Advent, the Church says, is a time of longing, waiting and preparing for the Lord's return. This is in direct contrast with the ambiance felt at this time, a time when consumerism takes its festive robes and charms us to a point where overconsumption is tolerated, where months before seemed unwise to do so. It seems to me we are all affected by it, I was certainly affected by it. And the effects of this overconsumption can affect us beyond Christmass, and the way we spend our money.
I don't remember the time when I was a day without a meal, when I suffered hunger by mere necessity, or when my basics needs were not covered. I assume that many in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world share my experience. If you are like me, then all we can do is acknowledge the great privilege that we have, and best of all, do our best to not abuse it and share it with others. Every time we overspend in things we don't really need, let us remember those that are struggling to fill their stomachs, or heal their wounds. We live in a culture where cars and cellphones are looked as necessities while they live in one where food and medicine haunts and taunts them as a luxury.
Reflecting over my symptoms of overconsumption, I could clearly see the effects of it in my daily life. One need not to be wealthy in order to binge on materialism, for there is an easy way to do it for every budget. Before living with the Augustinian, when I worked, I certainly wasn't. I was making $8.75 an hour, working 32 hours a week. I can still remember the thrill of the payday. What I usually did on those days was to wake up, pick up my check, and drive to whatever store and buy whatever item(s), and then finish it off with a lunch in a restaurant. It feel good, too good. Indeed, an addiction. And this went on for many years. Why is that? As a Catholic I certainly knew that money and material possessions would not offer me happiness. And what I felt was not happiness, rather an influx of short-lived energy followed by guilt and emptiness. Indeed, an addiction.
On months that I didn't have much money left after paying the bills, I thought and maybe even said (and I heard many express the same when found in similar situation.) "this is a bad month". A bad month? I had my basic needs covered, food on my table, water, heck even cable t.v. and internet, and I said that it was a bad month?! What right did I have to say that it was bad when millions around the world consider me lucky for having my basic needs covered and much more?How could I possibly face God in my prayers to tell Him that I had a bad month just because I couldn't buy me a new unnecessary item, eat unnecessary and unhealthy amount of food, after watching cable t.v that afternoon and checking the internet before going to bed? How could I miss the obvious, that is, that the sole deciding factor on those occasions, when I felt that money was short, on whether I had a bad month or not was the ability to indulge in unnecessary consumption? Indeed, an addiction.
Living now in the community has helped me see this addiction. As Augustinians we have to make vow of poverty. I get not much money every month, enough to cover my needs. At first I thought "this sucks" (that is, receiving little money), but now I'm learning to appreciate the simple life. And may we all learn from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, "Live simply that others may simply live". Let us make this goal for advent. Our little gift to our family, and most importantly, to Jesus. Amen.