When you have four hundred pounds of beans in the house, you need have no fear of starvation. Other things, delicacies such as sugar, tomatoes, peppers, coffee, fish, or meat, may come sometimes miraculously, through the intercession of the Virgin, sometimes through industry or cleverness; but your beans are there, and you are safe. Beans are a roof over your stomach. Beans are a warm cloak against economic cold. John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat
It is ironic that our culture has taken what was once common sense – being prepared – and focused attention on its extremes so as to mock the whole idea (e.g. Doomsday Preppers). That is only slightly more ironic than having those who have come to recognize the value of preparedness – but lack the common sense behind it – become marks for companies (i.e. the preppo-survivalist complex) that market a version of preparedness that is to real preparedness what Santa Claus is to Christmas [we must also note another irony: it is the very efficiency of our economy – the very one that markets goofy preparedness – that has made true preparedness (seem) optional].
Most priests live on very tight budgets. This makes them and their families vulnerable. In order to be good leaders, providers, and protectors of their families (and for the sake wisdom and virtue), priests need to be prepared. The fact that they are on a tight budget means that they have to be intentional about it (and not just start throwing things into their Amazon carts etc. like the doomsday marketers hope they will). The good thing is that the slow, steady, and frugal approach is the right one. After all; it is this approach that worked for our great-grandparents, and it will work for us.
Here are some realistic tips for setting up a system that will allow priests and their families to weather hard times with as little disruption as possible.
First, get – and keep – everyone healthy.
- Physical health. The two greatest threats to the priest and his family are unemployment and expensive medical bills (alas, all too often these go together). And yet, if you look at priests you cannot notice how poorly many of them take care of themselves. It costs nothing to lose weight and get in better shape, but the benefits are tremendous. Asceticism isn’t just for training our minds.
- Mental and Spiritual Health. Physical health is only part of being healthy. When a family is stressed by problems (e.g. the financial stresses of unemployment and crushing medical bills), it exacerbates mental and spiritual health problems. It is a sad fact that there are too many priests that leave their own mental and spiritual health problems untreated while they themselves minister to others. Again, the time to man up and take care of these things is now. Porn addictions? Eating addictions? Drinking problems? Neither these things nor the underlying issues they mask are going to get better when the pressure really gets turned up.
- Relationship health. Serious financial stress can destroy marriages that can limp along pretty well during good (or even merely hard) times. A strong marriage is a force multiplier in disastrous times; bad marriages compound the problems a zillion times. And don’t stop with your marriage; living as part of an extended family and community increases our resilience. There is also a pragmatic consideration that does not apply elsewhere: divorced priests cannot remarry and may not even be allowed to serve.
Second, get your financial house in order.
- Get out of debt and save some money. I just wrote about this last week, so I won’t harp on it too much here. Debt makes every family vulnerable. Get out of it. Saving increases every families resilience; start doing it now. Having some money squirreled away makes a huge difference when trouble comes. I’m not talking about silver, gold, or old currency; just basic cash (ever been in a place where the ATM’s don’t work for a while? I have and it wasn’t pretty) and a decent savings account. As with the pantry (below), we should all be working towards having enough in savings to pay our bills for 3-5 months of unemployment. That’s a tough thing to do, but even a month’s worth would make a huge difference.
- Maintain marketable skills. Part of being resilient is not putting all your eggs in one basket. If at all possible, priests should develop and maintain skills that are marketable in case their access to the altar is lost. Remember, this can happen without any fault of the priest. All it takes is an accusation of impropriety to get priests put on unpaid leave (or worse); it’s not fair, but innocence doesn’t pay the mortgage in the short term – skills do.
Third, keep a deep pantry.
- Buy extra non-perishables. You don’t need freeze dried mountain house meals or MRE’s to be prepared; the better strategy is to buy a couple of extra non-perishables every time you go grocery shopping (e.g. canned food, toiletries, pancake mix, batteries, basic medical supplies). Don’t overdo it and be intentional about the stuff you get (i.e. keep a list!). I recommend starting with the things that you’ll need for a short term problems (like power outages) and then gradually build up until you have enough to soften the blow of several months of unemployment/underemployment. Some folks do things with gardening, canning, etc. One day perhaps I’ll be that good.
- Beans and rice (and water). Like Steinbeck wrote (above), having some bags (or 5 gallon buckets) of beans and rice is a “roof over your head” and a “warm cloak against economic cold”. Water is another cheap thing to store but really comes in handy when things go south for a while. Our biggest ticket purchase was a Berkey water filter (two is one and one is none).
- Buy a power inverter. Everyone that owns a car owns a reliable generator; all they need is a good high wattage inverter. Add a couple of long extension cords and power strips, and you can make losing the power more of an adventure than a serious hardship. It’s a good idea to keep some extra gas in the shed and to keep the car(s) at least half tanked-up (especially when big storms are likely). There are more expensive solutions to the power problem, but a couple of good inverters provide huge bang for the buck.
- Guns? I know guys that consider themselves prepared because the own guns and lots of ammo. If they haven’t done the other things, then they have bought into a defective preparedness plan. After all, it’s hard to buy groceries or pay bills with bullets (things have to be pretty bad for barter and thuggery to make bullets as good as currency and a well-stocked pantry). Having said that, security is something to consider. If you don’t want to own a gun (e.g. some think it’s uncanonical for priests to own them … I think they are wrong but I respect their right to believe it) even a really good pepper spray can make a difference (and be sure to try it out so that you see how it works).
- Buy a dog. Dogs are awesome. In difficult times, they provide reliable companionship. In dangerous times they provide advanced warning and deterrence (yes, they can also bite).
- Don’t buy into the zombie apocalypse. Mindless undead (or any other demographic) are not going to try and over-run your house. As I pointed out above, the biggest threats to our security are unemployment and medical bills. Civil unrest and economic collapse are possible (you can look up stories about what happened in civilized Argentina), but the same general principles apply to preparing for them as for the more probable things.
- You may need to leave for a while. Preppers love to talk about their bug-out places in the sticks. The free functional equivalent of a bug-out place is to have close family and/or friends in different places; they’ll be happy to put you up for a while if need be (and I’m sure you’ll do the same for them). In hard times it is common for families to move in with parents, siblings, and friends. It’s a good idea to keep “bug out bags” ready in case you have to leave home quickly. Don’t forget stuff like games for the kids and back-up batteries for your devices. There’s a lot of stress when things are happening fast and having bags packed (or mostly packed) really helps.
Preparedness is one of those things that people spend too much worrying about and not enough time just getting it done. We’re coming up on a new year; what a great time to make sure that our lives are resilient and that we have done a good job making sure we can take care of our families even if times get hard(er).
PS Here is a podcast I did with Fr. John Peck on Prepper Priests. I think you’ll like it (he’s always a popular interview).