In the face of the unusual, largely non-ideological opponent of consumerism, do Catholics offer a different way of life? Yes. Here are a just a few tools we have to bear witness to the Kingdom of Christ in a world more interested in Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
1. The Sabbath Principle
Observing the Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, testifies that we did not create ourselves. Time is not our own. Matter is not our own. Even energy is not our own. We are dependent creatures, not Atlas shouldering the world. Sabbath rest trains us to stop, receive life’s gift as grace, recover wonder and awe, rediscover the sacred, and refuse the profane. To that end:
2. Know Pain, Know Gain. Learning Contentment Through Suffering
- We cease from buying and selling — i.e., laboring to acquire as though we could secure our well-being apart from the grace of God.
- We cease ranking and comparing our “consumption” status with our fellow worshippers.
- We remember that we were created as friends of the God who made heaven and earth and not as slaves in Egypt. We were created to be something long before we were to have anything.
- We take the time to savor more so we might consume less. Nutritionists tell us to chew more, if we want to eat less. So, too, when it comes to using the things of this earth. So much of our consumption is done in a rush. If we enjoy more, we will guzzle less.
- We steward our resources better in order to share what we have received.
St. James begins his letter with a paradox: “Count it all joy
, my brethren, when you meet various trials
” (Jas 1:2-18). Rejoice — don’t lament, don’t wallow in self-pity — because the painful trial will refine your faith so that “you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” We find true contentment — lacking nothing — in the midst of those everyday trials we don’t choose: what James calls the “trial of suffering.” When we recognize and embrace a trial of suffering and pursue it according to God’s will, we mature to the “discipline of suffering.”
This is the mind of Jesus in Gethsemane. He turns what he didn’t immediately choose into that which he embraced as God’s will. Do our immediate desires conflict with God’s will? Yes. Confess it, acknowledge it as Jesus did. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” When we say, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will,” ( Mt 26:39; Lk 22:42) the Spirit of Christ is in us, surrendering our immediate desires in hope of a greater good. Like Jesus, we embrace the cross for the joy set before us because we have given little to gain eternity (Heb 12:12)
3. The Eucharist
We are to model lives that make the consumerist model look immature, weak, trifling, and shallow. We don’t do this by simply reading Brideshead Revisited
rather than Fifty Shades of Grey
. Rather, we live lives that are characterized by the Eucharist, Thanksgiving.
The Eucharist is the “source and summit of our faith.” We must never drive a wedge between the daily and hourly and momentary acts of thanksgiving we perform in the face of the consumerist culture that claws for our attention and the sacramental expression of thanksgiving we call the Eucharist. They “feed” each other, if you will. We need to strengthen the link between the Eucharist and daily life, between sacramental belief and daily behavior.
Consumer culture breeds worry and status seeking. Not so Christ: “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6,7). This directly challenges the consumerism that tells us to look immediately to go shopping to put things right and get what we want. Scripture tells us to first pray before we act to fulfill these desires. If we do so, we will be able to separate legitimate from illegitimate desires.
The refusal to give thanks thwarts the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit is given, John tells us, to reveal and bear witness to Christ (Jn 15:26, 27; Cf. 14:15-31; 16:1-15). If our lives are absent thanksgiving, then our lives are absent Christ, and we might just as well follow the consumerist path and follow the popular Epicureanism that marked St. Paul’s generation: “If Christ has not been raised . . . [then] we are of all men most to be pitied. . . . ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’ ” (1 Cor 15:17, 19, 32).
Al Kresta is a broadcaster, journalist, president and CEO of Ave Maria Communication, host of the nationally syndicated Catholic talk show Kresta in the Afternoon, and national spokesman for StopHHS.com, the largest grassroots effort to combat the HHS Mandate.
This is an edited excerpt from “Dangers to the Faith: Recognizing Catholicism’s 21st-Century Opponents.”