Friday, September 22, 2006

"A mere exchange of material goods"?

An utterly random post here, nevertheless one I thought would be worth sharing: not for what I might say, but for some wise words I have come across in the book I am reading, God and the World. This book is basically a long -- very long! -- interview in printed form between a German journalist named Peter Seewald and the man whom we now know of as Pope Benedict XVI (but then knew of as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger).

A major pet peeve of mine, one I share with many many other followers of the Christian faith I am sure, is the way in which the holiday (holy-day) of Christmas has been hijacked by commericialism and consumerism. For some reason I find myself a little more annoyed every year at how early the stores and mail-order catalogs start hyping up Christmas, admonishing us to "be prepared" and throwing out tired aphorisms like "It's never to early to start thinking about the holidays." This is obviously not the kind of "preparation" that is really important when entering into one of the holiest seasons of the year, for Christians anyway... and though I am as guilty as anybody of falling for the allurement of materials gifts during the holidays and losing my focus on what is really important, I feel that the way our society manipulates the holiday for its own cash-centered purposes certainly works against any good intentions we might have of trying to remain watchful and alert to the real meanings, the deep mysteries, that Christmas truly offers to our hearts and souls.

Anyway, the fact that I am writing about this at all almost serves to illustrate that which I am ranting against -- why talk about this in September? Well, for one thing, it was on my mind recently since the catalogs are already starting to arrive in the mail, the watered-down carols piped in to waiting rooms and elevators, our family is talking about drawing names for the annual gift-giving exchange, etc... and it's not these things in themselves that are that bad, but it's the feeling of anxiousness and pressure they seem to initiate in one's mind ("Wow, maybe I'm not ready"... "can we afford Christmas this year???"... "what am I going to get for _______?", etc...) that really bother me, since such feelings seem so contra what the feast is really about, and what the Lord would want us to feel and focus on in celebrating His birth... and then, I came across this passage in the book mentioned above, and it seemed to crystalize all that I had been thinking. I think it makes for a profound passage, certainly worthy of reflection as we draw nearer to the holidays... for Christians anyway, not a bad way to start preparing oneself for the season of Advent, in which we anticipate the arrival of our Savior into the world:

"...There is a great idea underlying the original custom (of giving gifts for Christmas). This Child us God's gift to mankind, and in that sense Christmas is the proper day for giving gifts. But when the giving of presents becomes a matter of obligatory shopping trips, then the idea of presents is completely distorted. Then it is a matter of what Christ said to His disciples once: Do not do as the Gentiles do, who invite each other because they in turn receive invitations. As a mere exchange of material goods, Christmas is coming under the power of wanting-for-oneself; it is becoming the instrument of insatiable egoism and has fallen under the sway of possessions and of power -- whereas this event in fact brings us exactly the opposite message. Pruning back Christmas so that it is once again simple would be an enormous achievement."

"Pruning back Christmas so that it is once again simple"... this, I must say, is an idea that sounds better and better to me every year. For in the mad rush (that starts earlier and earlier every year) to buy the right gifts and satisfy the growing number of recipients on our lists, I fear we lose more and more sight of what is truly important... I know that seems to happen with me. I don't want to lose that vision, that knowledge of the truth. And if you have any doubt that money and material possessions can distort that vision and cloud that knowledge, you must be living in a different world than I am. I hope that our current Pope's words can help me to resist the pressure to buy often and early, and instead take the time to reflect on the indescribable gift we have been given in the coming of the One whose love shows us the way to heaven. Compared to this glorious truth, nothing else really matters.

1 comment:

Aura McKnightly said...

Duke, you are so on the money!

Okay, that was probably the wrong choice of phrase.