SUNDAY REFLECTION: “THE DANGER OF CONSUMERISM”

18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C: “THE DANGER OF CONSUMERISM”

When Pope John Paul
II paid his first visit to the United States in 1979, he delivered one of his
most memorable homilies on the subject of consumption to a congregation
gathered in New York City at Yankee Stadium. After admonishing them on the
danger of consumerism, he went on to say: “Catholics of the United States, and
all you citizens of the United States, you have such a tradition of spiritual
generosity, industry, simplicity and sacrifice that you cannot fail to heed
this call today for a new enthusiasm and a fresh determination. It is in the
joyful simplicity of a life inspired by the Gospel and the Gospel’s spirit of fraternal
sharing that you will find the best remedy for sour criticism, paralyzing doubt
and avoiding the temptation to make money the principle means and indeed the
very measure of human advancement…”  The
Catholic Church teaches that, it is not the being rich itself that is wrong, but
rather the desire of craving for more in order to spend life in enjoyment as an
end in itself.
A look at our world today reveals the pursuit of the “good life” through practices of
what is known as “consumerism” has become one of the dominant global social
forces, cutting across differences of religion, class, gender, ethnicity and
nationality. The gospel message of today is centered on the danger consumerism.
But then, what is consumerism and what effect does it have on the present day
man? The term “consumerism” has
several definitions. These definitions may not be related to each other and
confusingly, they conflict with each other. However, I will proffer a
working definition vis-à-vis the reflection at hand. In this vein, consumerism
refers to the consumption of goods at a higher rate; as a social
and economic order and ideology,
consumerism encourages the
acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. What is
wrong with this idea? Human wants are insatiable and unlimited, and the available
resources are limited. The desire for acquiring goods or possession of wealth
in ever increasing amounts (consumerism) places the self at the center of
things and often leads to greed and selfishness. This is what Christ warns
against in the gospel of today, and this theme is central to the readings of
today.
In the Gospel (Luke 12:13-21), Christ says: “Take care
to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does
not consist of possessions.” Then he goes on to tell a parable of the “Rich
Fool”. The parable was about a rich man who after having a rich harvest,
decided to acquire more in ever increasing amounts (all to his benefits alone,
without considering others). Thus, God said to him: “You fool, this night your
life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom
will they belong?” and Christ concluded: “Thus will it be for all who store up
treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
This is exactly the danger of consumerism. The problem is not about being rich
or living a comfortable life; Pope Leo XIII taught in Rerum Novarum”: material
prosperity can be the result of Christian morality adequately and completely
practiced, “which merits the blessings of God who is the source of all
blessings.” The problem arises when we think
only of ourselves in particular without being sensitive to the needs of the
poor around us.  This is sheer futility!  Or as the First Reading (Ecclesiastes 1:2;
2:21-23) succinctly puts it, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity! The background
of the book of Ecclesiastes warns against attachment to the goods of this world
and denies the happiness that comes with riches, and puts in mind the thoughts
of the afterlife (destiny of humans).  Hence,
what would be one’s profit if he toils all his life, acquiring wealth upon
wealth for himself, yet when he dies he would leave it for another person who
has not labored for it at all? This too is vanity, dear friends. In this
view, St. Paul in the Second Reading (Colossians 3:1-5;9-11) warns us against this
same earthly desire (consumerism) which he describes as greed (intense and
selfish desire for something, especially wealth) and  calls it idolatry. He says: “…Put to death,
then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion,
evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry…” 
Still on the
exhortation against consumerism, Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that man’s
apparently infinite desire for riches is disordered and wholly different from
our infinite desire for God. The more we possess God, the more we know and love
him; while the more we possess riches, the more we despise what we have and
seek other things because when we possess them we realize their insufficiency. Dearest
friends, consumerism takes our world farther from the goal of the happiness and
comfort of all; it causes instability in the society and more problems. According
to the law of “Capitalist accumulation”, the greater the accumulation of wealth
by one class, the more there is an accumulation of poverty, misery, and
degradation of another class.  
In his 1967 encyclical letter on the development of peoples, “Populorum
Progressio”
, Pope Paul VI drew upon St. Ambrose to emphasize the
universal purpose of all created things, a purpose not abrogated when certain
things become someone’s private property. St. Ambrose wrote: You are not making
a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what
is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have
abrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only the rich. St.
Basil, in a much-quoted homily, once declared that the bread we clutch in our
hands belongs to the starving, the cloak we keep locked in our closet belongs
to the naked, the shoes we are not using belong to the barefooted.
For the many times we have failed to rely on God for assistance and
think that we can make progress by ourselves and exhibiting tendencies of
consumerism, we turn to God our Father and ask for his loving mercy, just like
the psalmist of today (Ps. 90): “Have pity on
your servants, O Lord! Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that
we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.”; also realizing that the
Lord is our source and summit, and that we are like grass which springs and
flowers in the morning, by evening, it withers and fades.

O that today you would listen to His
Voice, harden not your hearts!!!

CLICK HERE ALSO TO READ: “SUNDAY REFLECTION: THE ‘POLITICS’ OF ‘DIALOGUING’ WITH GOD”

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