Yule shall overcome: Christ is our hope in times of scarcity

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Article Social Justice
Amid cries of economic catastrophe, let holiday cheer take the place of fear.

This year promises to be a blue Christmas for many. Given the angry tone of the political conversation out there, it might even be a black-and-blue Christmas.

More than two years after the technical end of the Great Recession, weaving along the edge of another, Americans have watched each other on C-SPAN and CNN, on MSNBC and Fox News, sometimes shouting, sometimes in reasonable discussions, sometimes wallowing in the most lurid and destructive hyperbole.

The appearance of a brigade of the out-of-work outside the temples and corridors of money and power along Wall Street was enough to drive many of mainstream media’s talking heads and Washington’s bought-and-paid-for politicians into a frenzy of fear-mongering and demagogy. Cries of class warfare filled the airwaves; the Occupy Wall Street protestors were dismissed as a mob of lazy malcontents, losers, the easily duped. When these milder descriptives weren’t enough to dispel the crowd or discredit the growing movement of young people wondering if the American dream is a lie, the rhetorical big guns were rolled out and the protestors were denounced as Trotskyites, Leninists, and worse: smelly hippies.

But the barbarians on Wall Street aren’t the ones at the gate, they are the ones already inside, pillaging not America’s mansions and monied interests but the collective wealth of millions, looting retirement accounts and 401(k)s. No, they weren’t robbed Pretty Boy Floyd-style with a six gun. They were drained with a fountain pen by incomprehensible financial instruments, repealed regulatory controls, and reckless and bonus-addled bankers who drove the economy over the cliff in 2008.

Now we awaken with our heads throbbing after a decades-long national and personal debt and credit binge, blaming the pals who took us out drinking or the bartender who served up the shots of home equity loans and interest-only mortgages. We wouldn’t be completely wrong. The people who should have known better, who indeed did know better, led us deeply astray as a too-trusting public and as individual borrowers who signed up for crazy mortgage deals. The more sober among us also have the courage to glance into the mirror to seek out other responsible parties.

We are living in a time when a parade of quick fixes will be passed before us, some by complete hucksters, some by the well-meaning who passionately believe their approach offers the least painful way forward. But the truth is there is likely no pain-free way ahead. The best we can hope to achieve is the shared sacrifice so often referred to but jeopardized by the simple fact that political power is not shared evenly.

That inequity deserves to be condemned and held up to public scrutiny, even from such unlikely a source of prophecy and social criticism as bearded, unwashed bongo players camping out on Wall Street.

With 24 million left behind by under- and unemployment, Europe on the brink of financial collapse, and a global slowdown offering the prospect of the Great Recession morphing into a Great Depression Part II, fear is widespread and not without justification. Here is my “easy for me to say” advice: Live without fear anyway. We reside in the faith that commands us to “be not afraid.” Now a time has come when such beliefs and such assurance will be sorely tested. The months, even years, ahead will be fraught with uncertainty. The old question returns: Do we believe what we say we believe?

St. Paul tells the Philippians: “I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. . . . My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (4:12-13, 19).

So take heart, my brothers and sisters. Have courage. Indeed, we have resources at our disposal that won’t be found in a bank or buried in the text of a retirement account, so have yourself a blessed and bountiful—in the only ways that really matter—Christmas.

This article appeared in the December 2011 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 76, No. 12, page 39).

Image: Tom Wright