Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
In the spirit of yearly handwringing about materialism, I give you the following obligatory wring of the hands:
Having discharged that duty, I also note that, strictly speaking, the problem with Christmas is not materialism, but commercialism. The reason materialism is not the problem is that Christmas is the Feast in which we celebrate God becoming material. Accordingly, we do what the wise men did and give gifts as a pale reflection of the Gift God made of his son.
As a Chestertonian, I like that. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, once said that, for Christmas, she sent her friends “good thoughts”. Chesterton, being a solid incarnationalist, retorted that he would rather have a present. So would I. And I would rather give a present. If that happens to also wind up being a little gift of profit to some shopkeeper who sells it to me, I see no particular reason to regret that.
Of course, it is easy for the spirit of mammon to batten on Christian charity here and turn Christmas—the Feast of God becoming Material—into Xmas, the Feast of Mammon Urging Its Devotees to Trample and Stab Each Other in Mindless Lust for Tickle-Me Elmo Dolls. In the same way, it has been easy for the spirit of Bacchus to batten on the Pope’s recent merciful remarks and pervert them into an excuse for licentiousness. Heck! The enemy of God even took Jesus’ words about destroying the Temple and turned them into a rationale for crucifying him. Satan is ever a parasite on the good works of God. But that is not a reason to refrain from doing good works—Christmas gifts among the rest. It is merely a reason to do them in the right spirit and not as an offering to the awful god of commericialism portrayed above.