Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Times: Blog: Fr. Joe Borg: Christmas: a subversive feast

Monday, 22nd December 2008 by Fr. Joe Borg

Ours is a consumer culture; that is, it is a culture based on having. The more you consume the better and the more you have better still. Our dignity is based on our possessions. As Archbishop Cremona explained in his short message during Milied Flimkien last Saturday, Christianity, on the other hand, is a religion which believes that our dignity rests on who we are and not on what we have: we are the children of God. Christmas is the basic proof of all this.

Vatican II in the Pastoral Constitution "Gaudium et Spes" clearly stated that: "It is what a man is, rather than what he has, that counts" (No. 35). History proves over and over again that a civilization that is purely materialistic will only lead to our enslavement. The essential meaning of our dominion over the world consists in the priority of ethics over technology, in the primacy of the person over things, and in the superiority of spirit over matter.

Having: not an end in itself

Undoubtedly having is important. The Church clearly recognises this. Economic progress has helped the human family, observed the Second Vatican Council pastoral constitution "Gaudium et Spes," (para. 63). It's worth noting that John Paul II has stated clearly: "It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed toward 'having' rather than 'being,' and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself" (Centesimus Annus, No. 36).

The Council fathers called upon Christians to let their lives "be permeated with the spirit of the beatitudes, notably with a spirit of poverty" (No. 72).

In "Populorum Progressio," Pope Paul VI warned against regarding "the possession of more and more goods as the ultimate objective" (No 19). In our growth as persons, having more material goods is "necessary," the Pope acknowledged, but they are not to be considered as the supreme good.

Paul VI explained that "the exclusive pursuit of material possessions prevents man's growth as a human being and stands in opposition to his true grandeur. Avarice, in individuals and in nations, is the most obvious form of stultified moral development."

The danger of excess

In 1987 John Paul II alerted the faithful of the danger of an excess of material goods that "easily makes people slaves of 'possession' and of immediate gratification, with no other horizon than the multiplication or continual replacement of the things already owned with others still better" (encyclical "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis." No. 28).

This type of consumerism, noted the Pope, leads to "in the first place a crass materialism and, at the same time, a radical dissatisfaction, because one quickly learns -- unless one is shielded from the flood of publicity and the ceaseless and tempting offers of products -- that the more one possesses the more one wants, while deeper aspirations remain unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled."

Error of consumerism

In his 1991 encyclical "Centesimus Annus," John Paul II once more the Pope asked Christians to avoid falling into the error of consumerism, where "people are ensnared in a web of false and superficial gratifications rather than being helped to experience their personhood in an authentic and concrete way" (No. 41).

"Centesimus Annus" explains that an authentic way of living is done by "obedience to the truth about God and man." In this way a person will "order his needs and desires" and "choose the means of satisfying them according to a correct scale of values, so that the ownership of things may become an occasion of growth for him."

John Paul II also recommended "a concrete commitment to solidarity and charity" (No. 49) and a simpler lifestyle. In his message for the World Day of Peace in 1993, the Pope called for more attention to the needs of the poor. The consumer society, commented John Paul II, makes more evident the gap separating rich from poor and can lead us to overlook the needs of others (No. 5).

The Pope called for the creation of "lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments." Developing this way of life is by no means easy -- applying the principles of Church social doctrine to particular circumstances is a delicate exercise.

Looked from this perspective Christmas becomes a subversive feast. It subverts the dominant consumerist culture showing its grave short comings. Christmas though proposes an alternative way of life that gives greater dignity to each and every one of us. Balancing the spiritual meaning of Christmas with its more-worldly celebration is no easy task. The Church by no means condemns having a good time, but it does warn against excessive materialism. But this is the season to try.

Gejtu’s riveting story

Gejtu Vella, the Secretary General, writing in The Times of Saturday gave a riveting story of a 26 year old man living in poverty. The piece is called Christmas with dignity and can be accessed from http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20081220/opinion/a-christmas-with-dignity.

In this piece, Gejtu, as a very good trade unionist, gave a voice to the voiceless. The voice that we could read and almost hear as a result is a very powerful one. It is a dignified denunciation of a culture that is not helping the poor as much as it should partly because of the paternalistic stance it takes. The poor are the object of programmes aimed at helping them not the subject of the same programmes.

Gejtu added very few comments of his own. His piece was an appeal to respect the dignity of the poor and to really help them.

Gejtu’s trade union career has always been characterised by a very strong social conscience and whole hearted dedication to help others even at great personal sacrifice.

Well done Gejtu.

I wish all my readers and their families a Happy Christmas.

Till next time I wish you all good bye and good luck.


Aldo Gatt (6 days, 16 hours ago)
Excuse me if I hit out at you Fr Borg, at anyone that condones and supports the church of the poisoned minds, the saver of forests himself - for I am angry.

I would not normally react to such hatred and bile. I had learnt to keep calm as you can't reason with hatred and prejudice. But the hurt I felt when I saw my mother's pain at listening to her 'sheperd' (so apt a word to describe the followers) talk of her son as one that the good people of the world need saving from. To witness her agony at coming to terms with news that her son's marriage (I refuse to call it civil partnership) is evil was the last straw.

I give up with going on with this facade of celebrating the birth of such loathing. In a country where all radio stations, all media force religion down my throat, I declare myself anti-Christmas. I will shout across the roofs - my love is better than your prejudice.

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