Now that the excesses of the Celtic Tiger years are almost a distant memory, perhaps it is time to cast a dispassionate eye on the effects of those heady times on our lifestyles and on our ‘Weltanschauung’ or worldview. During those years of plenty, many of us got carried away by the comforting sound of money galore jingling in our pockets. We were only too happy to jump on the gravy train and fool ourselves into thinking that this pleasant state of affairs was going to go on forever. We became the ultimate consumers, as we danced to the tune of ‘Spend! Spend! Spend!’ There was no one to shout stop, but even if there were, would we have listened? Probably not, we were all too intoxicated by the feelings of power and self-sufficiency induced by the abundance of wealth at our disposal. Unfortunately, we did not have in our midst somebody like Joseph, who was able to foretell to the Egyptians that the seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine, for which they should make provision during the years of plenty.
Gradually, our innate selfishness became more apparent, as our obsession with adding to our possessions took over our lives. We mistakenly thought that ‘having’ was our mission in life and directed all our energy towards that aim. Now that reality has hit and that the spending frenzy is over, we can take time to reflect on what occurred and perhaps to recognise the superficiality that characterised our culture of nonstop spending. We now have an opportunity to examine our ontological values and perhaps come to realise that ‘being’, rather than ‘having’, is our true mission in life. If we attach any significance to our denomination as ‘human beings’, then surely we have an obligation to be the best human beings that we can be and to live as closely as possible to our ontological values. For many of us, wealth and power can be inhibitors to living to the values that we profess to hold.
Recently, I heard Fr. Peter McVerry suggest that we should ‘be the compassion of Jesus’, a value that he himself lives out on a daily basis as he fights for justice for the homeless, whose lot does not seem to have improved one whit during the Celtic Tiger years – if it had, more than likely they would not continue to be homeless. Similarly, the poor and the marginalised do not seem to have benefitted to any great degree from the years of plenty, in spite of the saying that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’. Perhaps it is now time for those who were too busy feathering their own nests during the good times to spare a thought for, and maybe give a helping hand to, those who were left behind in the rush to get to the top of the rich list. In the words of the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda,
Maybe we still have time
and to be just
This post really resonates with me, Bernie, despite my not living in Ireland through the years of the Celtic Tiger and subsequent hard times.
We do indeed have to watch the rhetoric of those who, as in New Zealand, preach the TINA (there is no alternative) doctrine. The notion of the ‘trickle-down effect’ was promoted back at home as well, and with similar failure to improve the lot of those at the bottom of the heap. Fortunately we don’t have the unemployment rates and predominance of short-term contracts in education that I see here in Ireland, but there is still continuing poverty and a heavy reliance on Christian foodbanks as a means of meeting daily needs, for many families.
If you have any references to Fr McVerry’s writing (I read the occasional press statement) it would be good to know of.
Thanks, Pip for your response to this. I don’t have any references for Peter McVerry at the moment – in my article I was quoting from a talk he gave in a community centre in my area – but if I come across any literature by him, I will let you know.