God’s love came to us in circumstances of radical poverty. The Creator of the universe was born in a stable, poor and homeless. How then has the preparation for the celebration of this miracle come to include Black Friday brawls and countless tips to reduce holiday induced stress? We blame stores for advertising Christmas in July and opening early on Thanksgiving but the real problem is much closer than the nearest department store.
The problem lies in each one of us.
Many of us, if we are honest with ourselves, will admit that we often put money, or the things that money buys, before God. It is no wonder that this mentality has extended even to the celebration of the miracle of God being born on earth to a poor, young Jewish girl in a stable.
An alcoholic doesn’t usually stop drinking on Christmas; we too bring all of the things we grapple with, including covetousness and the idolatry of things over people, to one of the most important spiritual celebrations in the liturgical year.
Pope Francis has been reminding us of the dangers of consumerism and idolatry over and over again in his homilies and exhortations:
We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money. (Evangelii Gaudium)
Maybe people haven’t been paying attention, but Pope Francis is not saying anything new. Certainly, he is saying it in his own way, with his own cultural nuances, his own perspective, and his own God-given personality, but in a general sense, this is nothing new. Consumerism, idolatry of money, the Christian duty to share resources and possessions – all topics popes have written on for years.
Check it out:
Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light. – Pope Benedict, (Christmas Homily 2011)
All of us experience firsthand the sad effects of this blind submission to pure consumerism: in the first place a crass materialism, and at the same time a radical dissatisfaction, because one quickly learns … that the more one possesses the more one wants. – Blessed Pope John Paul II, (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 1987)
And just for good measure, let’s wind the clock back a bit more:
But if the question be asked: How must one’s possessions be used? – the Church replies without hesitation in the words of the same holy Doctor [Thomas Aquinas]: “Man should not consider his material possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need. – Pope Leo XIII, (Rerum Novarum, 1891)
This Christmas, here are some ways we can loosen our grip on the things that don’t matter :
1. Buy Less Gifts & Give Real Gifts: How many of us give gifts for Christmas just because we feel guilty if we receive something and don’t return the favor? But how is a gift really about giving if it is quid pro quo? What if we tried giving some of our gifts to people who cannot repay the favor? What if we just gave gifts according to inspiration rather than making sure we have something for every single person who might return the favor? Would we lose friends? Probably not. Would we lose sleep? Unlikely. Will we gain time better spent with family and with God? Hopefully.
2. Dine Simply & Stress-free: What was Christmas dinner like for the Holy Family? Pretty simple I would guess. Would the sky fall if we didn’t spend tons of money and time on a Christmas meal? Now, I understand many of us show our love through cooking. You may enjoy cooking. I am not knocking a well-cooked meal. I’m just saying, if it causes you stress, if it drains your finances, if it keeps you from being present to your family and to the meaning of the day, it’s better to make grilled cheese. The money and time you save can be better spent on other things. Jesus won’t mind.
3. Give, Give, and then Give Some More: Remember the widow’s mite? Jesus asks us to imitate that little old lady who literally gave her last dime to God. Giving from our surplus is not what God asks of us. He asks us to give until it hurts. Living in a convent, I see people give donations to the sisters that are their widow’s mite all the time. These generous people are often not rich, but they give a lot from what little they have. It is beautiful; they are an inspiration to me! If only we could all be more truly generous, not just skimming off the top but giving from the depths of our hearts, (and our bank accounts). The world would be a different place.
And there’s more! Pope Francis encourages us to participate in almsgiving “in the broadest sense of the word: of detaching oneself from the dictatorship of money, from the idolatry of lucre.”
Ok, those are just some ideas to get the conversations going.
Add your own ideas in the combox; I can’t wait to read them!