Pope Francis, in the Joy of Love, warns us of the dangers of consumerism on family life, as he says
“In a consumerist society, the sense of beauty is impoverished and so joy fades. Everything is there to be purchased, possessed or consumed, including people.”
But for families living in a consumer society, it is almost impossible not to be caught up by the promises of consumer messages, but are they really that harmful? And if so, do they really affect how we treat other people?
After all, we are all consumers, we all need to shop. Not only does our spending support others in their jobs, shopping can also be a great social event for the family, a wonderful way to bring everyone together.
But when we consider that every day we are surrounded by literally hundreds of marketing messages, all trying to convince us that what we have is not enough, or that we are somehow incomplete. They play to our base desires, promising us that we can be happier if we buy their goods or services.
No matter how much we have, we always need something more. Or a bigger, smarter, flashier upgrade of the things we already have. As a result, we end up buying more and more, consuming way beyond our needs.
But hidden within these invasive messages are aspirational lifestyles, that present ideals of perfect families where no one grows old or becomes sick. A fantasy that has nothing to do with the reality faced by families every day in which real love matures.
Pope Francis warns us that the greatest threat are the values promoted by consumerism, which undercut the values we learn in the family. For consumer values encourage us to focus only on our own goals and needs, creating an individualism that can cause great harm to each other, the family and society. When we become incapable of looking beyond our own desires and needs, we create small nests of security where others are seen as bothersome or a threat.
In fact, we can become threatened by anything that is seen as a risk to our own freedoms and lifestyle. Marriage, which is a life-long commitment, can create a real fear of being trapped in a relationship, especially when it seems to get in the way of our own personal goals. Consumerism may even deter families from having children, simply so they can maintain a certain lifestyle.
Just as consumerism encourages a throw-away society, where everything is disposable, we too can treat relationships the same way. Where the elderly, vulnerable and dependent are seen as a burden and challenging relationship that help us to grow and mature are simply swept aside.
Pope Francis warns us that whenever we believe in the false promises offered by consumerism, when we focus only on our own needs, we condemn ourselves to a joyless existence.
So, let us all be open to the true joy of overflowing love that reaches out to others. Let’s rejoice and celebrate what we have, rather than always wanting more and more, – and let us seek true tenderness with others, a sign of a love free from selfish possessiveness. For it is in openness of heart that we enter into an ever-fuller encounter with the Lord.