Last month, I twice experienced something most girls are known for loving: I went to the mall. Now, contrary to the female stigma, I positively detest shopping at the mall. The second time I went, I spent FOUR hours trying to find a cardigan for a friend’s wedding. It is nearly impossible to find a wedding appropriate cardigan in July unless you are an 85-year-old woman. It’s safe to say, the day nearly ended in all-out meltdown after being extraordinarily frustrated with secular culture and too-tight, too-short, too-low-cut clothing. But that’s a post on modesty for another day.
What truly baffled me about my recent mall encounters is the culture of consumerism. I went to the Galleria, and everywhere I looked was another gaggle of girls all carrying heavy loads of bags. At every turn was another designer store with thousands of dollars of merchandise. In my typical ponderous way, I marveled thinking about how much all the merchandise in the entire Galleria cost. I marveled pondering how much the average person spends at a trip to the Galleria. How very much money and time we spend on things!
We love to be consumers. We love shopping, acquiring the next big thing in shoes, bags, clothes, whatever it is. We love things. Things. We LOVE our things.
Most of us can’t spend an hour truly dedicated to God on Sunday, but we can spend hours glued to our social media. Most of us can’t take the time to genuinely hold a conversation with another individual, but we can watch Netflix on our HD TVs. Most of us can’t spend two hours reading a book from the library, but we can spend two hours seething in envy at the mall over things we can’t have.
How have become so attached to our things? Why is it that so many people seem to derive their self worth from how much they own or what name-brand things they own?
Today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 19 describes the young rich man. He followed the commandments, and he lived a good life. All he had to do was walk away from his things and follow Christ. Instead, he walked away from Christ, feeling sad because he had many things. We don’t know what became of this young man. For all we know, he did turn away from his things and turn towards Christ. However, this passage highlights what I’m trying to get at: the man was sad at the thought of giving up his things. He was not ecstatic to follow Christ, but sad over his worldly possessions. He loved God and followed His commands, but he also clearly loved his things as well.
I am not opposed to having things. There are definitely things that we ought to have. And I’m not opposed to having nice things. I like nice things.
The problem is loving the things of this world too dearly and not loving the eternal things enough. The problem is loving the things that will pass away, and not caring enough for the things that will never pass away.
Earlier this summer I read a commentary on the Song of Songs by the early Christian theologian and philosopher, Origen. In it he says,
“All the same, you must understand that everyone who loves money or any of the things of corruptible substance that the world contains is debasing the power of charity, which is of God, to earthly and perishable objects, and is misusing the things of God by making them serve purposes that are not His; for God gave the things to men to be used, not to be loved.”
This is clearly a problem that man has been struggling with for a long time. The consumer culture has not completely sprung out of the last century. However, because it has been such an abiding problem of man’s, all the more reason to seek solutions to these kinds of problems.
Things are not to be loved. Things are to be used.
We could all do with a little less time with our things which will pass away. We could all do with a little more time contemplating the eternal things, such as the souls within each human person we encounter. I mean really! How amazing is that? Why don’t we spend more time on that than on the computer each day? Marvel over the things that last forever, not those which will be obsolete in fifty years.
Just some food for thought.
May God bless you on your way!