Posted by: Thomas Richard | July 23, 2011

The Church and the Economic Train-Wreck

As America begins to get serious about the national debt crisis, we have an opportunity to look at and reconsider our shameful moral crisis: these two crises are inseparable, like two edges of a single sword. Our economic crisis is clear: we perpetually overspend using borrowed money, producing an ever-deepening chasm of debt. Our moral crisis seems to have been “tabled” for now, so that we can deal with the “important” problem of the economy. Any separation of the two, however, is superficial and artificial.

The analogy that comes to mind is the common caricature of the drunken sailor. (My apologies to every real sailor: I was a sailor myself, once!) Every weekend ashore he went out on a drinking binge, and spent every dime he had earned and could borrow on loose living. His problem had an obvious economic side, and an obvious moral side, but the two problems had a single root: no recognition of, no faith in God. He lived only for himself, even though in the most nearsighted, immature, carnal and immediately gratifying ways he could find. He pictures for us, I suggest, America.

American government has continued to believe in and hold to an economic model of constant borrowing that requires constant economic growth to eventually repay. Thus we need ever more businesses, more business activity, more jobs, more tax revenues to enable more benefits (more tax expenditures per person) – a system constantly requiring more people to financially support. All the while, however, the American people have been embracing an immoral (and becoming amoral) life-style that requires and that results in fewer people: fewer children means less responsibility for ME, more stuff for ME, more time for ME. America for decades now has been clinging to moral adolescence, to a refusal to grow up, to a denial of personal responsibility, to an obsession with self – and thus to the abandonment of true love, of authentic marriage, and of generous responsible parenthood. We see the progressing triumph of this Peter Pan refusal to mature in the culture: within decades, contraception was made “Christian”, abortion was made “legal”, homosexuality was made “moral” – and thus children were made “optional”.

Washington, however, has continued legislating and spending under a model of growing population, while America has continued producing an ever shrinking and ever more-self-obsessed one. That’s the prescription for a national train-wreck; one that could and should have been foreseen if we had enough adults around who could do the math. Immoral or amoral living has economic consequences.

“It’s the economy stupid” is far too nearsighted a proverb. The human soul is more valuable than mere money, and is made for far grander and more noble things, but God will get our attention one way or the other. Unbridled hedonism has two downsides, economic and spiritual. The sins of man have one solution! And thus the Church has one overriding responsibility – and it is not to meet its annual budget, or to provide more meeting spaces or reorganize or have an annual “mission” with an even more “inspirational” preacher than last year. We don’t need guest motivational speakers who come and go; we need the abiding and life-changing presence of God here among us. We need to meet Christ; we need to become alive in the Holy Spirit; we need renewal.

The Church exists to evangelize! We have spent decades now in our parishes and dioceses with mostly “in-house” concerns: in shallow attempts at spiritual and moral introspection, in canned programs of formation, in paper-thin episcopal pronouncements, plans and policies. In spite of all this apparent activity, we have failed seriously to commit to what is essential, what Christ formed and sent us to do. Granted there are exceptions by the grace of God, though relatively few. What has become “normal”, however, is not good: the Church has failed to throw her heart and soul and being into the mission He gave us, to make disciples.

America is in her shiny brand-new bought-on-credit-with-no-down-payment car, cruising at 80, on a paved road to a radical humiliation. Maybe such a humiliation can usher in an authentic humility before God. And maybe the Church will begin to see her failure to be Church and to be His Light for this dark culture. May He have mercy on us, and give us His grace still. Maybe yet we will turn to Him.


  1. Bravo, Thomas!

    May each of us remember that we, as individuals, are called to BE Church. It is not merely the hierarchy or the clergy who are the Body of Christ. Christ only stood silently in the face of the final accusation which provided our salvation. Throughout His ministry, which is the example we are to follow, it was humble courage that fought the injustice of the reigning earthly power. Every one of us is empowered to stand up for moral justice and greatly equipped with the grace of the Holy Spirit to continue that ministry. Our silence is no grace — and most especially the silence of the shepherds who are to lead His flock!

    We each must encourage our pastors — and support their godly attempts. We each must work with the very unique and personal tools of grace God gives us to be that Light in this dark culture.

  2. Dear Thomas,

    The link between moral and economic crises is real; whether anyone sees or wants to see it. The link can be missed, perhaps mostly, by those who recognize no absolute truth. I say “mostly” because there are also some who were taught the reality of Absolute Truth but are so confused by the “tyranny of relativism” they do not remember what they learned.

    To love the Truth, to earnestly seek for Truth and to find Him makes all the difference. Once we have met Christ, and begun to know and love Him, we begin to discern the true from the false. We begin to look more deeply into our hearts and let go of what is merely superficial, and transitory. We need less, for we have found infinitely more. He becomes our Way, our Truth and our Life. — not merely words — He is Absolutely Real Light in the darkness of this world; and in His Light we see, and become light in Him.

    For those who allowed their light to grow dim or to go out altogether, there is always renewal of heart and mind in the sacrament of confession. Freedom from sin empowers not only an individual but as one grows, we all grow.

    Freedom attains its perfection when directed toward God. The more one does what is good the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to ‘the slavery of sin’ (CCC 1733)

    The greatest obstacle for those who want to “see” Truth in our world today, it seems to me, is the large number of “lukewarm” and fewer but vocal “dissident” Catholics. No wonder seekers cannot discern the true from the false. Our enemy has done a good job in planting weeds among God’s field of wheat, (Mt 13: 27-28). There is only evil in seeking to kill a baby conceived. Abortion is murder. The selfishness that seeks to close itself off from children by practicing contraception is a deceit of the same evil one. Sin is ultimately to choose self rather than God; to love self more than Him.

    God’s field extends through all the world and we see the moral and economic crises everywhere. God, however, remains True though everyman and woman be false. He will never refuse anyone who comes to Him with a humble heart. God does not leave us, but will we leave Him? When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?

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