Feeling cheated by the European dream
Easter was early this year so, by the time the April issue of EuropeInfos reaches its readers, the austerities of Lent will have been replaced by the legitimate return to the looser discipline of normal life. It would be a mistake to let paschal joy blind us to the good the penitential season has done us. Nor should we forget that an increasing number of people in Europe, our home continent, have the asceticism and sobriety of Lent forced on them three hundred and sixty five days a year. The terrorist attacks in Brussels on 22 March, reprehensible in their callous violence, offensive to the foundational values of an open democratic society, remind us of how fragile is the hold any of us have on life.
The children reared in poverty in Balham, Batignoles, Ballymun or the fifth Bezirk of Vienna; the young un-employed university graduates of Greece, Portugal or Spain; the low-paid shop workers at the check-outs of our supermarkets on Sunday afternoons; and the huddled masses of migrants from the Middle East gathered in increasing frustration at the closed gates of the new Jerusalem we began to build on the firm foundations of the Treaty of Rome, all feel cheated by the European dream. And yet it is a simple fact that our dream could become a reality for all the above and many more if we - the entitled, the citizens, the employed, the home-owners of Europe – could live with less and could carry the spirit of the Christian Lent into our year-round day to day lives.
Therese of Lisieux, known by many as the Little Flower, said that it was her ambition to return to God empty-handed (les mains vides). Therese set the bar high and was recognised almost immediately as a saint. For the rest of us our ambitions will be more modest. We are all attached to our possessions. We speak of goods and chattels, and the unquestioned assumption is that what we own, what we possess is “good” for us. The problem is we all want too much. We all have unbridled appetites. We are all possessive to the degree of being ourselves possessed by our belongings. And what applies to individual EU citizens applies to the EU as a whole. We are too focused on growth modelled on material possessions, on having property and on acquiring more of it. The emerging Social Pillar of the EU may signify a more equitable sharing of the EU cake, but we have a long way to go in breaking loose of the power our acquisitive appetites have over us.
Anselm Grün – and I am an inveterate fan! – has just published a book on Greed. It was wonderful spiritual reading for Lent. Avarice plays its part in our European literature: we all know Moliere’s miser, we all know Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge. Anselm Grün analyses greed, yet his book also touches on a virtue in which the aspirational “community of values” which the EU proclaims itself to be is singularly lacking. That virtue is temperantia, temperance. If the EU could run a permanent temperance audit on all its policy proposals, the family of member states we are still seeking to construct could be fairer and its goods more equitable distributed. Our poor could feel we cared about them, that we gave them a bigger slice of the cake, and that we opened the door to all in need. By saying ‘no’ to ourselves the way we do in Lent a little more often, we might feel more relaxed about saying ‘yes’ to others, especially those who have less than we have. A pipe dream, perhaps, but I always understood that the European project was also a dream.
Fr Patrick H. Daly