Thanksgiving will soon be upon us -- a suitable time to tie up loose ends from the last two issues -- "Stewardship of the Earth" and "Caring for the Earth's Peoples."
As I look over the hills to the north from my eleventh floor apartment on this early autumn afternoon, the trees are beginning to present themselves in all their glory. Who could not appreciate these days and all their goodness?
I hope you will think with me about all the wonderful external and internal gifts for which we have to be thankful, for which we have to appreciate.
If we were more thankful, if we were more appreciative of all the good things we have, we wouldn't consume so much. And if we didn't consume so much, there would be more goods and energy available for peoples throughout the earth. And if we didn't consume so much, there would be far less pollution of the earth.
The American economy is based on the principle of consumption: We grow tired of our car, we buy a new one. We grow tired of our kitchen, we install a new one. Our kids grow tired of their toys, we buy them new ones. Or we grow tired of the clothes we wear, we go out and buy new ones.
Isn't there a lack of giving thanks here for the good things we do have? Isn't there a lack of appreciation here?
What we value in America is new consumption -- not appreciating the fact that what we do have might well sustain us for some time to come until we need to replace what we have. Instead, we discard things when we grow bored of them because they don't suit us any more.
Or, at least if we would make sure our old couch got into the hands of someone who could use it rather than trashing it by the curb, we would be thinking of others who have needs as well. If we appreciated the woods near our house, we would react when developers want it turned into a shopping mall.
I am criticizing our whole American economic system here, which is based on how people in our society consume money. We are encouraged to max-out our credit cards -- to live in debt rather than have some savings. And our national debt is being maxed out for another generation to pay. ________________________________________________________
Consumerism is our major sin as Americans. It's our sin because we fail to be content with the good things we have, to be at peace with our current life-style as middle and upper-income Americans. ________________________________________________________
Appreciation is the antidote. At thanksgiving time, make a list of the gifts in your life that you are thankful for -- both material and spiritual. If we realized we had more interior gifts, we wouldn't need so many external ones. In other words, if we were at peace with our lives, we wouldn't have to buy more stuff to make us happy.
I am thankful for simple things. Like my bed. It's a good bed. It gives me a good night's sleep. How many do not have a good bed to sleep on? I am thankful for my little car. It has a stick shift. I can pretend I am a porsche and be content with the pretending. 92% of the world's population do not have the luxury of an automobile.
I am thankful for my nice apartment. It gives me solace and comfort. I could be content here for many years, and when I move, I will miss the wonderful view I have here. I appreciate that view very, very much.
I am thankful for the garage beneath our building. I am thankful I don't have to dig my car out from under six inches of snow.
I am thankful for the interior gift of my writing. It sustains me in joy and makes my life meaningful. It helps me appreciate that I can contribute something worthwhile to the world.
I am deeply appreciative that my health is so much better than a decade ago. I appreciate that gift each and every day. It is because of my long struggle with this illness that I am content with what I now have. And most of all, I appreciate my priesthood. I think as a priest, I pray as a priest. I am a priest to the best of my ability. And that gift, too, I try to renew daily.
If we fail to appreciate what we have, it may well be taken away from us. The Bible warns of that possibility. The nation Israel failed to heed the warnings of the prophets; they ended up in exile, their dream collapsed in the dust. And it seems that if we do not change our ways soon, collapse of our "good life" will even be an inevitability.
Yes, consumerism is our sin. It is our sin because it indicates that we are not at peace with our lives. It is our sin because we look to material things to bring us happiness. It is our sin because consuming more and more goods means that others on our planet have less and less.
What's more the society that we say we appreciate could collapse in the dust. We are in denial: Our economy cannot continue growing forever. Medicare and Social Security could go bankrupt. And we cannot put off paying the piper for our enormous national debt for too long. As a nation, we are living beyond our means.
The one issue, a simple one, that can make a big difference is being responsible for our trash. Toys can be recycled. Old TV's and VCR's can be recycled. Clothes can be recycled. Make a point not to throw out anything that may be useful to someone else. In giving things to others, we extend their life, we show that we appreciate their value. Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul should be major corporations.
And a simple way to teach all this to our children, even the youngest, is to help them appreciate and be thankful for their toys. Most kids have oodles and oodles of toys. If our children act destructively with their toys, that is, if they don't appreciate what they have, then they shouldn't be given new ones.
And children can learn to share. Toys that they grow tired of, they can set aside for other children who may appreciate them more. Children in poor countries can be very resourceful in making toys out of a few sticks. Our children need toys that cost more than a day's wage to play with and still they are not content or happy: they learn from us.
All this takes a new kind of consciousness. First, we need to train ourselves to become aware that this is a planet we stand on, that our house is built upon. We need to appreciate the planet and be thankful that it is there for us. We can train ourselves to call to mind every day some way -- perhaps the hot water of our morning shower -- that our planet sustains and adds to our comfort every day.
We derive energy a subtle kind of energy, from the planet and all growing things, especially the trees or flowers near our home. We can align our spiritual energy with the earth rather than go around oblivious to all of the goodness that it offers us as if we were the center of the universe. _________________________________________________________
Two issues ago, I said that we are stewards of the earth. I add a caution here. To be a steward does not mean that we are above the earth, superior to it. We are part OF this earth; we are connected to it. We must work with the earth. Not against it. We come from the earth and we return to the earth when we die. _________________________________________________________
The second thing that we ought to be conscious of is that all the peoples of the earth are our sisters and brothers. Our heavenly Father smiles on all the peoples he has created and delights in them. We should too.
And the way to do that is to realize that we are (most of us) living far beyond our means. Our measure for success should not be those ahead of us who have acquired more toys and gidgets but those behind us who are struggling with -- not where we're going to put their new snowmobile -- but people who must be content with less because we demand more.
Live a simple life. If all of us did that, there would be plenty to go around.
Live a simple life. And in that, delight in a wonderful spirituality that can sustain and nourish you and give your life meaning. Material things cannot bring meaning. Only interior things can do that.
Live a simple life. Give thanks often. And appreciate what you have.