One 'dig out' that did not come from Europe


One ‘dig out’ that did not come from Europe

Recently on my annual ‘parish visitation’ of an estate, I met a father and mother who were delighted that no one of their four children had yet finished college.

Thursday, 11 April 2013
9:00 AM GMT

We are convinced that it is Europe – and the “dig out” from Europe’s financial institutions – which is keeping the country afloat (and which, since the Recession, is costing us “an arm and a leg” !). But maybe we are overlooking one particular source nearer home which – on the day-to-day household front – provides the real “dig out” that is keeping the show on the road. I mean those supports through which the middle-aged parent-generation are now bailing their own children out of their indebtedness.

Recently on my annual ‘parish visitation’ of an estate, I met a father and mother who were delighted that no one of their four children had yet finished college. Had a son or daughter already graduated and begun work, the parents would have been urging the young person to get a foot on the property-ladder. Most likely, they would even have gone guarantor for the mortgage. And now – with down-turn on all fronts – they would have been shouldering the debt.

Commenting on how the younger generation is being kept afloat financially by the parent-generation, Eilis 0’Hanlon remarks : “They’re still digging deep to help out their children and grandchildren. A third provide some sort of financial support to younger members of the family” [Sunday Independent – based on statistics from a Quality of Life study undertaken by Sage, the life-style and insurance company]. And these parents may have been laid off work themselves, or may have had their retirement postponed; their own pension and savings could have been hit – and often they themselves are cutting back on luxuries and on ‘treats’ like foreign trips.

They may have to “dig into their own savings, or even re-mortgage their own house, to help children secure a mortgage of their own… The situation would be a deal more dire, if their parents weren’t shielding [the young people] from so many of the blows”.


Finally, notes Eilis 0’Hanlon, the older generation are “still giving more money to charity than any other group…The fact that those with a strong religious faith are more likely to donate to charity, shouldn’t be forgotten”.

Certainly, a person’s open-heartedness and generosity is to be appreciated at any age. The problem is, however : When ‘donor fatigue’ – or even ‘compassion fatigue’ – sets in : what happens then ? There is a totally unique quality about: generosity for the long haul. We are reminded of the dilemma facing the marathon-runner who has ‘hit the wall’: now, where is that much-needed ‘second wind’ to come from ?

The answer here from the Christian religion is that a special source of strength is available to us, because Jesus has sent his own Spirit to live in us. (And by coincidence, that word ‘spirit’ is associated with ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ – as in the phrase, ‘re-spirit-ory care’). This is the Christian’s version of ‘second wind’ – or extra energy-of-spirit.

Right here, I like to think, is the secret of why some long-term volunteers never sag under the force of inertia.

The most recent prominent figure to point this out – as a rule-of-thumb from experience – was Charles Clark, former British Government minister. He recalled his time as a community-worker in Hackney, London – and he picked out, in the majority of cases, one feature which characterised workers heading-up a community or voluntary group : the ones who persevered in the job were convinced religious believers. Another ex-Government minister has made the same point : Roy Hattersley identified a typical profile for each volunteer during the clean-up after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans; Those who were motivated to show up, came from strong religious backgrounds; on the other hand, volunteers from non-believing and ‘humanist’ circles were noticeable by their absence.


One notable surge of generosity was demonstrated when refugees from the stricken Costa Concordia cruiser were conducted after dark to the neighbouring island of Gigli. The parish church was opened-up as a reception-centre; and the islanders did all they could in the emergency to make the survivors welcome. The parish priest was reported first to have paid special tribute to the kindness of the island’s young people. Yet he went on to seemingly spoil everything by adding : “And they don’t believe in God” !

Even if he had not seen these adolescents at church, this does not take from their large-hearted gesture…However, future decades of our century may take some of the edge off that unfortunate remark. In the first flush of youth, natural energy sometimes serves as a cushion or buffer against inertia and selfishness. But as energies diminish, people will often need some extra stimulus to jolt them into generosity – including those island youngsters, now grown older !…And this is where – more often than not – religious believers tend to score : they have that inner power-of-spirit to fall back on – the ultimate ‘renewable energy.

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