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 centred on the danger consumerism. 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 centre of things and often leads to greed and selfishness. This is Christ warns against in the Gospel of today, already prefigured in the First Reading.
In the Gospel (cf. Luke 12:13-21), Christ illustrates to us on the need to take care and guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions. This is exemplified in the parable of the “Rich Fool” He presented to us. 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). Thus, God said to him: “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?” and Christ concluded: “So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.” This is exactly the danger of consumerism. The problem is not about being rich or living a comfortable life; for Pope Leo XIII taught in “Rerum Novarum”: “material prosperity can be the result of Christian morality adequately and completely practised, 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, for a time would come when we shall leave all we’ve acquired for others; this is sheer futility, or as the First Reading cf. (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 laboured for it at all? This is vanity, dear friends. In this view, St. Paul in the Second Reading (cf. Colossians 3:1-5;9-11) warns us against this same earthly desire (consumerism) which he describes as immorality, impurity, guilty passion, evil desire greed (intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth) and calls it 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.