As we furiously drive around town trying to finish our Christmas shopping this year, it would behoove us to keep our habits of consumption in mind. It’s easy to get so lost in the wave of Christmas preparation that we lose our sense of frugality and spirit of poverty. Let this serve as your reminder to use this Advent and Christmas to prepare for the Lord’s arrival and express our generosity to others in His name.
Josh Raymond welcomed Father John McDonald back to The Inner Life to discuss this growing tide of consumerism and how we can return to the true meaning of Christmas while still embracing tradition.
Father John began by explaining that simply purchasing things has no negative connotation. We all understand that a large part of Christmas tradition is gift-giving, not to mention that everybody also has needs to fill through the purchasing of food, clothes, appliances, etc. What determines the moral standing of our purchasing behavior is our intent. If we are purchasing things just to have them or to fulfill an impulsive desire or because we have the money to do so, that may not be a good reason.
Before the “brands” of companies that told you who you were buying from, there were the “brands” of cattle drivers that wanted others to know whose cattle it was. In other words, brands were a sign of dominion over the animals, of ownership. While we still technically buy from companies so that we can own the product of a particular brand, our consumerism can so easily flip the script. “And then he asked that very pointed question, ‘Do we own the brands or do the brands own us?’” Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters. Will we serve God or our earthly possessions?
How do we orient ourselves to the former? How do we guide our mentality towards a mindset of generosity and service rather than one of selfishness? As Josh pointed out, it’s not as if one day we wake up and decide to become full-on materialists. It’s not a sudden transition, but a slow transformation from an average consumer into a prodigal one. Father John replied by recalling the words of Our Lord. “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.” (John 10:27)
We already belong to Jesus. By seeking another master to serve, like earthly possessions, we are denying our identity as part of God’s flock, our calling. In order to stay true to our calling to be a saint, to be a sheep in God’s flock, Father John recommends reflection on our intentions before purchasing something. What relationship is this furthering? Is it bringing us closer to God? Is it helping us grow closer to our loved ones? We shouldn’t always be spending money for its own sake or for personal, isolated pleasure.
Even when we go out to a nice restaurant for a meal, normally we’re going for the company of another person or group of people. If we indulge in something like a nice suit or a nice pair of shoes, it’s so that we can look presentable for Mass, an interview, a date, or a big event in somebody else’s life. We need to be conscious of the purchases we make and the true purpose that they are serving. We are not called to fill our own voids with things of this world, but to fulfill the needs of others in the name of Christ.
This season of giving, let us make a resolution to reflect on the purchases that we make so that we have the right intentions. Do not spend money out of impulse or obligation or pride or loneliness. Let us give gifts to the people in our lives because we love them and we want them to know that we are thinking of them, that we care about them, and that we are praying for them. Gift-giving is not a transaction, but a beautiful symbol of the relationship between family members, friends, and loved ones.
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