. He found one about three months later, but those three months were anxious ones. They were also prayerful and uncomplicated.
While that young family was waiting on God’s providential intervention, they embraced simplicity. For entertainment, they went to the library and played in the city parks. They ate home-cooked meals and created homemade gifts.
They prayed.
They now look back on their survival tactics and realise joy is not in the “stuff”, but in family. They toughened up and appreciated what they had.
The Christian keeps hope alive not so that material prosperity will return but that we will become a more godly society.
In this Year of St. Paul, we read in Romans 5:3-5: “We even boast of our afflictions, knowing
that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
Needless to say, working-class people will suffer disproportionately more in this declining economy. What will happen?
Others will notice and react. This is an opportunity for the prosperous to reach beyond themselves: “Much will be required the person entrusted with much” (Lk 12:48).
Community outreach and assistance programmes will rally and respond. “As a community, the church must practise love. Love thus needs to be organised if it is to be an ordered service to the community,” Pope Benedict XVI said in his encyclical letter “Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love”).
Mother Teresa said, “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”
Our hope as Christians is that generosity will flourish. Hospitality will be revived.
We will surely witness neighbours pitching in to help neighbours. Assistance will come from where we least expect it. The cry of the poor will be heard. Welcoming kitchens, food pantries, gentle exchanges and fervent prayers will feed us. We will be a unified pilgrim people travelling though hardship.
As we re-examine our responsibilities to the very needy, we will hunger for the dignity of labour. We will expect the economy to serve the multitudes, not just the wealthy.
Finally, we will learn that the Christian response to suffering is releasing love into the world. And we will find the best in ourselves as we learn that our faith is our most precious commodity.
As a fellow parishioner once told me, “When God is all you have, you find that God is all you need.” - By Mary Eileen Andreasen

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