Having hope in hard times

A Bishop’s Perspective

November 25, 2012, Juneau Empire column 

During these days around Thanksgiving the media outlets are promoting the shopping season. Whether it is Black Friday, Small Business Saturday or Cyber Monday — it’s all about shopping and where to get the best deals. From what I hear in the news, there seems to be, once again, a real frenzy that prompts people to wait in long lines for doors to open or forgo time with family and friends on Thanksgiving Day to begin the process of early shopping on Thanksgiving evening. It also seems that we will mark our time by how many shopping days are left until Christmas. All of this comes when the national economy is still an important issue.

As we live in difficult and challenging economic times, we are called to live in communion with one another with a sense of faith, hope and charity. So many people are facing hardships, poverty, unemployment, hunger, violence and isolation. At this time in our nation’s history these social wounds are extensive. We are called in charity and truth to respond to the sufferings that afflict our neighbors. And we should stand in solidarity with those most affected by in these hard economic times.

Unemployment in the United States has reached levels not seen in many decades and small business owners are facing many challenges. These economic troubles pose serious challenges to family life as mothers and fathers struggle to find work and provide for their children or they are so overworked that they may not have the time and energy to be with each other and with their children. Many young adults finish college with huge debts to pay and with little hope of finding work in the profession that they studied so hard to prepare for. Those approaching retirement are faced with fear and insecurity of not knowing how they will sustain themselves once they do retire. Anxiety about the future is a reality and a byproduct of these difficult economic times.

People are not put on this earth to make economies function better; rather the health of an economy is judged by how well it serves the common good. The common good takes on three basic elements. First, it entails respect for the whole person and acknowledges human dignity as sacred. Second, it requires that society be ordered in such a way that all members of the community are given an opportunity to flourish. Third, it involves a stable and peaceful order within the community — recognizing that violence and strife are opposed to the common good.

Economic and social matters should always build upon the bedrock of human virtues. If it is our desire to have just and upright institutions, then we should teach and form each other in what it means to have a conscience that is right and just. That is to say, if we were to deny a hungry man a piece of bread when it is within our ability to give it — this is a sin against justice. For if in our greed we value the importance of having more than enough and fail to respond to our neighbors needs, which in justice that person should have to survive, then we should moderate our own appetites in accord with right reason in order to serve the needs of others. In addition to this virtue of temperance is the need for fortitude. We must possess the moral courage to act. We should not be afraid to reach out to those in need. The virtue of prudence is also necessary to make decisions based on a realistic reading of a person’s situation and the true benefits at stake. The gift of helping those in need come from the basic virtues of faith, hope and charity.

Life is a gift, and we ourselves are not the authors of it. This truth profoundly affects the way we view and treat one another; for we must humbly acknowledge that all of our brothers and sisters in this world are here also because God’s love. We cannot live in isolation, blind to the lives of those who share this gift of life with us. From my perspective, I am mindful of the Christ’s words, “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” (Matthew 10:8)

There is a tendency in the human condition, especially in times of economic hardship, to give into temptations of envy, jealousy, and inordinate fears. Some of this can be seen on the nightly news with the aggressive actions of some claiming what is theirs on Black Friday. But as we begin this “shopping season,” let us be mindful that it all started because of God’s love for us — a situation of a homeless couple who found shelter in a stable when the pregnant woman gave birth to a son and laid him in a manger. May our response to the poor and those affected by hard economic times be met with our gifts of charity for them and our solidarity with them.

• Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.

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