Saturday, November 18, 2006

Buy Something - "Materialistic" wrongheadedness

‘Tis the season when we will once again hear warnings about the evils of “materialism”, warnings to which I used to whole-heartedly add my “amen”. But then something happened! I actually had to start earning a living.

For awhile I was able to insulate myself from the bothersome reality of the marketplace by being a teacher. Teachers are not immune from economic realities, but it takes awhile to get to them as their level of pay is not immediately linked to performance in the way a salesperson’s is.

Well, I’m now a salesperson. And unless someone buys children don’t eat.

I used to abhor the Christmas decorations going up after Thanksgiving (now it’s after Halloween). I scoffed at those “greedy” store owners trying to milk good God-fearing people like me out of money that I thought should otherwise be used for some "good purpose". (Whatever that is!)

God loves to teach me humility. So he made me a businessman and gave me a store where I have to sell stuff or my bills don’t get paid. (I started putting Christmas stuff out in September.)

I don’t scoff anymore. I thank God for every breathing person that walks into my store.

I only relate this little conversion episode to get at a bigger point: As we enter the “Christmas shopping season” I want to encourage pastors, preachers, teachers, and anyone who may publicly hold forth on the topic, to rethink their traditional “Christmas -
materialistic” speech.

Here’s an illustration. I recently heard a talk in which the speaker criticized a wealthy person’s purchase of a yacht. The purchase was said to be “materialistic”. Presumably the money spent on the yacht could have been used for “better” purposes.

I understood the point, but I wondered if the speaker understood just how many people got to eat that night - and many nights thereafter - because someone bought a yacht...and “someones” keep buying yachts.

And it’s not just the people who build the yachts; it’s also the people who make the stuff that they use to make the yachts. And it’s the guys who sell yachts, and who work at the marinas where they park yachts, and so on.

The sad part is that by putting so much emphasis on the perceived evils of the accumulation of "things" - the actual evils of personal selfishness and greed often escape unchallenged and are even emboldened by a certain pride as we whisper to ourselves: “I thank thee O God that I’m not like other (business) men.” (I inserted the word “business” in case you didn’t notice :>)

A very wealthy person I personally know was recently criticized by a fellow church member for his purchase of a private plane. The charge was typical: “that money could have been put to better use”. (Funny how people who don’t have money always know how to spend the money of people who do!)

My friend’s reply was “What did you buy today that gave somebody a job?”

We must remember that the Nativity story not only included the shepherds and their poor gifts, but the Magi and their very expensive ones.

Give somebody a job. Buy something.

PS. What makes the "materialistic" sermons even more hollow and vapid is that Christmas is the only time of the year that is dedicated to buying "things" FOR OTHERS. We go shopping with the express purpose of wanting please someone else. The season itself, be the shoppers good Christians or not, embodies and enforces the Christian ideal of selflessness. Let's go shopping. Merry Christmas.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Fr. Mitch's Challenge - and some help from his audience

A man called into Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s show on EWTN the other day and asked the following question:

“Why is there more praying to Mary on your network than there is to Jesus?”

It was immediately obvious that Fr. Mitch was perturbed and even angry. The man had called in before with the same question and was an obvious heckler.

I was interested to see how Fr. Mitch would handle it. Unfortunately, I think his anger got the better of him. He tried to show restraint, but fumbled around quite a bit trying to defend the network and even claiming to not know everything that goes on with the programming, which unfortunately put him in an even bigger hole with the assailant.

In the end he claimed to not know what the caller was talking about and he moved on with the rest of the show. But I was left with a little bit of an empty feeling and a little upset with Fr. Mitch for not being Mother Angelica.

Of course he can’t be Mother Angelica, but the situation highlighted how much EWTN will change (it already has) without her. I wish she could have taken on the man. I’m sure she would have said something that would have turned the caller on his ear and at the same time would have been instructive to the viewers.

Some think that such an action would not have been charitable, but “charitable” is a difficult thing to pin down. Jesus turned such insincere questioners on their ears many times throughout the Gospel. But be that as it may, I began to think of how I would answer that question.

The question falls into the common anti-Mary category of anti-Catholic attacks, a category that easily sends Catholics over the edge as per Fr. Mitch’s ruffled response. This is because from the outside the attack seems to have substance. We do “pray” to Mary more than we do to Jesus. I find myself saying “Hail Mary’s” several times a day. EWTN devotes two half hour segments to the recitation of the Rosary and of course the listener hears “Hail Mary” over and over.

The real deal is of course that we don’t distinguish prayer to Mary or prayer to the saints from prayer to God. We believe that regardless of who we are addressing that God hears our prayers and that our prayers through Mary and other heavenly benefactors are augmented by their saintly merits (…the prayer of a righteous man availeth much. - Jam 5:16).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I wouldn’t even go there with this at this point. Here’s how I would respond (assuming of course that I didn’t get mad and forget my lines):

Caller: Why do you pray more to Mary than to Jesus?
Me: That’s an interesting question. What makes you think we do?
Caller: Well, I’m always hearing prayers to Mary and Jesus is rarely mentioned.
Me: Is that so! May I ask you a question? How do you define prayer?
Caller: Prayer is worship and we should worship God alone.
Me: Do you think we are worshipping Mary when we pray to her?
Caller: Of course you are.
Me: Well then let me ask you your definition of “worship”.
Caller: Worship is the praise and honoring of God.
Me: Do you think that Jesus is offended when we praise and honor His Mother?
Caller: Of course he is, you should only praise God.

(At this point you have come upon the distinct difference between the “dulia”, “hyper-dulia”, and “latria” properties of the word “praise”, but no need to go there just now. Just shift gears as per the following.)

Me: Do you think that Jesus ever praised and honored His Mother while He was on earth?
Caller: Well, probably, but..
Me: Don’t you think we should imitate Jesus in all things including honoring His mother?
Caller: Well…
Me: Do you honor Mary?
Caller: Well no, but…
Me: Don’t you want to be like Jesus in all things?
Caller: Well yes but…
Me: Perhaps you should consider why your Church has not taught you to imitate Jesus in this area. Listen, I’d love to talk to you more about this. Is there a number I can call you back at?

(Remember the ultimate goal is to bring them “home to Rome”…so never leave a conversation without setting up a time to get back together.)

I’m not picking on Fr. Mitch. I’ve reacted as he reacted more than once. We’re just so caught off guard by the complete lack of appreciation for the Mother of God by non-Catholics. The idea is to count to 10 before you answer…and say a Hail Mary :>)
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