When the moving statue of Ballinspittle kick-started a blitz of holy visions around the country during the last recession, some ill-advised workmen cleared a Marian shrine on the Cork-Dublin road for a spot of spring-cleaning. In the absence of the Blessed Virgin's plaster likeness, an anonymous joker stuck a sign on her pedestal, announcing: "Gone to Lunch".
It's easy to scoff at the visionaries flocking to Rathkeale this past week to recite the rosary around a tree stump. Even the canonical responses to the screamingly dodgy phenomenon cannot keep the smirk off their statements. Yet, some of the pilgrims have exhibited a ruthlessly honest assessment of their own states of mind, such as the lady who confessed: "My eyes are showing me what my heart wants to see." Time and again, people descending on the west Limerick town, eager to tap into reliable, old-fashioned religious ecstasy, have marvelled at how it has brought the disparate together. Young and old, they say, are united in prayer. Believers and non-believers. Settled folk and members of the Travelling community; a tangible beneficence in a town where the ethnic tensions are sometimes palpable. The word 'sharing' peppers their testimonies like an essential ingredient.
One can only hope that Our Lady will soon make a personal appearance in or around Government Buildings and in the vicinity of Ibec's parallel planet on Baggot Street. Perhaps she might materialise on a slice of toast in the Four Seasons Hotel while the ruling elite power-breakfast over their list of demands for self-preservation. Or her silhouette might become imprinted on the cufflinks of a strutting banker as a shock deterrent from the road to perdition. Our Lady of Nama, help us.
For we are desperately, woegeously slow learners. Nine months ago, we were Paul heading for Damascus, awaking to the catastrophic madness of rampant, greed-driven capitalism. We were wrapped in a charismatic renewal, rejecting the deadly sins of self-interest, avarice, profit-worship, arrogance, nepotism, vulgar display and lording it over the fellow with the smaller house and the Citroen Saxa. When the over-70s rebelled in the Westland Row church against the hijacking of their medical cards and Seán FitzPatrick was exposed as a hypocrite and a cheat, we were converted en masse to the creed of everyone-pulling-together.
Well, actually, no. That was an illusion too.
A Nobel Prize-winning economist from Harvard told an audience in Trinity College on Thursday night that it is time to find "a new capitalism". Professor Amartya Sen said we need to develop "a sharing ethic". He's right, of course, but there is little point in preaching to the converted. Was Tom Parlon, who called electricians deprived of their rightful pay "lunatics", in the professor's audience? Were Brian Cowen, Mary Coughlan and Brian Lenihan there, blushing at their high-handedness in spending fortunes we do not have to shore up the banks while depriving the poor of their Christmas bonuses and keeping An Bord Snip Nua's tough medicine a secret from the beleaguered taxpayer? Was Bertie Ahern, who encouraged those who advised caution to commit suicide, listening? Or his buddy, Seán 'Baron of Ballsbridge' Dunne, he who calls economists who foretold the downward plunge "hyenas".
The establishment's consensus last week that the electricians were the anti-patriots putting the entire economy at risk was proof that all the talk of turning our backs on liberal capitalism was no more than empty words. Employers who withheld the pay they agreed two years ago for work done cast themselves in the role of the well-intentioned wronged. So indoctrinated is the establishment in the capitalist gospel that scarcely anyone demurred. Never mind that it was the construction industry that pulled the rug from under the economy. Never mind that we now have to find countless billions to buy builders' and developers' debts to rescue the banks. Never mind that 62% of construction employers inspected last year by the National Employment Rights Authority had breached employment rules.
In the stand-off with the electricians, employers have argued that everyone knew the economy was up the Swannee in 2007, when the new pay rates were agreed. Come again? I seem to recall a certain Mr Parlon advising all and sundry in the springtime of 2008 that there was never a better time to buy a house. Already, the establishment is wriggling out of its promises to find a better way than the cosy capitalism that created our old fools' paradise, the celtic tiger. That is because, deep down inside, it does not believe in the concept of sharing.
Bring on the moving statues, I say.