|Ernest Zampelli , professor, business and economics, was quoted in a Feb. 6 Savannah (Ga.) Morning News article about the effect the Lenten season can have on a Catholic's economic status. See his comments in the article below.|
From: Savannah Morning News Date: Feb. 6, 2008 Author: Dana Clark FeltyHaving a hard time making ends meet?
Take that frown and turn it upside down.
If you happen to be Catholic, you could use the belt-tightening you were doing anyway to fulfill your religious obligations during Lent.
Today is Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent, when Catholics and followers of other liturgical faiths mark the 44 days - including Sundays - before Easter by giving up something as an act of penance.
The Lenten period also requires observers to pray and give time or money to charity.
One religion expert suggests using the financial sacrifices many consumers are making during the economic downturn as a way of reconnecting to their Catholic faith.
"Making economic sacrifices in the context of Lent with its emphasis on personal sacrifice for religious reasons might make some people feel a bit more upbeat about downsizing some of their consumption habits," said Michele Dillon, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire and author of "Catholic Identity: Balancing Reason, Faith, and Power."
Dillon has conducted research on how different groups like feminists and gays and lesbians have held true to their Catholic identity even as social norms, science and technology evolve.
Despite their differences, Catholics can come together around the ritual of observing Lent.
If some believers see that they're having to cut back on spending anyway, they can use that feeling of sacrifice to reflect on Lent.
"That just might make it more palatable to some people," Dillon said.
But what's good for the soul may not be so good for the local economy, which is largely driven by consumer spending.
If a large group of people cut back significantly, the effects could ripple through a community, said Ernest M. Zampelli, professor of business and economics at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
"When there's a consumer-led recession, you know, now is not the time," he said.
"If all households did that - especially at this time - that would have a contractionary influence on the economy."
About a quarter of Americans say they are Catholic, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The Catholic Diocese of Savannah estimates followers represent about 5 percent of the city's population.
In his annual Lenten Message, Savannah Bishop J. Kevin Boland emphasized prayer, charity and abstaining from alcohol and television use.
Pope Benedict XVI emphasized in his annual Lenten address the practice of almsgiving, which is both giving to charity and denying attachments to worldly goods, he said.
"You cannot serve God and mammon," he said, quoting the Bible.
Almsgiving helps us to overcome this constant temptation, teaching us to respond to our neighbor's needs and to share with others whatever we possess through divine goodness."
Zampelli said Catholics can serve both their spiritual needs and their local economy by making Lent primarily about helping others.
"I think a lot of Catholics now will do something positive, maybe sacrifice their time to volunteer," he said. "Penitence doesn't have to be giving up per se. It could be a more positive approach to doing something."