The Catholic Consumer


Reflection by High School Theology Teacher Erik Anderson

As Black Friday deals loom on the horizon, these are days in which I find myself wondering about how I want to frame the upcoming holiday season—what are my expectations, my hopes, and my values?  How can I develop as an individual, maintain some semblance of psychological health, and be a generous family member over Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas?

In a senior level course I teach in Theology, I encourage my students to read a pair of articles with widely disparate viewpoints: one is entitled “Why Buying Things Makes You Happy” (from PBS) and another entitled “Consumerism and its Discontents” (from the APA).

These articles draw attention to an interest of mine—the wide spectrum of ideas and ideologies that exist regarding our emotive relationship with consuming and purchasing.

The first article points to ways in which our purchasing certain brands, labels or types of products does in fact elevate our social esteem (or at least our perceived sense of it), while the latter points out—very reasonably—that materialistic values can lead some to unhealthy patterns and/or goals setting (for example, using wealth or salary as a benchmark by which to measure one’s self worth).

In Wordsworth’s classic romantic poem, he begins by lamenting:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours

A reading of these lines that makes sense to me is as follows: there we are, at the mall on a Saturday or Sunday, and therefore we’re inherently not out in the fields, enjoying a stroll at the Audubon Society, not collecting falling leaves or pinecones—and thus, not drawing more closely to the Revelation that is inherent in nature.   I think it would be fair to extend his critique even to the work-day.  Though he lived more than 200 years ago, he was perceptive enough to wonder if our life-cycle is organized as it should be: in getting (working hard all week in order to make money) and spending (so that we can buy, buy, buy all weekend).

According to Wordsworth, in so doing, we “lay waste our powers” and grow ever-more-distant from nature.  And we needn’t be a romantic poet to see that the inverse of his argument is also true—that is, immersing ourselves in the beauty and inspiration of nature can help us and enrich us in a variety of ways.  For example, time outdoors in the changing seasons can increases our awareness of the seasons of our own lives, increase our awareness of our own mortality, or provide us with much-needed hope and newness after a long Midwestern winter.

All that is to say that, at least for me, there’s no magic solution to this issue.  In the past, I’ve certainly woken up early to get that special deal on Black Friday…but maybe this has more to do with drinking a coffee in a quiet house, well before sunrise with my dad than it does to do with the 99 cent poinsettias he is excited to buy when the store opens!  In experiences like these, commercialism (and even shopping malls) can offer much that may enrich rather than deteriorate our family life.  But if our sole focus, week after week, month after month, becomes “getting and spending,” perhaps it’s best to re-evaluate before we “lay waste our powers.”

Interestingly, this is a theme to which Pope Francis frequently comments devotes attention.  I particularly like his quote that says:

“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.”

This is a great reminder, proclaimed by both Wordsworth and Pope Francis, that is worth reflecting on as the holidays draw near this year.  Happy Thanksgiving!



Connecting with God through the Outdoors

Patrick with his brother and a nice smallmouth bass
Reflection by High School Student Patrick Donohue

My love for the outdoors has existed from before I can remember. As a kid, I never liked tv or video games. I would always go outside no matter what time of year and work in the yard, shovel snow, or just enjoy the fresh air. My dad’s side of the family has a family cabin in Hiles, WI in Forest County. I was going up north in my mother womb. As I have become older I have realized how much the outdoors has to offer. All my favorite activities take place in the outdoors: hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, and canoeing. My brothers and dad influenced me to love the outdoors  by doing all the activities with me.

One of my most memorable outdoor trips I have been on was a canoe trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in MN. This trip tested my physical and mental strength. I loved every portage I trekked and every mile we paddled. I went with 5 other kids and 2 adults. After the trip we saw how God truly blessed us with a beautiful Creation. The wildlife we saw was priceless: eagles, fish, loons, moose, and deer. Overall we canoed 68 miles and 32 portages in 4.5 days.


The Laudato Si’ Project has opened my eyes to care for the environment because of the many stewardship projects I have been able to work on including buckthorn removals, making blue bird houses, and restoring a oak savannah. At the end of the school year I was able to look back and see how many outings we were able to take part in that were exactly what we learned in the environmental science class.

I was able to live out what I learned in the classroom, by picking a Eagle Scout Project having to do with the environment. My project was a revitalization of the City of Brookfield’s Lamplighter Park pond. We removed all the small willow trees starting to grow around the pond to plant native plants as a buffer strip. The natural buffer strip prevents fertilizers from getting into the pond and causing Eutrophication (excessive algae growth leading to low dissolved oxygen levels in the water. This project was a great opportunity to expose all the volunteers to an environmental problem we can easily prevent.