It goes without saying that our outlook on life is generally consumeristic, because we have been conditioned to think in this way. And for much of our life it works: which option is best value for money? am I getting as much out of this service as I can / as I am paying for? getting something for nothing is always a bonus…even if you don’t really need it. We are consumers! Even with regards to time: we micro-manage our lives to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible.
I’ve noticed there can be (naturally perhaps) a tendency in us to approach the Church in this way, too. At the moment in out parish it is the time of year when school references need to be signed by the parish priest. In our parish, you only get a reference if you have signed in on the census at Sunday Mass over a certain percentage of the time. People have tried every trick in the book to get round it – trying to fill in a form and deliver it during the week; getting grandparents to fill it in for them. It reveals (to an extreme extent) the ‘consumerist’ attitude we can have towards the Church. What can I get out of the Church? Education is definitely up there on some people’s lists. Our parish priest referred to a mums’ online discussion forum for our local area which gave away tips for getting into Catholic schools – invite the priest round for dinner, say that you are a reader at Mass. Well, I’m afraid if you’re living around here, you’ll have a hard time getting past our parish priest…
This is obviously an extreme example. There are other, more subtle, examples though. It is something that is in our mentality. In London there are so many different Catholic activities and events to attend, we can approach the ‘Catholic scene’ in a consumeristic way: what can I get out of this? What does it offer me? If it no longer succeeds in satisfying me, I’ll stop going. We shop around a bit – different spiritualities, different groups, charisms…
Are we ever able to give ourselves to something completely?
Giving ourselves completely to something or someone is the opposite of consumerism: it is not like a mobile phone contract where you finish with one company when you get a better offer from another. Christianity invites us to something completely other and radical: to give ourselves completely to something. I’ve heard it said that, when you make your vows – either in marriage or as a religious or as a priest – you are gathering your whole self up – including your future which you don’t even know yet – and pledging yourself…completely. This is communion because it is the image of God’s own life. Eternal self-giving within the communion of Persons.
How much is our life in the Church determined by consumerism and how much by communion? This is a question I ask myself too. When sports come before children’s sacramental preparation, or when a parent has to decide whether their daughter does ballet or First Communion classes this year – I think we are acting like consumers. Similarly, when people ‘shop around’ attending every Catholic event in London but never manage to give themselves completely to something – this seems to me to be consumeristic too.
It is a big challenge for each of us because of how ‘infected’ our minds and hearts are with this outlook on life. But I know that, bit by bit, God is calling us to forego “keeping our options open” and to give ourselves wholeheartedly to Him.
“After I recognised that there is a God, it was impossible for me not to live for him alone.” Bl. Charles de Foucauld