We live in a world which is obsessed with consumerism. We invest time, energy, and money on our gadgets, fancy food and drink, clothes, home decor, etc. We chase wealth, fame, and the admiration or notice of others. So why do so many people seem dissatisfied? The teachings of the Catholic Church can explain.
So Why Do We Consume But Are Not Satisfied?
God created us out of love and for love:
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:Catechism of the Catholic Church 22
So our deepest desire is to love. So why do we try to fill up with consumerism? Unfortunately when we turn away from God (sin) we tend to try to fill the emptiness with worldly things. And while most of these things are not bad in moderation, when we use them as substitutes for God’s love. We try to fill our emptiness with material goods and emotional neediness. We become addicted to these things. They can truly become “idols”, substitutes for God.
Consumerism is nothing new
The story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:5-42) is a beautiful example of the desire for the love of God vs worldly desires. She has desired love but has had several failed marriages and is living in adultery. She is clearly seeking love, but her attempts have not satisfied her desire.
Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
The woman said to him, “Sir,* you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?”
Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”John 4:10-15
She knows she desires something more satisfying but does not know what it is or how to get it. But Jesus makes it clear to her that he himself is what she needs.
The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming,the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”
At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?”John 4:25-29
Now that she understands, she is filled with joy to the point that she is compelled to spread this good news! She even leaves behind her water jar, a sign that she is more focused on God than anything else. She evangelizes the whole neighborhood. They also come and see Jesus and come to believe that he is the Messiah.
St. Ignatius and consumerism
Of course, we still need to eat and drink and have clothes and such. But we should not desire these more than union with God. St Ignatius of Loyola discovered that the things of the world give only temporary pleasure, but the things of God truly satisfy our desires.
Next it dawned on him that the former ideas were of the world, the latter God-sent; finally, worldly thoughts began to lose their hold, while heavenly ones grew clearer and dearer.St. Ignatius Loyola – The Spiritual Exercises
Ways to fight consumerism in our daily lives
So a good practice is to consider each day, what truly satisfies and what leaves us wanting more or desiring “the next thing”. A good way to focus on this is the daily examen, a type of prayer recommended by St. Ignatius to allow God to speak to us through our feelings.
Also, be more deliberate in consuming less and just letting God into your life. So instead of going shopping, try going outside for a walk and see all that God has created for you to enjoy. Instead of checking social media to see how many likes your last post has, call a friend and talk about your day. And instead of watching YouTube videos, unplug and spend some time in prayer.
Resources related to this topic:
- Reflection on the woman at the well
- Consuming the Word: The New Testament and the Eucharist in the Early Church
- Does It Last? A Timely Lesson Plan on the Eucharist