How Consumerism Wrecks Us

User's Guide to Sunday, July 31

(photo: Shutterstock image)

Sunday, July 31, is the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Mass Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Psalm 90: 3-6, 12-14, 17; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21

We live in a world that is overwhelmed by consumerism, the relentless focus on spending, and today’s readings catalogue exactly what that does to us.

First, consumerism destroys our family life.

In today’s Gospel, “someone in the crowd” demands of Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me!” With that demand, this man redefines all of his family relationships, reducing both his father and brother into parts of a financial equation.

“One’s life does not consist of possessions,” says Jesus in part of his reply.

Life does, however, consist of service to others, starting with family.

Second, consumerism destroys our spiritual life.

This man has a gift that people throughout history have longed for: the chance to stand before the Lord and ask him a question. Others in the Gospel take good advantage of the opportunity and ask great questions, such as: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This man blows his chance with a question about a financial transaction.

Material goods can preoccupy us, at the expense of spiritual matters. This happens directly, when we find ourselves praying for solutions to financial problems caused by our excess, or indirectly, when making, spending or enjoying our money crowds out our time to pray.

Third, money gives us a false sense of fulfillment.

Next, Jesus gives the example of a “happy” rich man who focused on storing up treasures on earth, building ever larger barns to stow away his grain. But Jesus points out that his death is imminent, and none of what he has stored will remain with him at death.

Americans today enjoy far more material prosperity than most of the world. One of our greatest dangers is complacency: Our lifestyles often make it hard to “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth,” as the second reading today suggests we do.

Fourth, money makes us anxious and depressed.

As the first reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes puts it: “For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest.”

Statistics bear this out. We have modern amenities and technology, and also epidemic levels of anxiety-related disorders, including depression, insomnia and even suicide.

Today’s second reading presents a laundry list of sins, each of which is heightened by consumerism: “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and the greed that is idolatry.”

What we do and how we spend our money should be in service to God.

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

His book What Pope Francis Really Said is available for preorder at

Shutterstock image