Eleven million dollars per minute.
That’s how much was spent online in the final hour of “Cyber Monday,” according to projections by Adobe Analytics. Invented by a marketing genius a few years ago to extend Black Friday into the following week, Cyber Monday is now the first day of “Cyber Week,” which is the first week after Black Friday Month, formerly known as the weeks before Thanksgiving.
The War on Christmas is so 15 years ago. The War on Advent was lost even earlier. Now, it’s time to recognize the all-out onslaught of black-and-cyber consumerism for what it is: a war on simplicity, faith and gratitude.
Don’t get us wrong: We love a good sale, too. But projections that $143.8 billion will be spent online this year in the United States alone during the “holiday shopping season” (formerly known as October, November and December) should give every Catholic pause.
Apostles of unbridled capitalism often dismiss Catholic social teaching as “utopian” or in conflict with immutable “economic laws.” But the rise of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the overflowing of both into the surrounding days and weeks show the lie to this claim. There is no economic law that requires families to curtail their Thanksgiving dinner in order to be the first in line at Walmart on Thanksgiving Day to pick up a cheap flatscreen TV.
That’s something each of us must choose to do — or not to do. Our choices have made the economy, and the world, in which we live. Different choices lead to different worlds.
Speaking to French businessmen and entrepreneurs at the Vatican on Cyber Monday (formerly known as Dec. 2), Pope Francis urged them to embrace the Gospel so fully that they transform the world.
“The fact of distancing oneself from the world — in what is contrary to God and His will — the fact of wanting to transform this world and save it with Christ, can sometimes lead to martyrdom, as attested by St. Peter and St. Paul,” Pope Francis said. “However, these glorious witnesses show us that the Gospel message of which they were bearers, a message apparently weak compared to the worldly powers of power and money, is not a utopia, but, with the power of the Holy Spirit and the support of the faith of courageous missionary disciples, can become a reality….”
We can change the world, but only if we want to. To put it bluntly, that means we have to decide if we value Christ more than we do a great “doorbuster” price on an Xbox or an Apple Watch.
Speaking to his audience of French businessmen, Pope Francis declared that “I am well aware that it is not easy in daily life to reconcile the demands of faith and the social teaching of the Church with the needs and constraints imposed by the laws of the market and of globalization.” Those who own and operate businesses find themselves under pressures from the outside that affect “the survival of companies, of the people who work there and of their families.” But those pressures aren’t impersonal; they arise from the aggregate actions of all of us.
And that means change — conversion — has to start with each of us. “Conversion,” Pope Francis notes, “is a process that acts in depth: perhaps a slow process, seemingly, especially when it comes to converting mentalities, but the only one that allows real progress, if implemented with conviction and determination through concrete actions.”
Our frenzied, black-and-cyber consumerism of the season formerly known as Advent draws us away from our preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas — and, even more importantly, for His second coming at the end of time. But everything we need to break out of the unfulfilled and unfulfilling lifestyle of consumption is found in the purity and simplicity of our Christian faith. As Pope Francis wrote in “Laudato Si’,” “simplicity … allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack.”
Simplicity, faith and gratitude: You can’t buy those on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, online or in stores. But we can find them in Christ. With him, we have everything we need.
The St. Louis Review periodically features editorials from other Catholic publications. This editorial was originally published by Our Sunday Visitor, a national weekly newspaper.